Explaining Paulson's plan better than Paulson.
Friday, June 27, 2008
That's the Lanny Davis we know! He says to Obama:
"I don't want you to take out of context what I said during the campaign."
The press has played yesterday's Washington meeting as a way to let Obama, worried about losing the election, suck up to Hillary supporters. But maybe it was also a way to let erstwhile Hillary supporters, worried about losing access to power, suck up to Obama. ... 10:37 A.M.
Mike Mur ... I mean the blogger Richelieu thinks McCain shouldn't overdo his support of gun rights, especially handgun rights.
In the end, this election will be decided by white females and ticket-splitting independents. The handgun issue is no huge winner among this group.
Richelieu suggests that he's armed, however. So don't call him "Mike" to his face. ... 10:34 P.M.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Zinni, Zinni, Zinni! ... 9:02 P.M.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Why do Democrats "hope to pressure McCain strategist Charlie Black to resign"? He might! Then what? Black's been doing a distinctly mediocre job so far. McCain would probably replace him with someone like Mike Murphy, who might do a much better job. ... 7:44 P.M.
Obama throws Scarlett Johansson under the bus!
"[S]peaking to reporters aboard his campaign plane, Obama said the actress doesn't have his personal email address. "She sent one email to Reggie, who forwarded it to me," Obama said, referring to his 26-year-old personal assistant, Reggie Love. "I write saying, 'thank you Scarlett for doing what you do,' and suddenly we have this email relationship"
This seems inexplicably clumsy. Johansson's a supporter who helped make Obama a highly effective video. She probably thought she was helping Obama again when she told the press how impressed she was that he returned her "personal emails." ("I feel like I'm supporting someone, and having a personal dialogue with them, and it's amazing.") Surely there's a way to get across the point that she's just an occasional emailer without making her look like a fantasist. ... 8:50 A.M. link
Comprehensivist Down! In 2006, the primary victory of GOP Rep. Chris Cannon was offered by many pundits as comforting evidence that the immigration issue didn't have legs. After all, Cannon had supported "comprehensive" immigration reform--including legalization (i.e. semi-amnesty)--yet he survived in a conservative Utah district. Here's Michael Barone two years ago:
If Cannon had lost, House Republicans surely would have panicked and stonewalled any approach but border-security-only. But his victory -- and the fact that he ran ads with endorsements from George W. Bush, who supports a comprehensive bill -- indicates that his positions are not political death, even in a district that went 77 percent to 20 percent Republican in the 2004 presidential election
Well, yesterday Cannon lost-- to a fellow Republican who had no paid staff or polling but did attack Cannon's support of "amnesty." And Cannon lost by a large margin (60-40) primarily because he "failed to generate the kind of [Republican primary] turnout typically enjoyed by House incumbents." ...
Hmm. As if by eerie coincidence, John McCain has been having trouble generating the kind of popularity among Republicans typically enjoyed by Republican presidential candidates! And he's also been pushing "comprehensive" reform of late, potentially winning Latino support but further jeopardizing his GOP support. Kausfiles notes that there are more Republicans than Latinos. If McCain win's an extra 10% of Latino voters but loses an extra 10% of Republican voters, he loses, right? Maybe on his forthcoming trip to Mexico he will do the math. ... [Thx. to alert reader M.]
Update: The impulse in the respectable Washington MSM will be to downplay the impact of the immigration issue. But here's what the Daily Herald in Cannon's district thinks:
The most important issue may have been illegal immigration. For years, a segment of the GOP electorate has longed to punish Cannon over his past moderate stands. Cannon this year has pointed to numerous votes to improve border security. But that didn't seem to be enough to placate much of the electorate. One might theorize that voters' anxiety about immigration is so great that Cannon's more recent votes to fight illegal immigration only reminded voters of his original stands. The inescapable conclusion is that immigration is a more potent and durable issue than many political experts realize. [E.A.]
