Stories by Lloyd Green

Lloyd Green is a former Department of Justice appointee who served in the campaigns and administration of George H. W. Bush. Lloyd lives in a Blue suburb north of New York City.

Kagan is No Rehnquist

November 15th, 2011 at 9:28 am 64 Comments

Elena Kagan meet Bill Rehnquist. That Bill Rehnquist.

Like Kagan, Rehnquist was once young, smart, and ambitious. Like Kagan, Rehnquist served as a political appointee at the Department of Justice. And like Kagan, Rehnquist was once an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

But Kagan and Rehnquist have one more thing in common. And it is a big one. As a Supreme Court Justice, each was asked to pass upon the assertions of constitutionality invoked by their former bosses.


The Budget’s Real Winners: Obama’s Base

February 15th, 2011 at 2:55 pm 6 Comments

The Obama budget is not about fiscal rectitude.  Rather, it is the first fiscal document of the president’s reelection campaign.  It is an attempt by the White House to cobble together Obama’s 2008 electoral coalition.  The budget’s clear winners are the pieces of America that voted to elect Obama – namely high-end America and urban America.  The budget also attempts to reach Middle America by increasing spending on infrastructure.  But at this juncture, it is unclear whether the administration’s gambit can or will work.

Obama won in 2008 by winning young, minority and wealthy voters. If the Reagan coalition was middle and upper class, Obama won by winning both the rich and the poor. He struggled with the middle class, lost the white working class by 18 points, and yet won a clear majority of the popular vote, a major accomplishment.

Obama’s budget rewards those who voted for him the first time. First, despite Obama’s professed desire to spread the wealth, this budget proceeds from the premise that the Bush tax cuts stay in place for the near future.  Although the budget proposes the sunset of those cuts, under the president’s proposal they would only vanish after the 2012 election. In other words, Obama is seeking to rent high-end America in his reelection bid.

A second a winner in the budget is NIH, whose funding will be increased. Increased funding for NIH is a message to academic America that while Obamacare will seek to ration healthcare, the Obama administration cares about cures. Academic America overwhelmingly voted for Obama. And while the American middle class is hostile towards Obamacare, the middle class is also rightly scared of Alzheimer’s. Increased NIH funding is a twofer.

Another budget winner is education. High-end Blue America went out and watched Waiting for Superman and is rightly appalled by the state of urban public schools. High-end Blue America is also open to increased federal funding for education, notwithstanding the fact that America’s educational outputs don’t equal its inputs.

Increased funding for education also has a constituency in the African-American middle class. One legacy of the 60s and 70s was the departure of white ethnics from the ranks of urban public school teachers, and the emergence of minority teachers.  Increased funding for education takes the sting out of the critique of urban public schools.

The Obama budget is just one piece in Obama’s reelection effort. Obama will have to deal with a hostile House and the critiques of the Bipartisan Budget Commission.

Reelection will likely hinge over the state of unemployment.  Recent presidents do not get reelected with unemployment over 8 percent and only Ronald Reagan was reelected with unemployment over 7 percent.

Right now unemployment sits at 9 percent. Reelection is no certainty.

Elites Score Big in Lame Duck Congress

December 23rd, 2010 at 12:44 pm 17 Comments

In the lame duck session, Congress kept the Bush tax cuts for the upper brackets, passed START, repealed DADT and scotched the DREAM Act. Congress also passed a continuing resolution that sets the stage for one heck of a budget brawl in 2011.

One way to look at all this is to say that Congress and the president are responding to the election and are finally governing from the center. Another view may be that the Congress and the President are now channeling the prejudices and wishes of high-end Americans — namely, amalgamating a fiscal agenda that wealthy Americans can smile at with a social agenda that doesn’t tick them off. In essence, Congress adopted a package that meets the approval of the elites of both parties.

The fact is that wealthier Americans played a real role in both electing Barack Obama in 2008 and in punishing the Democrats in 2010. In 2008, voters with incomes exceeding $200,000 went for Obama. In contrast, working class whites went for McCain-Palin by 18 percent. Likewise, college grads preferred Obama.

