The Day the Stimulus Era Died
“Obviously (the cuts) would be contractionary to some extent, but our analysis doesn’t give a number that high.”
-- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in Senate testimony disputing projections touted by Democrats of huge job losses and economic contraction from proposed Republican spending cuts
The Senate today is expected to approve a two-week spending bill that is a miniature version of a Republican plan for the rest of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fumed bitterly to reporters about the stopgap agreement to prevent a government shutdown on Friday, calling it “a terrible way to govern,” but nonetheless said he would sign off on the deal.
This is a major win for House Republicans since it establishes their level of cuts as the new status quo, even if only for two weeks. President Obama is expected to quickly sign the spending plan and in doing so will establish the new normal for funding the government.
The White House has been notably absent on the issue, and today’s temporary defeat for the president’s spending plan calls into question what liberal columnist Ruth Marcus today calls the “Where’s Waldo” approach to policy by Obama.
Today’s vote reflects a miscalculation on Reid’s part. Democrats initially believed that Republicans would pay politically for a government shutdown, but a series of polls showed that Democrats would suffer more. Speaker John Boehner putting a plan on offer to avert a shutdown forced Reid’s hand.
That means Obama’s decision to avoid the battle leaves him in the position of ratifying a Republican agenda, albeit for only two weeks, that he and his team claim will shatter the fragile economic recovery. But neither can the president afford to veto a bill that includes the relative pittance of $4 billion in cuts, especially since Republicans targeted programs that Obama calls for trimming next year.
From the House Republicans’ perspective, they don’t care if they get their cuts at $61 billion for 28 weeks in one vote or $4 billion for two weeks in 14 separate votes. They know they won’t get all of what they want, but this is a big step in their direction.
The only thing that seemed to soothe Reid’s dyspepsia on Tuesday was the fact that the negotiations will now begin for the remaining 26 weeks of the fiscal year. But with today’s action, the status quo ceases to be the Democratic spending plan of December and is now the Republican spending plan of March.
The difficulty of Obama’s position in favor of maintaining stimulus spending levels, though, was revealed as Reid and other Democrats sought to show their support for cutting too. While Democrats suggested that the trimming could be done by eliminating waste in government spending, it is an important concession on principle. After all, even wasted money would be stimulative to some degree.
The two-week spending plan expected today will avert a government shutdown, but it is also the official end of the stimulus era that began in 2008.
Scorched Earth in Wisconsin
“Obama and the union bosses are standing in the way of economic reform.”
-- New ad from the Republican National Committee airing in Wisconsin
If you watch the video of union activists chasing and then cornering a Wisconsin Senate Republican Glenn Grothman screaming “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and holding a loudspeaker in his face, you get the sense of how nasty things have gotten in Madison.
Grothman, who was trying to get into the statehouse to hear the budget address from Republican Gov. Scott Walker looks genuinely afraid as the protesters pursue him and eventually trap him to berate him. Later, as Walker gave his budget address drummers and protesters with bullhorns chanted constantly in an effort to drown him out.
Democrats and their labor allies believe the battle is turning in their direction and are intensifying their attacks on Walker and the state GOP.
National Republicans are trying to provide some air of support for Walker, who has taken a bruising in the public relations battle in the state. First the Republican Governors Association and now the Republican National Committee are going on air with ads that look to bolster Walker’s position.
The RNC, led by Walker’s fellow Wisconsinite Reince Priebus, makes the effort to link President Obama and “union bosses” to the around-the-clock protests in Madison – suggesting that it is all part of the president’s billion-dollar reelection strategy.
Democratic Senators have bought labor groups two weeks to hammer Walker and the GOP by hiding out in Illinois and preventing a vote. Now content that they have badly damaged the new governor, they may choose to end their strike.
There is word of a deal that would bring Senate Democrats back to work in the coming days. They have seen their own standing badly damaged by their fugitive status and are eager to have a way to return and save face.
Stay tuned. With passions running this high, today could prove the turning point in the battle of Wisconsin.
Will Ohio Democrats Flee to Block Union Vote?
"If you take away the right to strike, you are taking the biggest bargaining chip off the table."