1:31 A.M. link
I'm alarmed to hear reports that the prospect of a second John Edwards VP run is actually being taken seriously. Hello? Obama team? Aternity-pay est-Tay! ... And get the DNA yourself. ... 12:29 A.M. link
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Jerry Skurnik isn't buying the NYT's report of an 86% Muslim turnout in Virginia in 2006. ... 8:30 A.M.
Save the Seal! "A one-time seal for a one-time event." ... P.S.: I should add that the faux seal was a disaster not just for the reason I gave (that it suggested Obama is "stuck up"). It also carried this counterproductive connotation: that there is a separate Obama Nation, grown up in opposition to Bush's nation. Obama Nation has its own insignia and its own reality. It is somewhat alarmingly devoted to its leader. And this blue tribe is about to completely conquer the current ruling red tribe. ... Voters didn't much like this kind of revolutionary swagger in the 1960s. They may not like it now. . 8:25 A.M. link
Saturday, June 21, 2008
The "progressive" netrootsy left often discounts the importance of welfare reform. Worrying about welfare--that's outdated '90s neoliberal thinking! But when Democrats want to actually get elected, as opposed to blogged, what issue do they emphasize?
"That's why I passed laws moving people from welfare to work ..."-- Barack Obama, in his first post-primary TV ad.
Is Obama's new faux-presidential, alternative-reality seal his "Mission Accomplished"? If you wanted to emphasize to voters that the Democrats' nominee is a bit stuck up, it would be hard to do better. I suppose he could start requiring reporters to stand when he enters the room. ... The seal probably started out as a bit of fun. But unless David Axelrod is insane, the thing will never be seen again. .. 2:15 A.M. link
A few responses to criticisms of Wednesday's exciting Social Security item:
-- Andrew Biggs questions whether Social Security's "work test"--you only get it if you've worked--would "keep a more progressive Social Security program from being seen as welfare." He notes that the Earned Income Tax Credit also goes only to workers, and asks "does a work test keep the EITC from being seen as welfare?" The answer is yes! The EITC helps only the poor and yet remains very popular (despite occasional criticism from the right). Even Biggs concedes "the EITC has fared much better than welfare programs without a work test." He needs a better counterexample.
-- Ramesh Ponnuru, citing Biggs, says a "means test"--reducing or eliminating the benefits of seniors who don't need them when they become eligible--would discourage savings. He and Biggs propose instead fiddling with benefit schedules so that high earners earn lower benefits --but they'd get to keep those benefits whether they retire poor (having failed to save) or retire rich. The Pozen Plan, endorsed by President Bush, is one way to gradually adjust benefit schedules in this fashion.
The Pozen Plan is fine if all you want to do is balance the books on the current Social Security system. It falls short if you want to go further and actually shrink Social Security by a few hundred billion in order to make room in the budget for, say, universal health insurance. Then you need to do something more dramatic, like eliminating--not reducing--benefits for the richest 25% of retirees. They did it in Australia. It worked. (I'd be interested to learn if Australia's means-test had any effect on savings.)
Backfill: On KCRW's Left, Right & Center, Matt Miller (center) and Amity Shlaes (right) were both alarmed by the high marginal tax rates produced by Obama's preferred Social Security fix (which is to subject over-$250,000 taxpayers to the 6.2% payroll tax). ... Tune in about 16:30 into the progam. ... Shlaes, like Biggs, supports an alternative self-contained Social Security fix:
[I]t is possible to fix Social Security without doing too much, you can fix most of it by adjusting the formula, so that each cohort gets just what the proceeding cohort got. adjusted for inflation, no more. What we have now is real increases and that's more than half of the problem in the Social Security system.
