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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

November 19, 2004 PERMALINK
Dubya's Odd Trial Balloon
(posted Nov. 19 1:30 AM ET)
(edited Nov. 19 11:45 AM ET)

We had a real head-scratcher of a trial balloon floated in the W. Post yesterday.

Just last week, LiberalOasis noted that Bush publicly committed himself to tax simplification.

But the tax "reform" floated by anonymous aides was nothing but a right-wing wish list of tax giveaways to businesses and high-rolling investors.

That might end up being a technical simplification, if it amounts to less pages in the tax code.

But it would not, in and of itself, significantly reduce the average time of 28.5 hours it takes Americans to fill out their forms.

Why float such a cop-out proposal?

Most likely they are worried about how much political capital it would really take to go for a flat tax or national sales tax.

But they are also worried that they've gotten the hopes up of the tax-cut-obsessed, so they want to see if they'll accept the goodie list instead of broader reform.

(One early signal says yes!)

At the same time, they have committed themselves to revenue-neutral tax reform, which means they must be feeling political pressure on the deficit (otherwise, they'd be calling this a tax cut).

In turn, they have found the need to float some revenue raisers -- ending deductions for state and local taxes, as well as business deductions for providing health insurance.

It is questionable if they are really serious about these, as they are both clear political losers.

The argument against the health insurance is straight-forward: no tax deduction, less people with insurance.

(Unless something else is done to compensate, and don't hold your breath).

In case you're curious, right-wingers don't like this deduction because they feel by making employer-sponsored health care cheaper, it "forces" people to take jobs with benefits.

Really.

(Though, note that the Right's normal solution is more politically saleable: to provide additional tax breaks to individuals, not to take away the business tax break.)

The other floated revenue raiser -- eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes -- was tried by Ronald Reagan in 1985.

But then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, representing outraged peoples from states with relatively higher taxes, famously swooped into DC and smacked Reagan silly.

Here's the 7/18/85 NY Times account:

Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Governor sought to rebut the contention by the President and his supporters that the deduction for state and local taxes needed to be repealed so that taxpayers from states with low taxes would not have to subsidize those from high-tax states such as New York.

"Let me answer that with some questions of my own," declared Mr. Cuomo, one of the most prominent opponents of repealing the state and local deductions.

"Is it right that the residents of New Jersey spend their money to subsidize farmers in Iowa? Why do Iowans contribute to mass transit in New Jersey? Why do the people of Alabama help build dams in the Northwest? And why do people in the Northwest help construct the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway?"

"A central idea at the heart of our Republic," Mr. Cuomo said, is "that we are one nation, not 50 nations, and that we are strongest when we stand together and help each other."

The deduction stayed.

Does Dubya want to hear the same from Governors Schwarzenegger, Romney and Pataki? Highly doubtful.

(Though it would be nice for someone to give that speech again, in these Red-Blue times.)

While it may be that Bush is cocky enough to think he could win these battles, it may also be he wants to float something patently ridiculous.

So when he offers a real proposal it will appear to be less controversial.

(Be on the lookout for cooked books that make the proposal look revenue-neutral without any controversial revenue raisers.)

That's why Dems don't need to jump up and down about these trial balloons.

Clearly, the Bushies are more unsure about what to do on taxes that we originally thought.

So we should let him stumble around in the dark for as long as possible. Our criticisms only help him devise strategy.

However, that doesn't mean we can't raise the pressure on Bush by proactively proposing our own style of tax simplification, as LO has discussed before.

Tapped agrees, and sees the opening to grab the upper hand in this debate, while Atrios worries about the political risks of going first, making yourself vulnerable to attack.

There are always more obvious risks with bolder action, but we are a party in need of sharper definition.

And we can creatively frame this issue to minimize the risks and reap great political benefits.

QUICK HIT

Who Cares, Women Won't Be Working By 2008 Anyway

This is from a 11/5/04 statement from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (released on a Friday, of course), titled "Discontinuation of Women Workers Employment Series":

Following the release of preliminary December 2004 data in February 2005, estimates for women workers will no longer be produced by the Current Employment Statistics program (establishment survey) in an effort to reduce respondent burden.

The less you know...

November 18, 2004 PERMALINK
Congressional Dem Strategy Begins To Emerge
(posted Nov. 18 2:30 AM ET)

The outlines of a Dem congressional strategy is beginning to emerge, and there is good and bad to it.

It does not appear to be an aggressive fighting posture, but nor is it one of total capitulation.

It is an attempt to be perceived as a party interested in compromise and consensus, while selectively picking battles to wage.

Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid summed it up this week with his, "I always would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight."

And we are already seeing it in their actions:

No coordinated attacks on nominees like Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzales.

But a well-coordinated attack on the GOP's "Indictment Rule" change to protect Tom DeLay's leadership post.

Fighting Rice and Gonzales and others would require healthy doses of vision, creativity and tenacity in order to buck Beltway CW and realize a victory of message, if not victory on the Senate floor.

Whereas going after DeLay's growing ethical problems is an opening where the attack playbook is well-established.

(Though it is unclear if Dems will be as diligent in pursuing DeLay as backbencher upstart Newt Gingrich was with House Speaker Jim Wright in 1989.)

So basically, Dems passed on the tough stuff, but were willing to go hard at the low-hanging fruit.

On policy issues, we're seeing some very preliminary groundwork being laid on looming issues like tax simplification and Social Security privatization.

But the overall approach is passivity now, fight later.

Here's Reid on CNN's Inside Politics yesterday:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Are you prepared to accept partial privatization of Social Security?

REID: ...Let them put something in writing, and we will take a look at it.

At first glance, I'm not for privatizing Social Security, but I am certainly not saying I won't look at what the president proposes.

WOODRUFF: What about tax reform?

Are you open to moving to either a value added tax or a national sales tax to replace part or all of the income tax?

REID: Well, one of the things they've talked about is coming up with a value added tax.

If we come up with a system like they have in Europe, I think it would not help the very complicated system we have now.

I think they have the worst of all worlds there. They have an income tax and then when you finish that, they have a sales tax on everything.

If the president is really interested in simplification, there are a lot of plans out there, and I'm happy, happy, to talk about simplification.

The American people need tax simplification. We're willing to work with the president on that.

Let's start talking specifics rather than these hypotheticals.

As you can see there's some nicey-nicey talk there, but no real move to the Right on substance.

That suggests Reid and others fully expect to fight these issues once details of Bush's proposals emerge.

Is this approach ideal? No.

As LiberalOasis has argued before, being aggressive out of the box -- both in proposing policy and in opposing concepts -- is the smarter strategy.

But what Reid is suggesting is not capitulation either.

It is, by showing deference, inadvertently relegating Dems to an even weaker starting position than need be for Dubya's 2nd term.

And it is ceding opportunities to improve public understading of Dem guiding principles.

But it is not saying there will be no fights.

In all likelihood, there will be some fights.

Probably not as many as there should be.

But as there were more in 2003 than in 2001, bet on more in 2005 than 2003, as the party slowly gets better at being an effective opposition party.

And of course, to maximize their effectiveness, we all need to keep pushing the congressional Dems, and showing them opportunities for productive confrontation that they are likely to miss.

November 17, 2004 PERMALINK
Fry Rice
(posted Nov. 17 2 AM ET)
(edited Nov. 17 8:45 AM ET)

Apparently, some are in need of a refresher course on the Constitution.

Yesterday, CNN's Bob Novak said:

While some Democrats will inevitably cry foul over President Bush's choice [for Sec. of State], they might want to consult the results of this month's election to see who gets to pick the Cabinet.

And on Monday, MSNBC's Chris Matthews said:

The president has a right to his or her Secretary of State. Itís not like a court appointment where itís a joint decision.

Actually Chris, it is exactly like a court appointment.

In fact, it is the exact same "Advice and Consent" clause in the Constitution that gives the Senate -- majority and minority -- partial authority in selecting judges and Cabinet officers:

[The President] shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law

So let's get this straight, once and for all.

It is not simply the President's personal Cabinet. It is America's Cabinet.

There are other positions, like National Security Adviser and director of the Office of Management and Budget, that do simply serve the President and are not subject to Senate confirmation and supervision.

But that's not the Cabinet. Those folks are more important and accountable to more than just the President.

That's why it's a Cabinet, and not a Politburo.

Some in Washington seem to get this. One of them is Sen. Jay Rockefeller.

This is from yesterday's Inside Politics on CNN:

CANDY CROWLEY: Anything bother you about Condoleezza Rice at the head of the State Department?

ROCKEFELLER: Candy, I'm not sure yet. I'm thinking about it.

The 9/11 Commission did not give the National Security Council good marks.

It said it had been weak. And, of course, she headed that up...

...people who work in the State Department really want their secretary to stand up for them, to represent also their points of view, not exclusively their points of view, but also their points of view.

And so I have the question, is she going to do that or is she going to simply be an appendage to the White House?...