2010 was different. This time out, wealthy Americans, who figured out that they will be clipped by Obamacare and gored by a lapse in the Bush tax cuts, said “enough”. Instead, they voted Republican. And although not all of them were necessarily comfortable with the Tea Party’s costumes, high-end America could easily live with the Tea Party’s message.

Which brings me to the lame duck and 2012. What passed Congress post-election was legislation that both Bush 41 and Bill Clinton could smile at. It was a package that Midwest country clubbers and New Democrats could (and did) get behind – a blend of establishmentism on foreign policy, tax cuts for high-end wage earners (Upper West Siders), and a hands off social message.

Barack Obama understands that he won the votes of high-end America and their kids in 2008. The GOP, although less of a rich persons party than it was thirty years ago, still needs the votes of wealthier Americans to win nationally and statewide (for example in Delaware and Nevada).  It also needs their contributions. Although more Democratic than yesteryear, Wall Street still gives big to the GOP.

For his part, Obama may have wanted to have spread the wealth, but reality made itself very clear on Election Day.  Obama’s redistributionist wishes are on hold, though not dead.  At the same time, the president’s ability to connect with working class America appears nil. Rightly wary of Obama in 2008, working class Americans have since given up on the president, as he has given up on them. And so look for the president to attempt to reinvigorate his minority voting base while trying to bring high-end voters back into the fold.

High-enders got what they wanted in the lame duck. Will they get what they want in the next 20 months?

Will Voters Punish Frank for Mortgage Meltdown?

November 1st, 2010 at 5:53 am 15 Comments

In the aftermath of the financial crash and in the midst of 9.6 percent unemployment, it is only fitting that Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank, the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee and the best friend that the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) could have ever dreamed of, is in the fight of his political life against Sean Bielat, a Major in the United States Marine Corps Reserves.  In his last two mid-term elections, Frank garnered at least 98 percent of the vote.  Now, the latest polls have Frank at under 50 percent, sweating, campaigning hard and knowing that his future is uncertain.

Frank’s plight is emblematic of the Democratic Party’s woes.  Frank’s defense of, and his relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two largest players in the mortgage lending industry, are what is wrong with Washington and what is offensive about crony capitalism.  Frank’s Fannie and Freddie Fiascos crystallize the fact that the judgment and moral compass of the Northeast Democratic liberal elite are no more acute or fine-tuned than those of the rest of the country.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are hybrid creatures, or “government sponsored enterprises”.  They were created by Congress, but issued shares of publicly trade stock to the public.  These days, Fannie and Freddie are wards of the state.  In September 2008, Fannie and Freddie were placed into a conservatorship under the auspices of the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  It did not have to be that way.

Back in September 2003, then-Treasury Secretary John Snow called for a new agency to be created within the Treasury Department to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Under Snow’s proposal, the new agency would have the authority, to partially set capital-reserve requirements for Fannie and Freddie.  The proposed agency would have also exercised authority over new lines of business embraced by Fannie and Freddie, and decide whether Fannie and Freddie were properly managing their risks.

Barney Frank was having none of this.  Frank attacked the proposal from the get-go.   Immediately, Frank gave a thumbs-down to Secretary Snow.  According to Frank, “these two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis.”  Frank also gave his take on the housing market, “The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”  In other words, for all of his bluster and self-importance, Frank did not see the writing on the wall.

This is not the end of the story.  As a congressman, Frank received over $40,000 in campaign contributions from Fannie Mae.  Further, Frank’s former significant other was also an executive of Fannie Mae.  Frank’s ethical and judgmental contortion puts the lie to the claim that “it’s just business.”

Sorry Barney.  It is about raiding the public fisc for personal gain; it is about the haves skimming from the rest of us; and it is about those whose moral indignation is little more than self-interest wrapped in the cheap gauze of claiming to do the public-weal.

Unfortunately, Frank’s story is not an isolated event.  Fannie Mae’s ties go deep to this administration.  Barrack Obama’s  tapped Jim Johnson  to serve as the chief of his veep search, despite Johnson having served as chairman and chief executive officer of Fannie Mae,  and despite the fact that a 2006 oversight report found that Fannie Mae had substantially under-reported Johnson’s compensation.  Johnson actually received approximately $21 million, not the $6- 7 million that been previously been reported.  Ultimately, Johnson was forced to step down from the Obama campaign.

