’A Breach of Trust’

The Pentagon has proposed a $5 a month increase in the health insurance premium payment for working age military retirees. A modest increase, indeed, and when you consider what they pay now–$515 A YEAR—it seems in these tough times, Republicans would think this not even worthy of discussion.

No, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was before a congressional committee yesterday defending it.

Rep. E. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) told Gates that based on his conversations with retirees, who had enlisted with the expectation that they would get free health care for life, the proposed increase was "a breach of trust to change the deal."

Not only does this Republican think that working age retirees, who are already getting a handsome pension in addition to whatever salary they’ve been able to get as a Beltway Bandit, should not pay about $43 a month for health insurance for their entire family, he calls it a “breach of trust.”

Wonder what he would say about the breach of trust going on all around the country, including Virginia, where Republican governors are asking state workers to pay into their retirement plan and, as in Wisconsin, are taking away their bargaining rights.

Isn’t that a breach of trust?

Muslim Student Union & Tea Partiers

So the University of California Irvine has suspended the Muslim Student Union over its protest against the Israeli ambassador to the United States. The students tried to shout down the ambassador as he was giving a speech. There was no violence and according to a Washington Post editorial today, they all left the lecture hall peacefully.

The Post thinks their actions were “obnoxious” and “infuriating.”

And now the local D.A. wants to charge the students with “disturbing a public meeting and engaging in a conspiracy to do so.”

Imagine for a moment, what we would have heard from the right if congressmen in the summer of 2009 had asked that Tea Partiers be arrested for “disturbing a public meeting.”

Boehner’s Calculated ‘So Be It’

The Washington Post buried the story about Speaker Boehner’s remarks on the possible loss of federal jobs resulting from reduced spending. The story is inside the Metro section, probably because he was talking about government jobs, of which many are local. It’s a stretch but that’s the only reason I can see for its placement.

But Dana Milbank writes about the comment on the op-ed page and in it states a truth that should be part of this debate but this is the only time I’ve seen it stated.

Let’s assume that Boehner is not as heartless as his words sound. Let’s accept that he really believes, as he put it, that "if we reduce spending we’ll create a better environment for job creation in America." A more balanced budget would indeed improve the jobs market – in the long run.

But in the short run, the cuts Boehner and his caucus propose would cause a shock to the economy that would slow, if not reverse, the recovery. And however pure Boehner’s motives may be, the dirty truth is that a stall in the recovery would bring political benefits to the Republicans in the 2012 elections. It is in their political interests for unemployment to remain higher for the next two years. "So be it" is callous but rational.

The strategy is canny. First focus on discretionary spending where you can cut ideologically. Republicans are hoping to kill programs they don’t like before they tackle the real problem, entitlements. I’m sure their strategy then will be to cut entitlements for the poor and middle class while preserving them for the truly entitled.

A proven communications strategy is to accuse your opponent of something you think they will hit you with, so when they do, it seems calculated by your opponent and becomes easy to fight back against. Obama and Democrats ought now to start charging the GOP with killing jobs by cutting spending, so when it happens, you can say, “I told you so.” Because killing jobs is just what the GOP wants.

“The American People Want…”

How many times since the November election—and really before that—have you heard a Republican say that “the American people want” everything from smaller government, less spending, lower taxes, a reduced deficit?  They say it at press conference, at congressional hearings, on the cable talk shows, and the phrase makes it into plenty of print stories.

It reinforces that Republican reputation for message discipline. They all say it. Members of the House and Senate, governors, state legislators, think tankers. They are better trained than monkeys. And if you say it often enough, American start to believe it.

Well, Democrats, at the very least learn from the best. Start saying it, but with a different ending. The fact is Americans don’t necessarily want smaller government, less spending, etc. Yes, they want smaller deficits, but you can get at that, of course, in two ways—cut spending or raise taxes.

And the fact is, Americans don’t want to cut much spending when you get down to specifics, as the Pew Research Center poll of last week revealed, not that it was much of a secret. Americans are always wanting a free lunch. (More on the Pew survey in a future post.)

But the phrase is effective because it positions the speaker as a servant of the public.