...independence from the White House is a part of an effective secretary of state.

It's not perfect messaging yet, but it's a good starting point for an opposition strategy.

And at least someone is starting.

Dems were pretty quiet yesterday, and clearly no one is coordinating a strategy to make a basic case against Bush nominations.

(It's only Day 2 Harry Reid, but you got to get cracking.)

Part of the problem is that Dems are being short-sighted, thinking that if there's no chance to derail a nomination, then there is no point in criticizing the nomination.

Even Rockefeller undercut his criticisms by saying, "I think it's almost certain that she will be confirmed."

Newsflash to congresspeople: You are not paid to prognosticate, and it never, ever helps the cause.

It appears that Dems do want to throw tough questions to Rice in the confirmation hearing.

But nothing will be highlighted if everyone sends signals to the press that her confirmation is assured, because then there is no story.

And if you save all your best stuff for the hearing, then you haven't laid any groundwork for the public to understand what the big deal is.

In this case, what is the big deal?

It's not just scoring cheap political points about the Iraq quagmire.

It's not so much that Rice is "incompetent and dishonest" as Paul Begala charged on CNN's Crossfire yesterday -- though Dems should not be shy to bring those subjects up.

It's more about the expected "housecleaning" that LiberalOasis discussed yesterday, and what that means for future foreign policy.

Because that gets into what direction she will be taking the State Department, and the Senate has a direct role in determining that direction.

The kinds of questions that need to be posed to Rice, by senators and the media (and if Senators consistently raise them, the media will likely follow) are:

-- Are you planning to purge the State Department like how Porter Goss is purging the CIA?

-- It appears that people who have disagreements with Bush are the ones to be targeted in any housecleaning, but shouldn't those who raised concerns about the quality of Iraq intelligence and argued for better post-war planning be getting promotions and not pink slips?

-- If the President can't handle straight talk from his diplomatic corps that doesn't jibe with his worldview, and he doesn't read the newspapers, how will he know what's going on in the word?

November 16, 2004 PERMALINK
One Last Humiliation
(posted Nov. 16 12 AM ET)

In a fitting end to his pathetic tenure at State, Colin Powell was smacked down by Dubya one final time, after asking for some more time to see if he could work some post-Arafat magic.

From CNN's Inside Politics:

JOHN KING: There are some in the administration who said that he wanted to stay through March or April to try to explore that opening [in the Middle East, following Arafat's death].

And the answer from the White House was no. Is that your understanding?

MIKE ALLEN (W. Post reporter): Yes, John.

You saw here how awkward this departure is.

Just as the secretary is heading out on a Middle East peace mission, he's announced his departure.

This is a very sensitive moment in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Why not keep your top diplomat around to manage it, instead of turning him into a lame duck during the confirmation process?

Because you think other things are more important than waging peace.

Like what? As NBC Nightly News' Andrea Mitchell reported last night:

...officials tell NBC News Mr. Bush wants his National Security Adviser [Condi Rice] to oversee a top to bottom housecleaning of the State Department.

Knight-Ridder echoed that, in more pointed fashion:

"They're going to purge the State Department," said one of the senior [Administration] officials, adding that he'd heard White House officials say:

"The State Department doesn't get it. They're not on the president's message."

Apparently, Dubya fully subscribes to Newt Gingrich's diagnosis from his '03 American Enterprise Institute speech:

Everything that has gone wrong is the State Department's fault.

Well, that's not totally fair. "Soft leakers and liberal Democrats" at the CIA are to blame also.

By "housecleaning" State and CIA first and foremost, there will be a lot of long-term benefits.

For example, there won't be any more annoying reality-based reports, like the "Future Of Iraq Project," or silly best-selling books, like "Imperial Hubris".

Such things require independent thought from experienced professionals. There'll be no more of that ridiculousness.

This is another chapter of Bush's war against the civil service, which began with the big '02 battle over how to establish the Homeland Security department.

As LiberalOasis noted at the time, Bush's desire for more "managerial flexibility" was really part of a long-standing right-wing goal:

To gut civil service protections, so the federal workforce can be politicized.

That means instead of a career civil service that checks excessive executive power, minimizes nepotism, and puts a premium on experience, we'll get a workforce of hacks that blindly does the President's bidding.

That's what we got for Homeland Security, with its politicized terror alerts.

That's what's happening now at the CIA, and what is in the works for State.

And getting that "reform" going is way more important than that Middle East peace nonsense.