Again, this is easy to say if you don't also want a big, expensive health care addition to our welfare state, which I assume Shlaes doesn't. If you do though, and you don't want a counterproductively high tax burden, then you may eventually have to endorse a more drastic Social Security diet plan. ... 1:31 P.M. link
Friday, June 20, 2008
Uckers-say: From the A.P.:
Republican presidential John McCain assured Hispanic leaders he would push through Congress legislation to overhaul federal immigration laws if elected, several people who attended a private meeting with the candidate said Thursday. ... [E.A.]
Hmm. If McCain is going to sell out his party's conservatives, renege on his primary campaign repositioning and return to his righteous push for "comprehensive immigration reform," wouldn't it be better to do it in public than in a closed-door meeting, where it looks like a guilty, furtive secret pander? ... P.S.: AndThe Corner stays silent! ... Backfill: Tapper has more, including a report from a Latina Minuteman who got into the meeting:
"Then he said, 'I bet some of you don't know this -- did you know Spanish was spoken in Arizona before English?'"
I bet they did! ... Update: AP's Espo notes that McCain "['a]ides ... had kept word of the event secret ...." 2:33 P.M.
The Man Has the Magic Touch: Who introduced Democratic Senator Kent Conrad to Angelo Mozilo? ... Could it have been respected ex-veep-vetter Jim Johnson?
Conrad on Tuesday sought to clarify a subsequent report that he spoke to Mozilo by phone about his mortgage, saying he didn't call the lending executive or realize that talking to him could result in any special treatment.
"I didn't call him. I called my friend who happened to be with him at the time," he said, referring to James Johnson, the former chairman of Fannie Mae, whom Conrad says he called to ask for advice on getting a new mortgage.
By pure coincidence, according to Conrad, Mozilo was sitting next to Johnson, who suggested the senator speak to him directly. Conrad doesn't recall whether Mozilo referred him to a Countrywide loan officer, or whether the company contacted him.
Johnson has a fine-honed ethical sensor, no? ... P.S.: Do you call the head of Fannie Mae when you need a mortgage? Why would Conrad call Johnson unless he was looking for some kind of deal? ... Backfill: Powerline made that last point and has some home state TV coverage. ... 1:44 P.M.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Does Earl Ofari Hutchinson really not think absentee fatherhood is a huge problem for African-Americans? ... I'm not sure Cosbyesque scolding by public officials the way to solve it, but that's a different issue. ... P.S.: If Hutchinson didn't write this unconvincing, wounded PC attack on Obama, Obama's staff would have had to recruit someone to do it. ... Sample: Hutchinson makes a big deal of a study showing that "black fathers who aren't in the home are much more likely to sustain regular contact with their children than absentee white fathers, or for that matter, fathers of any other ethnic group." But he doesn't say what percent of black fathers--vs. fathers of other ethnic groups--aren't in the home. Seems relevant! ... 11:55 P.M.
Jason Linkins buries a good idea: Obama should fight smears against McCain on the same site where he fights smears against himself. He'd get credit for civility and decency while publicizing the dirt on his opponent! ... P.S.: It's better than the old "I would never consider making Cindy McCain a campaign issue" dodge. ... 11:24 P.M.
Oy, Hollywood Liberals: DreamWorks Animation mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg on a red carpet:
"Obama is the greatest ... Nothing this great has happened to us in a long time. The only thing we have to worry about is what we'll have to wear to the inauguration." [E.A.]
I don't think it will be that easy! ... P.S.: You see what we have to put up with out here. ... 8:23 P.M.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
"DHS moved swiftly on Obama's request for protection": Recently-obtained documents reveal that the Department of Homeland Security approved Barack Obama's 2007 request for Secret Service protection in six days. This is apparently moving "swiftly" at DHS. ... 3:36 P.M.
Can't He Just Eat His Doughnut? (Is Obama Setting the Stage for a Social Security Means-Test?) Ramesh Ponnuru, opposing Obama's plan to apply the 6.2% Social Security payroll tax to earnings above $250,000--it now stops at $102,000--says it would undermine the rationale of the system:
Social Security is structured so that the more you pay in, the more you get back. That's what supposedly makes it a compact among the generations and not a welfare program. Actually, what it does is make it an inefficient, disguised welfare program. [E.A.]