But it does not end there.  Franklin Raines, another former Fannie Mae head, took early retirement from Fannie Mae after it was disclosed that his compensation had been wrongly boosted by a series of accounting errors.  Raines ultimately paid out millions in fines to settle the government’s  charges.  This did not stop Barack Obama from consulting with Raines during the course of the campaign.

The latest Fannie Mae alumnus to grace Obama’s circle is Tom Donilon.  Donilon was recently appointed as the new National Security Advisor.  Interestingly, Donilon is a former Fannie Mae lobbiest par excellence.  According to The Nation, “Fannie Mae paid Donilon, a longtime Democratic Party operative, $15 million to lobby Congress to gut the power of government regulators . . . .”   Donilon “was also a top executive at Fannie Mae during the period when cooking the books to increase executive compensation would later lead to a $400 million fine.”

Unfortunately, we are still paying for Fannie and Freddie’s sins.  Over the next three years the cost of bailing out Fannie Mae cut hit $363 billion.  Up until now, tax payers have spent $148 billion to shore up Fannie and Freddie.

Which brings me back to Barney Frank.  Back in March 2009, the Economist compared the plight of beleaguered and now retiring Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd to where Frank appeared to stand.  According to the Economist, Frank was “having a very good crisis.” Perhaps, then.  Not anymore.

Drifting Away From Israel

March 16th, 2010 at 12:54 pm 16 Comments

The current rift between the U.S. and Israel takes me back to the 1988 presidential transition.  At the time, the U.S. under President Ronald Reagan moved to open contact with the PLO. From the transition bleachers, the move was understandable.  The Reagan Administration was on its way out and could afford to take the heat. Congress was out of session and so congressional pushback would be minimal. American Jews were having a fit over a drive to change Israel’s immigration laws to restrict eligibility under Israel’s Law of Return — a change that was being pushed by the Hassidic Lubavitch sect.  In other words, American Jews were feeling less kindly to Israel.  Few would complain. U.S. PLO contact was achieved at a low cost.

It is 20+ years and once again U.S.-Israel relations are in the news, and once again a presidential transition has made part of the difference.  On Israel, Obama is no Bush 43 just as Bush 41 was no Reagan.  By the same measure American Jews appear to have less in common with Israel than they did 20 years ago and this change may be the biggest difference of all.

Let me explain.  With the exception of Orthodox Jews, Israel does not resonate among American Jews the way it once did.  As American Jews continue to assimilate and acculturate, Israel is looking more Balkan, more Confederate and more alien.

It is difficult to imagine that this combination plays well with either Team Obama or America’s Jews.  For starters, the president was raised in Indonesia by a Muslim dad. The parents of the president’s counselor David Axelrod were leftists and Axe’s other clients have included New York’s Carl McCall and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.  The race and liberal thing matter both to the President and Axelrod.  It is their meal ticket, their passport to fame, fortune and glory.

It is also difficult to picture Obama or Axelrod having the warm and fuzzies for Bibi, settlements and Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman — who just oozes a particular kind of Slavic Style persona and nationalism that can grate on liberal — and for that matter – Western sensibilities.   As for Bibi himself, he’s the guy who was running to the congressional GOP back when Bill Clinton was embroiled with Monica.  Lest anyone forget, the Clintons have very long memories and Hillary Rodham Clinton is now Secretary of State.

Likewise, don’t expect American Jews to dance the hora for Bibi.  His coalition contains the Religious Right on steroids, guys with coats, beards and uzis that make Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell look like groovy Unitarian Ministers.

Now that may play well in certain precincts of Brooklyn and Queens, but most American Jews are not looking at that coalition with a smile, and my sense is that most American Jews are not going to get into a lather over the current imbroglio. They don’t feel like they have a dog in this fight.

And the numbers tell the story.  According to Gallup, Israel is more popular among Republicans than Democrats, and that is a big story given that Jews vote overwhelmingly Democratic in national elections.

