This seems to be the third in a series – not that it was planned this way, but Wisconsin happens:
Embattled Republican Gov. Scott Walker defended a budget bill that would slash public workers’ benefits and most collective bargaining rights in an effort to address Wisconsin’s impending $3.6 billion dollar deficit.
“We have bill collectors waiting,” Walker told reporters Friday. “It’s time we step up and pay the bills that we owe.”
The move comes as crowds of protesters gathered in Madison and Democratic state senators defended their decision to leave the state in an effort to stymie a bill they say is anti-union.
This has turned into a big issue. A few years ago things up there were more lighthearted – they were looking for a new state motto, as New Hampshire had that cool one – Live Free or Die! And someone suggested the obvious – Eat Cheese or Die! That didn’t fly. But now everyone from Obama to the Green Bay Packers thinks Scott Walker is a jerk – a man who wants to prove something to the Tea Party driven Republican Party, that he can stick it to the parasites of the world, uppity workers who think they can band together and bargain for higher wages, or better benefits, or even just a safer workplace. These people have to be stopped. They’re ruining America. The problem is greedy whining workers – or workers in general. This country would be more prosperous, and we’d leap out of our economic quagmire, if these workers – in this case teachers – would just work for next to nothing, or even better, for free, or even better, just go away. That may sound absurd – Scott Walker can’t be saying that – but he sort of is.
And the context of how absurd this is was covered in the previous column Randomly Applied Seriousness – a discussion of the new meme on the right that if Obama doesn’t agree to massive budget cuts, abolishing much of the government as we know it, he’s not only lacking in “credibility” and “seriousness” – he’s just not a “leader.” That’s their story and they’re sticking to it.
And that was followed by Ambushed by an Insult – If you’re so smart how come you’re not rich? That was the insult and the issue was cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – dramatically. The thinking is that folks will love that, in the abstract. Once you posit being rich as the yardstick by which you measure someone’s moral and social worth, it follows that those who are so rich that they don’t need Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security are the good guys, and everyone else isn’t – everyone else just takes from the good guys. So you’ve got your folks on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, filled with anti-intellectual resentment and seething anger, mixed with blustering panicked insecurity – mouthing that special insult – screaming that those programs, which keep them afloat, and often keep them alive, must be ended right now. It’s quite curious. They advocate for what is not in their interest at all. But then they’re not rich, so they must not be smart, so they must feel they deserve to die, starving in the streets. They know their place, or something. Go figure.
Have they been duped? Are they just useful idiots – the term attributed to Lenin, probably incorrectly, used to describe the idealistic fools in the west who defended him when he himself knew he was doing some damned nasty stuff? Was this Wisconsin thing a set-up?
Kevin Drum suggests that:
Regardless of what you think about public sector unions, it’s important to understand what’s really going on in Wisconsin right now. Were they facing an unsustainable, existential budget crisis when Gov. Scott Walker took office earlier this year? No. Are they facing an unsustainable, existential budget crisis now? No. They’re facing a modest budget problem, and even that only exists because Walker himself engineered it.
See Ezra Klein’s wonky detailed analysis of what happened, with this summary:
In English: The governor called a special session of the legislature and signed two business tax breaks and a conservative health-care policy experiment that lowers overall tax revenues (among other things). The new legislation was not offset, and it turned a surplus into a deficit. As Brian Beutler writes, “public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda.”
Drum says that brings back painful memories:
In 2003, pissed off at Gov. Gray Davis over an energy crisis that we later learned had been deliberately manufactured by Enron and wasn’t his fault at all, we followed Rep. Darrell Issa down a rabbit hole and recalled Davis. He was, famously, replaced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who campaigned specifically on a promise to “end the crazy deficit spending.” So what did he do once he was in office? He reduced the vehicle license fee, costing the state about $4 billion per year, and then made up for it by passing a $15 billion bond issue. Together, those two things produced a hole in the budget of about $7 billion per year once the bond money had been spent and annual payments started up. That hole accounted for a huge chunk of California’s later fiscal crisis, and it was neither inherited from his predecessor nor was it the inevitable result of public policy. It was created.
Walker, like Schwarzenegger, deliberately created a crisis so he could take advantage of it to attack his political enemies.
And that is what Klein says:
That’s how you keep a crisis from going to waste: You take a complicated problem that requires the apparent need for bold action and use it to achieve a longtime ideological objective. In this case, permanently weakening public-employee unions, a group much-loathed by Republicans in general and by the Republican legislators who have to battle them in elections in particular…
If all Walker was doing was reforming public employee benefits, I’d have little problem with it…. But that’s not what Walker is doing. He’s attacking the right to bargain collectively – which is to say, he’s attacking the very foundation of labor unions, and of worker power – and using an economic crisis unions didn’t cause, and a budget reversal that Walker himself helped create, to justify it.