November 15, 2004 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Nov. 15 12:30 AM ET)

If anything this Sunday should send fear shooting through your bones, it is this revelation from Sen. Joe Lieberman, said on Fox News Sunday:

I hope that in the second Bush term that President Bush will develop a kind of consultative relationship, certainly with Democratic leaders like Harry Reid.

And I think that will help avoid the kinds of filibusters that really a lot of us moderate Democrats ó and we talked about this just last week when we had a phone conference ó don't want to be involved in.

And we'd much prefer to give an up-or-down vote to a president's judicial nominations.

He earned that right when he got elected.

[emphasis added]

Yes that's right. The so-called moderates are already organizing and strategizing over how to avoid standing up to the GOP.

Their rallying cry? Filibusters. Eeewwww. Icky.

Making Lieberman's remarks more bizarre is that he preceded them with some understanding of what Dems are up against:

During the Clinton years, as far as I can tell, more than 60...judicial nominations were blocked not by a filibuster but because the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee never even gave those nominees a hearing.

But of course, he draws the exact wrong lesson from that:

The point of fact here is that both of these, the filibuster [by the Dems] and the blocking of even a hearing under President Clinton, are signs of a government here in Washington that has grown too partisan.

No, the point of fact is that the Right is on a ruthless mission to remake the judiciary and shred the civil rights protections that have been established over the last half-century.

And they are not interested in getting your permission for it.

Fortunately, over on ABC's This Week, Sen. Chuck Schumer showed more spunk:

Some of nominees...the President put forward for the Court of Appeals said there should be no zoning laws [because] it's a taking of property, it's unconstitutional.

[And] there should be no labor laws -- if...an employer wanted to have a child work...80 hours a week, that would be OK.

If that's strict constructionism, then we don't want it...

....if the president nominates an extremist who wants to roll back the clock [to the] 1930s, 1890s, of course he'll be opposed.

If he nominates a mainstream judge, he won't.

That's the kind of thing all Dems should be doing now.

Laying down the substantive groundwork for future filibusters by detailing how right-wing judges will directly harm your life, your family, and your community.

Back to Lieberman.

Here's another revealing exchange, where Fox's Chris Wallace was discussing with Lieberman the hot water Sen. Alan Specter is in with the Religious Right.

WALLACE: Let's take a comparable situation.

Let's say the Democrats ó and this would be a big leap at this point ó take back control of the Senate.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, lovely thought.

WALLACE: And the person who is scheduled to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is a right-to-lifer.

You don't think liberal groups would be up in arms about that?

LIEBERMAN: They probably would.

Oh, would they?

Perhaps, Mr. Joementum, instead of taking another cheap shot at liberals, you might have noted that the incoming Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, is pro-life.

And not only is the choice not provoking ideological civil war between liberals and moderates.

But Reid has a good working relationship with NARAL Pro-Choice America (he is pro-contraception and pro-stem cell research).

That's all for the good, if Reid is willing to aggressively filibuster right-wing judicial nominations.

His pro-life views can only help broaden the debate over judges and broaden public support for opposing Bush's picks.

Of course, we don't know that Reid will aggressively filibuster judicial nominations. (Yesterday's NY Times profile sends mixed signals on his overall approach.)

But if he is planning on it, he better get on these "Senate moderate" conference calls and bring the hammer down. Now.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Night Light: Dems won 3M more Senate votes than GOP

The Yellin Report sizes up the '05 and '06 contests

Altercation: "[Arafat] was a force for order and we are about to enter a period of instability that could make matters even worse ... But then it may get better. Newer, more pragmatic leadership may emerge within the Palestinians. The Israelis may see the potential of this and replace Sharon with someone who wants a fairer, more sustainable peace ..."

MyDD: "Kerry Campaign Looking At Ohio"

Discourse.net: "Do not forget that Gonzales ... is the guy who when the Plame investigation was bearing down on the White House ensured that the guilty parties had all the time they could want to shred everything incriminating"

Off The Kuff: "... regarding all this "Fsck the South" stuff. It's insulting, and I refuse to loathe myself because of where I live"

Lean Left: Will Gonzales be any better than Ashcroft?

MSNBC's Bloggermann has more on potential election fraud

Corrente posts a dispatch from a convoy commander in Iraq who was just attacked

Kerry U-Blog has a roundup of recent posts by Elizabeth Edwards on Democratic Underground

Body and Soul: "Reports of civilian casualties [in Falluja] caused a pullout in April. Clearly the military's first priority was to stop those reports. Not the casualties. The reports."

TalkLeft: "Minn. Citizen Gets Draft Board Training Notice"

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