Statistically, there’s a better chance that the fellow who worships at First Baptist in Jackson, Mississippi will be pro-Israel than the random congregant at Brick Presbyterian on upper Madison Avenue.  But, at the same time the congregant at Brick will more likely have a Jewish spouse or in-law.

And that is one of Bibi’s problems — American Jews are stepping back from Israel.  After Obama did his diss Israel tour  (the Muslim world followed by Buchenwald, while skipping Israel), Bibi followed up by ranting to aides that Axe and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel were self-hating Jews.

Safe to say that Bibi’s outburst didn’t win him any friends back in the U.S.  And the idea of lashing out at Emanuel was just retarded. Emanuel volunteered in Israel during the First Gulf War and is a member of an Orthodox congregation.  Axelrod, for his part, signed Emanuel’s ketubah (wedding contract in Hebrew) as a witness.

So where does that leave Obama and Bibi?  Right now AIPAC, ADL and House GOP Whip Eric Cantor are leading the charge.  In that sense there are no surprises. Their pushback is expected.

The question is whether there will be a letter circulated among the Senate and House membership rebuffing the president?

Interestingly, according to Ben Smith of Politico, most pro-Israel Dems in Congress are staying quiet.  Can you say the Dog that Didn’t Bark?

GOP Needs to Win Back the Elite

February 8th, 2010 at 11:08 am 44 Comments

David Frum is right in Time.  The deep recession is keeping the GOP competitive. Add to that Obama’s mien, Pelosi’s arrogance, Reid’s cluelessness, and the GOP looms large.

Still that doesn’t change the fact that the GOP has a problem with college graduates and the 200k+ crowd. Although not identical, the GOP lost both the last time out. The party of Prescott Bush is now the party of Palin. And political reality suggests that either the GOP reach out to Hispanics or pickup more white voters.

In Massachusetts, Scott Brown picked up Reagan Democrats and independents, but was frozen out in Brookline and Newton. So yes the working class is in play. But among high-end voters the GOP has a way to go. A boggy stock market and Obama’s tax hikes scheduled for 2011 though may give high-end voters buyers’ remorse.

Right after the 2008 elections, I joined the NRA and the Ripon Society. The GOP needs both streams. This cycle I’ve contributed to Rob Simmons, Robert Bennett, Mark Kirk, Tom Coburn, Mike Castle, and Pat Toomey. The GOP needs them all.

Obama Faces His Limits

January 20th, 2010 at 3:20 pm 1 Comment

Today the country awakened to a snapshot of clarity. Not the moral clarity that comes back to bite, but the clarity that comes with a cold winter sun shimmering on a frozen New England pond. Massachusetts’ voters spoke:  Ted Kennedy is gone, say a requiem for Obamacare, let’s deal with the realities of joblessness, and deficits, and please, Democrats, stop acting like you know better than the rest of us what is best for us.

Whether the White House and the Congress “get it” remains to be seen. The first indications are mixed. On the one hand, Congressman Barney Frank and Senator James Webb are making the kinds of noises that give one hope that these lessons are being learned.  Last night, Frank issued a statement that indicated that you can’t force things on the public that it doesn’t want. Early today, Webb said that the Senate should not take up healthcare until Massachusetts Senator-elect Scott Brown was seated. This is smart. This is political maturity.

Unfortunately, it is not clear that all are acting like grownups. In the run-up to yesterdays special election Speaker Pelosi vowed to pass healthcare, one way or another. The House Democratic campaign chair Chris Van Hollen made all the noises of being unmoved and unbowed.

At the White House there was a full press to localize the election loss and blame it on Coakley. Was Coakley a lame candidate? Yes. Was it simply about her? No.  Can I blame the White House for trying to distance itself from the debacle? No.  The White House must find the idea of Scott Brown sitting and watching the State of the Union Address from the floor of the House galling.

But the White House is ignoring the recent results in New Jersey and Virginia. There is a trend. The White House is pretending it didn’t hear the heckling in Boston.  It was there alright – much as Obama’s face clouded up when it didn’t go away.