This is, in a way, not unexpected. Republicans hate public sector unions. The Koch brothers and their allies, who contributed mountains of money to Walker and his allies, hate public sector unions. Of course Walker and his fellow Republicans would like to dismantle public sector unions. But deliberately creating a budget crisis to help them do it? Even by movement conservative standards that’s outlandishly reckless and cynical. And yet, that’s what’s happening.
Yes, the Koch brothers – as you would expect. Ayn Rand is dead and Larry Kudlow doesn’t have the money.
And from Madison, see this local editorial:
There is no question that these are tough times, and they may require tough choices. But Gov. Scott Walker is not making tough choices. He is making political choices, and they are designed not to balance budgets but to improve his political position and that of his party. …
The facts are not debatable. Because of the painful choices made by the previous Legislature, Wisconsin is in better shape fiscally than most states.
Wisconsin has lower unemployment than most states. Wisconsin has better prospects for maintaining great schools, great public services and a great quality of life than most states, even in turbulent economic times.
Unfortunately, Walker has a political agenda that relies on the fantasy that Wisconsin is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Walker is not interested in balanced budgets, efficient government or meaningful job creation. Walker is interested in gaming the system to benefit his political allies and campaign contributors.
As Steve Benen says – “To fall for this cynical charade is to ignore reality.” So, you got a problem with that?
Of course with their natural constituency of aging white retirees on Social Security, Republicans want to slash a billion dollars from Social Security’s administrative budget:
Democrats warn this will lead to furloughs and other service interruptions that could delay checks and prevent new retirees from enrolling…. In a statement, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), who chairs the Social Security subcommittee under Levin, says, “This Republican plan would close down Social Security offices for an entire month this year. That means half a million American seniors, disabled workers and surviving family members – working people who have earned their Social Security benefits – will find themselves placed into a backlog of unprocessed claims. It means phones going unanswered, claims going unprocessed and a ripple effect of backlogged cases that will continue well beyond this year.”
And Kevin Drum says this:
Whatever you happen to think of Social Security as a program, even conservatives have always acknowledged that it’s a very efficient bit of bureaucracy with extremely low administrative costs. But not anymore, I guess…
Republicans are really skating on thin ice here. If they don’t rein in their famous freshman class soon, they’re going to end up pretty quickly as the most hated party in American political history.
But that’s not the bet. The bet is that when the Social Security check doesn’t come in the mail and you suddenly find that you can’t pay the rent or buy food, even that old standby cat food, you’ll say that’s great – the guys you elected are doing exactly what you sent them to Washington to do – to stop all the damned spending. You’ll be pleased. At least that’s the bet. Is that a good bet? Who knows? It’s worked so far.
And there’s that other matter. A month before the midterm elections, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said, “I don’t think the country needs or wants a shutdown.” And he added that when it comes to pursuing their cut-everything agenda, Republicans “have to be careful” or they’ll be “seen as a bunch of yahoos.” He did say that – only an idiot would shut down the government.
But things change, and now House Speaker John Boehner is saying “read my lips” – just like the first President Bush did – agree to all the cuts we propose or, even if the United States defaulting on all its obligations will bring down the world’s financial system, we’ll do it. And an aide to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Democratic chiefs of staff today that a shutdown is most likely going to happen. And Steve Benen adds this:
I traded emails yesterday with a Capitol Hill staffer with whom I speak regularly, and I think the aide’s perspective is worth passing along. (I’m republishing the staffer’s note with permission.)
And that note is depressing:
I’m of a firm belief the government will shut down after March 4th because the House and Senate won’t be able to come to a conclusion on a CR [continuing resolution]. So it isn’t a question of “if” in my mind, it is a question of “how long.”
It’s becoming clearer and clearer everyday that Republicans in the House have no connection to reality and are willing to burn it all down. Staff have sat dumbfounded over the last few days watching the floor, which no media is reporting on, to see how disconnected Republicans are from basic math. Their CR would do practically nothing to address the debt, but it will stunt any economic recovery (which they will blame on Obama).
What I don’t hear people talking about is that so many members of the House are millionaires and don’t seem to care how this will affect people. I don’t know how they can look their staffs in the eye, who will be royally screwed by this.
The wild card is President Obama. As we discussed last year, he has yet to prove he has a spine. I fear he will cave and give in on most if not all of the Republican demands. In that case our last defense would be a small set of Dem Senators who have yet to lose their minds. But we will see.
It’s hard to say how the White House and Senate Democrats are prepared to respond to the House GOP’s demands, because at this point, House Republicans aren’t even talking to Democrats. It’s tempting to think, with just 14 days left to avoid a shutdown, there’d be some kind of negotiations underway. By all appearances, that’s not the case … discussions are effectively non-existent.
In the meantime, Boehner told Fox News the other day, “There’s been no talk about shutting the government down on our side,” despite all kinds of talk about shutting the government down on his side.