I can understand why, given the contradictory polling on this issue, some journalists don’t challenge a GOPer for saying that “the American people want.” After all, most of them are simply stenographers.

But last night,I heard a newly elected GOP senator repeat the line several times—on The Last Word on MSNBC. Why wasn’t Lawrence O’Donnell challenging him on his contention that 70 percent of American want to cut spending? It would have been easy to counter what he said by using the Pew data that shows not a single category of spending garners a majority of Americans saying they want to cut it.

So MSNBC, do your job. And Dems, do your job and repeat after me (again using the Pew survey as your source):

The American people don’t want us to cut spending on education, veterans benefits, healthcare, Medicare, crime fighting, energy and a lot more programs. They want us to keep spending the same or more in an overwhelming number of areas. It’s only the Republicans who want us to go backward with inferior schools, clog roads and expensive energy. The American people want a strong, vital America to pass down to their children. That’s what the American people want.

GOP Issues Press Release; Post’s Montgomery Provides the Megaphone

Over the past month, there have been 13 stories written by Lori Montgomery. Some of the ledes are revealing:

One tells the reader how Obama won’t be able to overhaul the tax codes because of the tax compromise. (“Extension of tax cuts chokes Obama’s deficit plans”)

Another story complains that Obama hasn’t embraced the deficit commission plans. (“Obama not likely to call for Social Security cuts”)

She ridicules the president by calling his plans for more spending as “investments” in quotes, a writing device used to deride the use of the word. (“Everyone wants budget cuts, but will they work?”)

Meanwhile, she writes about how the GOP pledges “to slice more than $32 billion from agency budgets.” (“House Republicans propose $32 billion in budget cuts”)

Or how they “sketched their vision for a smaller government,” again by cutting programs that would make a miniscule reduction in the deficit. (“House GOP points budget knife at EPA, top Obama priorities”)

She writes about House GOP leaders are hoping to enact “massive and unprecedented cuts,” again for the  portion of the budget that would be meaningless in light of the long-term deficits. (“Rift over spending cuts tests the GOP”)

But then today, when the president presents a 2012 budget with significant cuts, he is derided by Montgomery: “Obama will avoid politically dangerous recommendations to wipe out cherished tax breaks and to restrain safety-net programs for the elderly….” Sunday, she wrote that the proposal “would barely put a dent in the deficits that congressional budget analysts say could approach $12 trillion through 2021.”

Why hasn’t she written during the past month about the GOP avoiding those same cuts? It’s laudable to Montgomery that the GOP is making small cuts in programs they ideologically oppose while she gives them a free pass on the larger budget items, i.e. Social Security and Medicare. But the fact that the party has avoided the big cuts is ignored, even as Speaker Boehner said again this weekend that the party will address those issues sometime in the vague “future.”

No wonder the GOP wins the message wars. The party just issues a press release and Montgomery provides the megaphone.

Finally, Obama Adopts Family Responsibility Theme

I’ve argued to anyone who’ll listen that the meme Republicans have used about government having to tighten its belt “just like families do” was not only flawed, but ripe for adopting as a Democratic theme. Now, President Obama did it with his Saturday radio address.

When faced with financial challenges, families do several things. Yes, they cut back spending.  But they also look to increase income. They know not everything can or should be cut across the board. Some things you can do without; others are necessary to succeed in the long run. So, like the family alluded to in Obama’s speech where the mother is looking for a second job because they want their child to finish college, families do what’s necessary to pay for the things they think are important. The president uses this narrative to turn the tables on the disingenuous GOP narrative and argues the federal government shouldn’t cut everything. Some investments must be made because if we don’t, we’ll put our kids at a disadvantage to compete in the future. They won’t have the education or the infrastructure to compete. They’ll be more dependent on foreign oil than ever before with an antiquated transportation system that will choke economic growth. All because we want to cut taxes and slice not only muscle but bone from the our governments.

Text of speech is here. Video below.

Who You Calling Liars?

All the more reason we need journalists who fact check.

Politick calls Republicans liars at three times the rate they call Democrats liars. Naturally, someone has a problem with that. In this case, Eric Ostermeier, a researcher at the University of Minnesota and author of the Smart Politics blog.