A couple of points:
1) Changing how we finance Social Security won't turn it into a welfare program, or unmask it as a welfare program. A "welfare" program pays out benefits according to need whether or not the recipient works--at least that's the distinguishing characteristic of "welfare" people don't like. Social Security, in contrast, pays out benefits only to those who work for them (for the required number of quarters). Because of this "work-test," Social Security wouldn't be "welfare" even if it was funded entirely out of general revenues generated by the regular progressive income tax.
2) That said, funding Social Security through a payroll tax underscores the "work test" by mimicking the contributions in an ordinary pension plan. In this Contributory Model, you pay in part of your paycheck until you've paid enough to "cover" your benefits, then (if you keep earning) you don't have to contribute any more. Some liberals may hate this "capped" payroll tax as regressive, but it's served the system well, emphasizing that you only get benefits through contributions, that rich and poor both contribute as well as benefit, that benefits are a finite foundation for retirement and not part of some general liberal redistributional impulse.
When Obama fuzzes up the "contribution" part of the tax--by starting up the payroll tax again above $250,000 in income--he risks undermining support for the system (even though he'd keep other regressive "contribution" aspects in place, including a) taxing low-income workers from their first dollar** and b) taxing only earned income and not investment income.) The new Obamified system wouldn't be welfare, but in order to make that point defenders would have to rely more heavily on the "work test."
3) The third basis of support for the system--one emphasized by its traditional defenders--is a political calculation based on crass economic self-interest. Call this the Crass Calculation. Specifically, the system has to benefit enough people far enough up the income ladder to seem worthwhile to them. After all, even if it's not a welfare program it might not be a program voters want to support. The political fear is that the middle class or upper middle class will say "hey we're contributing all this money but not getting much back in benefits, so the hell with this system." By asking the affluent to pay what by historical standards is a big extra chunk of their income--at least 6.2% at the margin, maybe double that if you assume workers wind up paying for their employer's additional 6.2% share, definitely double that for the self-employed--Obama risks provoking the bailout reaction. That's one reason he creates his "doughnut hole" of no payroll tax between $102,000 and $250,000--there are lots of voters in that range he doesn't want to chase away. (If he has to eat the doughnut hole to get more revenue, the whole plan could collapse, politically.)
Krugman's right that the size of this one Obama hike in marginal tax rates for the rich has been vastly underplayed in the press. High-marginal rates in themselves are not a good thing--they encourage tax evasion, for starters, as well as elaborate legal schemes that funnel money not into the most productive uses, but into tax shelters that avoid the high marginal rates (by, say, reclassifying it as capital gains). Lots of laywers and bankers take their cut in these wasteful shelter shenanigans. If Obama really will hike the top rate into the 60% pre-Reagan range, as Krugman and the Tax Policy Center suggest, that's a big deal. And if 6-12 points of that 60% will come from Obama's Social Security hike, we'd better make sure we're getting something pretty important in exchange.
There's an alternative to raising Social Security taxes on the rich, after all. It's cutting Social Security benefits for the rich. The simplest way to do that is through a "means test"--people who were wealthy when they retired would have their benefits drastically cut. Maybe at the very top they'd get no benefits at all. The sums that could be saved through a means-test are staggering, hundreds of billions--money that, as Krugman notes, Obama will need for health care.
Means-testing wouldn't turn Social Security into welfare--again, because of the "work test." Social Security would become government insurance for workers against the possibility that they won't be very well-off in retirement! Yes, means-testing might undermine political support for the system, by violating the "contribution" model (nobody could even think they were getting their contributions back) and by altering the Crude Calculation so that those who confidently expected to be affluent would have little selfish reason to support the stystem. But--and here's the key point--Obama's already diluting or dispensing with those other two sources of support. He's fuzzing the Contributory Model. He's undermining the Crude Calclation. He can still rely on the work test--he can say, "Hey this is to help old folks who've worked all their lives," etc.. But as long as you're relying on the work test, why not rely on the work test to justify a more radical, more progressive and more lucrative reform of the system that would not just tax the rich but stop shelling out unneeded benefits to them.