I’d say the odds of a shutdown – at least one, starting midnight on March 4 – are about 70%.
But they were elected to shut down the government, weren’t they? In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a lengthy analysis of the Republicans’ proposed cuts and then provided this summary of some of the main provisions, like these Steve Benen lists:
Cut Head Start, which provides at-risk children up to age 5 with education, health, nutrition, and other services, by an amount equivalent to the cost of serving 157,000 children –
Cut Pell Grants, which help students afford college, by nearly 25 percent, affecting all 9 million students who receive them –
Cut, by more than half, Workforce Investment Act funding to provide job training, job search, and other employment assistance for low-income adults and workers whose jobs have been eliminated –
Cut, by more than half, two funds that help communities pay for sewage and wastewater treatment and for upgrading facilities that ensure safe drinking water –
Cut funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 22 percent, for the Food and Drug Administration by 10 percent, and for the Food Safety Inspection Service by 9 percent –
And he adds this:
All of this, of course, comes against an important backdrop – in December, the same GOP leaders demanding these cuts were also demanding massive tax breaks they didn’t even try to pay for. They’re arguing now that the cuts are absolutely unavoidable because of the deficit, which happens to be the deficit they created and made much worse a couple of months ago.
Gee, that’s sounds like what was set up in Wisconsin, but there’s more:
It doesn’t even get to devastating cuts to food safety, energy efficiency programs, environmental protections, NASA, scientific research, FEMA, and Centers for Disease Control. The associated job losses, as we learned this week, could total 1 million.
I can keep going with this, but there were two other specific areas that are worth paying particular attention to. Jon Chait noted yesterday the effects of proposed cuts to community health centers — which Republicans used to like — that would leave “around 3 million people without a regular source of affordable health care.”
And then there are the cuts to, of all things, nuclear security and counter-proliferation programs, which Senate Republicans fought just last year to increase, and which many experts believe would do serious harm to U.S. national security.
The Republican proposal, in other words, is the sort of budget a caucus might put together if it was really angry with Americans, as if we’d done something to offend them.
But unless Democrats go along all with this, they’ll shut down the government. And people will cheer. But they’re not useful idiots. No, they’re not useful idiots.
Benen – “I can only wonder how many midterm voters appreciated the fact that this mess is what the electorate chose to create.”
And of course Mike Pence’s bill to block all federal funding for Planned Parenthood was approved:
The 240-185 vote on Friday is a victory for anti-abortion forces led by Indiana GOP Rep. Mike Pence. He says taxpayer money should not go to groups that provide or promote abortion.
Democrats say Planned Parenthood provides contraception and other valuable family planning services, and that cutting off the money will make it hard for women to get such basic help.
Planned Parenthood provides services in hundreds of clinics around the country. Pence aides say the group reported receiving $363 million in federal money in its latest report.
And Benen also comments on this:
As a practical matter, Pence’s bill isn’t going anywhere, and he knows it. The measure won’t be approved in the Senate, and even if it somehow made it through the upper chamber, it’d get a presidential veto. Voters like these aren’t intended to be part of a governing agenda; they’re intended to score points and please right-wing constituencies. Republicans are wasting time to make themselves feel better.
Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement, “It is difficult to understand why people who say they are opposed to abortion would do so much to undermine the family planning and contraception that helps prevent the need for it.”
And Benen adds this:
Don’t go bothering them with logic, Cecile. They have a culture war to wage.
And so it goes.
And meanwhile, considering Wisconsin, there’s Glenn Beck:
The world is on fire, and there are three groups of people – three groups of people. They want a new world order.
One – this is your choice – one: one world government. This is Open Society. This is United Nations – whatever you want to call it – one world government. They have lots of money and lots of power, and they have NGOs, non-governmental organizations. They’re getting that done. They’re organized.
This one: this is the caliphate if you’re in Iran or Turkey. This one is the United Islamic Nations. This is the one the Muslim Brotherhood is going for now, but it all looked like this – it’s a new world order. And they have – they are organized, too. They have the religion and the mosques and apparently, help from Google as well, at least in Europe or – I mean, I’m sorry, in Egypt.
And then you have this one, workers union, or they call it state capitalism. Really what it is – it’s just good old-fashioned communism. They have unions and community organizing.
And thus you have the Muslim Brotherhood in Madison in cahoots with the teachers:
Unions are marching and protesting budget cuts close to $3 billion to close that hole. The unions claim that the cuts will affect teachers. But it’s not the everyday teacher that this story is really all about. It’s about the people looking to create chaos on the backs of the worker when the world’s focus is on Egypt.
Or maybe the teachers are useful idiots. Who knows? Lenin is dead. You can’t ask him. But someone is being had. Americans are natural rubes.
But when everything stops and nothing works, will people be cheering? Place your bets now.