Politick, the high profile political fact-checking operation at the St. Petersburg Times, has been criticized by those on the right from time to time for alleged bias in its grading of statements made by political figures and organizations.

Ostermeier questions how Politick determines which statements get evaluated, suggesting the website authors seek out more damaging GOP statements than Democratic ones. He notes that the site evaluates as many GOP statements as Democratic ones, but that’s not good enough.  Apparently he wants some kind of algorithm to prove they are being fair.

Whatever. Best part of this confusing post is this quote from Politifact editor Bill Adair:

"The media in general has shied away from fact checking to a large extent because of fears that we’d be called biased, and also because I think it’s hard journalism. It’s a lot easier to give the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand kind of journalism and leave it to readers to sort it out. But that isn’t good enough these days. The information age has made things so chaotic, I think it’s our obligation in the mainstream media to help people sort out what’s true and what’s not."

Amen.

h/t Political Wire

Do Regulations Kill Jobs?: Q but no A

Well, the Washington Post  has made a feeble attempt to weigh in on this question but in a way that makes one wonder why. As I wrote on Monday, a front page story that day had at least 13 references to jobs either in quotes or attributions that made the claim that “regulations kill jobs,” exactly the message Republicans want delivered. Even though the reporters of that story admitted in it that those making the claims didn’t provide evidence that it was true, Post reporters David Hilzenrath and Phil Rucker gave a big megaphone to that claim.

When I sent my Monday post to Rucker, he responded that “we will do our due diligence to fact-check industry’s claims.” Perhaps today’s article is that “due diligence.” If so, it is thin gruel served up not on page one in a 1,500+ word story as was Monday’s, but on page A13 and in less than 600 words. And it makes no effort to fact check.

In fact, the story’s headline sort of promises something the article doesn’t deliver. In the print edition this morning, the headline is “Panel: Do regulations kill jobs?” Hilzenrath then spends the first part of the aisle quoting from a clearly partisan report by the staff of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by Republican California Congressman Darrell Issa. All the quotes or attributions are unsubstantiated.

"Many regulations that appear to impose a large burden on the private sector, while providing a dubious benefit to the public, still remain on course and on the books," the staff of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform says in a report prepared for a hearing Thursday on complaints from business groups.

The report is part of a broad review of federal regulations by the new Republican leadership in the House, spearheaded by the chairman of the oversight panel, Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.).

Issa asked business groups to identify regulations that have hurt employment, and the report draws on more than 200 responses addressing rules in areas such as the environment, workplace safety and Wall Street.

Though Issa’s staff has said it is still gathering information, some conclusions appear in the report.

"There is some evidence that regulations affecting the financial services industry may limit the job creation and growth capabilities of the U.S., reducing economic growth by as much as 4 percent," the report says.

The report cites Environmental Protection Agency standards for industrial boilers as "an example of the Agency getting the cost-benefit balance wrong."

It cites the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as arguing that "industries are effectively regulated out of business."

And it highlights the benefits of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a process by which natural gas deposits are extracted. Some communities have protested that the process can contaminate drinking water.

The staff report says fracking "is crucial to accessing enormous deposits," and it says the EPA’s approach to the issue "could be a precursor to full-blown EPA regulation of this job-creating domestic power resource."

Similarly, the report expresses concern about potential regulation of the ash created when coal is burned to create electricity. "The substantial costs of handling coal ash as hazardous waste would be insurmountable for many power plants," it says.

Hilzenrath then turns over the last part of the article to arguments from folks with a different view. They say regulations may spur innovation and create jobs in new fields, or that lack of regulations actually hurts the job market, i.e., insufficient financial regulation costs lots of jobs, and not just in the financial sector. Former labor secretary in the Clinton administration Robert Reich argues colorfully.

"Presumably, we could generate a lot of jobs by getting rid of all regulations and working for $2 an hour in dangerous and fetid working conditions in cities whose air could hardly be breathed and spewing out products that one in 10 consumers might die from."