There might be reasons. Maybe Obama feels it's politically easier to tax the rich than to cut their benefits. But it's not wildly obvious why this should be so. Both tax hikes and benefit cuts involve imposing economic harm. But (a) tax hikes are immediately felt by people of all ages. Benefit cuts impact most immediately only on the old. (b) High tax rates, as noted, have bad side effects that hurt the whole economy. Means-testing wouldn't have those effects (though it might have others, such as discouraging savings). (c) Means-testing could be sold as a shrinking of the program--as Ponnuru points out, why run lots of money through the system by taxing the rich in order to pay benefits to the rich?
The rich aren't uninfluential! At some point the people making $275,000 a year may wonder why they are paying an extra 10% of their last dollar to send a check to the couple down the street who make $240,000 but don't have to pay any of that extra 10% at all (because they're in the lucky doughnut hole)--or to the vastlyy more numerous couplee making $120,000 who would also get full benefits but pay no new tax to fund them At some point, the $275G plus crowd may say, "The hell with it. None of these folks in my neighborhood need the benefits. Just stop taxing us to pay for them"--and support means-testing.
I think you can argue Obama's opening the door to this outcome. Since I like the outcome, this doesn't bother me. Means-testing isn't necessary to keep Social Security solvent--the system's not that out of whack--but it might be necessary if you want to generate lots of money (in the form of budget saving) you could then spend on a decent universal health care plan. Orthodox Democrats who've rigidly opposed means-testing for decades might want to think twice about Obama's payroll tax plan, though.
**--But Obama would apparently offer low income workers a "Making Work Pay" tax credit in an amount equal to their "employee's" half of the payroll tax for the first $8,100 in income. ... 12:47 A.M. link
Monday, June 16, 2008
I See a Chair at the Annenberg School: Joe Conason responds to my suggestion of an on-the-record email (regarding his hypocritical condemnation of "revolting ... tabloid journalism" given his own 1992 Spy investigation of George H.W. Bush's sex life):
I just saw your item from last April
and finally realized that you don't just pretend to be a bonehead.
Well argued! ......P.S.: Joe: Let's keep these lines of communication open. ... P.P.S.: But it still takes two to go off the record. ... 7:32 P.M. link
The Genius of Jim Johnson, Part XXVIII: Craig Crawford has a Jim Johnson story that's a little too bad to be true.
For a clue about Johnson's questionable political acumen, here's what I remember from my own experience as a field operative in Mondale's presidential campaign. Johnson blew the only moment when it looked like Mondale might actually have a chance at overcoming Ronald Reagan's reelection bid.
Following Reagan's disastrous debate performance against Mondale, when the media began to seriously question the president's mental fitness, many Democratic insiders counseled their nominee to go in for the kill in the next debate. But Johnson, apparently believing that Mondale had a lock on the election, advised his candidate to back off, counseling that it would seem mean-spirited to do otherwise.
Johnson could not have been more wrong, as many of us in the campaign thought at the time. Still, Mondale followed his manager's advice and Reagan won the day - and probably the election - at the subsequent debate as the Democrat foolishly held his fire.
If Mondale had not "held his fire" he'd have lost anyway. Still. ... [You are kicking this guy when he's down--ed Yes! Otherwise he'll be back. With guys like Johnson, if you don't kick them when they're down you'll wind up kicking them when they're up.] ... P.S.: If Johnson quit as veep-vetter of his own volition last Wednesday, should Obama get credit for having taken "decisive action"? ... 1:58 P.M.