-- Ohio state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat, talking to the New York Times
While all the attention has been on Madison, Republican lawmakers in Ohio may pass a bill today that puts steep curbs on government unions.
Granted, the Ohio bill is a more temperate proposal in that it preserves collective bargaining rights for Buckeye State workers, but it would put a serious crimp in the power of Democratic-allied labor groups to collect dues and push for lavish benefits.
The process in Ohio, despite calls for massive demonstrations by union leaders, has been much smoother than in Wisconsin. The Republicans in the Ohio Senate have modified their bill in an effort to win some Democratic support or at least prevent a walkout like the ones in Wisconsin and Indiana.
But given the success that Wisconsin Democrats have had in slowing the process and letting their allies in labor and the press pound on Gov. Scott Walker, one wonders what pressure Ohio Democrats will be under to try a similar tactic.
The central complaint from labor groups about the Ohio plan is that it would make strikes illegal for state workers. They could bargain, but not walk off the job if they didn’t get what they want. In one of the most heavily unionized states in the nation, that is sure to set off a firestorm.
Qaddafi Gains Ground
-- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaking at the Atlantic Council
The army of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi is retaking key locations in the country’s central oilfields and rousting rebels in other regions as the international community looks on.
But, after a week of killing his own citizens, Qaddafi did see his country suspended from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Not even the support of Cuba and North Korea was enough to save Libya from that fate.
The Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday in favor of a no-fly zone over the country in which American airpower would be used to keep Qaddafi’s air force on the ground. But the Obama administration expresses acute concern that if U.S. forces start enforcing a no-fly zone in Libyan skies it will lessen the authenticity of the rebel movement.
The administration has ordered ships to the region (the American evacuees who spent three days trapped on a rented ferry might have liked to have seen that a bit sooner).
If past practice for the administration and the U.N. is any guide, the decision to take military action will come after Qaddafi has reestablished control over all the vital regions of the country and slaughtered much of his opposition.
That sets up the possibility of a Kosovo scenario instead of swift strikes.
Islamists Kill Christian Leader in Pakistan
"This is concerted campaign to slaughter every liberal, progressive and humanist voice in Pakistan.”
-- Farahnaz Ispahani, an aide to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, on the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the highest ranking Christian in the nation’s government
The secular government in Pakistan, the most important U.S. ally in the war in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda, seems locked in a death spiral.
Islamist assassins claimed their highest-profile target yet, Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs and the most prominent Christian in the government. Not only did Bhatti’s faith offend Muslim radicals but also his opposition to a new law that imposes the death penalty on anyone convicted of preaching the Gospel in the Muslim nation of 170 million.
Bhatti, who seems to have been left vulnerable by a suddenly absent security detail, was slaughtered by an Islamist death squad while sitting in his car. The previous high-profile assassination by Islamists was of the governor of the Punjab Province, another reformer, by his own bodyguard.
In that case, the bodyguard has become a hero to many in the nation for taking credit for the killing and expressing a willingness to be martyred for Islam.
The Punjab Province is where CIA contractor Raymond Davis is being held for the murder of two men he says were trying to rob him in the streets of Lahore. The Obama administration has demanded Davis’ release because he was traveling on a diplomatic passport. Pakistan has refused.
The Islamist assassinations and the Davis case are parts of the same whole. The Zardari government appears to be fatally compromised but is increasingly resisting domestically unpopular U.S. demands in a bid to save his skin.
The Obama administration is staking the war effort in Afghanistan on the ability to fight a covert war inside Pakistan, a strategy that is hated there. As his government falls, whether in the parliament or to Islamist death squads, Zardari may seek to further appease his impoverished and restive citizens by yanking Uncle Sam’s beard more forcefully.
From the 2012 Quote File
"I have people calling me and saying to me, 'Let me explain to you how you could win.' And I’m like, 'You’re barking up the wrong tree. I already know I could win.' That's not the issue."
-- Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., to National Review
And Now, A Word From Charles
“Look, anybody who has watched a construction project funded by the stimulus -- there is one outside my house, with eight guys watching two guys digging a hole -- knows that is how it works. And you add 12 zeros after that and we're talking the GAO report.”