So the article itself never answers the question in the headline. In fact, the headline is misleading as the panel didn’t pose the question as much as gave a one-sided partisan answer. Granted reporters don’t write headlines and headline writers all too frequently seem not to read articles. But the bottom line is that this is just another “he said, she said” article.

Here is another way of getting to the question.

I grant you that it would be pretty easy to argue that regulations cost businesses money. A particular business hit with regulations may be poorer for it and may consequently, not hire as much as they would if they didn’t have to spend the money complying with regulations. However, even that conclusion is suspect. How do we know that the cash saved by not having to comply with regulations won’t simply go to shareholders as higher dividends or executives in the form of higher pay?

And what about the jobs that regulations create. Certainly someone has to work on the regulations and enforce them. And regulations that might hinder one industry create opportunities for other companies in competing industries.

But I don’t think that’s what regulatory critics are arguing. They are referring to jobs in their companies or industry. But is that what is most important for the common good, or as the U.S. Constitution puts it, are the regulations designed to “promote the general welfare”?

After more than 2,100 words from The Post, we still don’t know.

Evidence of Regulations Killing Job? Anyone?

I just discovered what could be a terrific website called Remapping Debate. It launched last October.

The heart of our work will be original reporting.  We take seriously the idea that the job of journalists is to question and to illuminate.  We believe that we need to question ourselves as much as we question others.

We think we need to reject the mental borderlines that leaves "mainstream" reporters generally speaking to "mainstream" sources, and "alternative" reporters generally speaking to "alternative" sources.

We insist that it is probing – not stenography – that can illuminate and inform, and that challenging a policy maker or policy advocate to engage with alternatives to a pre-scripted sound bite represents not commentary but an essential element of real reporting.

While exploring the site, I found this article, which argues that those claiming “regulations kill jobs” clearly have no evidence to back up their claim. Apropos of my post two days ago on this question, the article illuminates.

The idea is widely taken for granted. “Job-killing regulation” has become not only a mantra of today’s Republicans, but also the marketing pitch for a host of plans to have Congress exercise preemptive powers over federal rule-making and enforcement efforts.

It turns out, however, that it is easier to generate provocative rhetoric on this topic than to provide historical evidence for the proposition that regulations do, in fact, kill jobs. Through repeated inquiry, Remapping Debate established that, at least in Washington, vociferous opponents of regulation are often unable or unwilling to offer any such evidence, even in the area of regulation — environmental protection — that is the ground zero of current Republican fury.

The article gives numerous examples of statements on this issue by people who can provide no evidence to back up their claims. I sent it on to Phil Rucker, one of the Post reporters who responded to me when I sent him my post. He said The Post will fact check these claims in future articles.

In this sidebar below, Remapping Debate summarizes the responses it received after asking for the evidence that EPA regulations kill jobs. Note that Congressman Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform who is leading the charge against regulations, is among them.

Show us the evidence

Remapping Debate invited several prominent opponents of regulation, in and out of government, to provide evidence of EPA regulations that “killed” jobs. Each of the following was apparently unable or unwilling to do so:

  • Margo Thorning, chief economist of the American Council for Capital Formation and the author of a 2010 study that predicted a loss of 2.4 million jobs if the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill were enacted and implemented.
  • Rosario Palmieri, vice president for infrastructure, legal and regulatory policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, which commissioned the ACCF study and which, on its website, declares the EPA’s proposals a threat to "manufacturers, businesses and jobs throughout America."
  • Nicole V. Crain and William M. Crain, co-authors of a widely cited study — done for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy — putting the total annual cost of all regulation at $1.7 trillion — a figure far higher than most such assessments.
  • Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the new chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform committee, who has announced an inquiry into the "impact of government hyperregulation on job creation."
  • Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY), the prime House sponsor of the REINS Act, which, by requiring congressional approval of every major rule " before it could be enforced on the American people and businesses," aims to "rein in the costly overreach of federal agencies that stifles job creation and hinders economic growth."
  • Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), whose Free Industry Act would amend the Clean Air Act to declare that nothing in that law "shall be treated as authorizing or requiring the regulation of climate change or global warming."

This letter to the editor of Remapping Debate has at least two credible examples of regulations killing jobs.