The White House is also willfully forgetting the 1991 Democratic victory in the Special Election for the senate seat of the late John Heinz, when Democrat Harris Wofford beat former Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Thornburgh’s loss was a harbinger of Bush 41′s loss a year later. Pennsylvania went Republican in ‘88, but was sending a message to the Elder Bush. The Bush White House heard the message, but failed to digest it.

So now Obama is in the same place. On a personal level, the country finds Obama likeable enough, as the Washington Post put it this morning. But his policies are meeting growing skepticism and resistance. Oddly, in the face of all this, Obama is preliminarily vowing to fight on. For what? To what end?

At this juncture, healthcare is close to unsalvageable. The House can either pass the Senate Bill or push for reconciliation. For House Dems, the Senate Bill is too pork laden, too fiscally conservative, and insufficiently pro-life unless you’re pro-choice.

As for reconciliation, its chances are too iffy and the process, at this juncture too anti-democratic.
Even trying to ram healthcare through will further transform Reid and Pelosi into caricatures of who they are – an ex-boxer who has seen too many rounds and the nation’s ward heeler in chief.

Meanwhile, the White House is saying that it doesn’t want to play small ball. Sounds like Bush 43 redux.

There is wisdom in incrementalism. As Dirty Harry said, a man has to know his limitations.

In the next 9 months we will find out how smart Obama and Company really are.

Stop Understating the Threat

December 29th, 2009 at 3:50 pm 17 Comments

Does anyone remember Kevin Bacon in Animal House?  Bacon played the clueless ROTC cadet and Omega House pledge who unsuccessfully tried to quell the bedlam brought on by Blutarski et al. of Delta House. Bacon kept yammering that all was well. But in the end he was flattened by the fleeing crowd.

Yesterday, the President tried to reassure the nation. Instead of pleading like Kevin Bacon, Obama robotically told us that the government was doing all it could be doing to keep us safe. As a raft of commentators have already pointed out, Obama was passionless in tone, much as he sounds passionless about the unemployed. Sure, Obama said that we would not rest until he found those who were accountable. But the tone of commitment and intent were lacking. As was his tie.  Not a performance that reassures or comforts.

Obama sounds like a very, very reluctant warrior. Reagan could convey indignation. Bush 41’s quiet manners masked steeliness. But Obama leaves you with a sense of I don’t know. In the past, he went at the Somali pirates. But this time the threat was to American soil. And somehow Obama seemed AWOL. Obama seemed to be reacting to a move on a chess board — not a potential catastrophe.

The administration still defends its decision not to revoke the terrorist’s visa. Reverence for due process is overtaking the primacy of American lives.

On the other hand, Obama’s performance was a marked improvement over DHS Chief Napolitano who confused resourceful civilians with effective Homeland security.

Make no mistake. She is this administrations Brownie. And unlike Brownie, I bet she stays on. A Red State woman. That’s about the only kind of passenger profiling this administration will embrace.

Getting back to Animal House. Obama is no hapless pledge. He is the President. But a few more performances like this, and like the guys in Delta House he may get the boot.

Universal Coverage: A Recipe for Deficits Over the Horizon

August 23rd, 2009 at 9:17 pm 2 Comments

Tens of millions of Americans lack health insurance. Extending coverage to them has been a core goal of health reform proposals since the 1960s. President Richard Nixon offered a universal health plan in his first administration, but since then Republicans have hesitated to commit the nation to so costly an undertaking. Is it time to rethink? Should Republicans accept universal coverage as a goal?  We posed this question to NewMajority’s contributors.

If Congress fails to pass  healthcare legislation, the demand for universal healthcare will persist and if “universal healthcare” turns out to be a codeword for “single payer care” it should be resisted.

The fact is that once enacted government entitlement programs grow and expand. Medicare covers more people and services than when it was first enacted. SCHIP has been expanded to cover children in households above the poverty level.  The Senate Finance Committee is considering a similar expansion of Medicaid.

Couple these developments with a continued demand for putting illegals on a path to citizenship while granting benefits prior to citizenship actually being obtained and suddenly universal healthcare looms as a recipe for deficits as far as the horizon.

Still, more and smarter steps need to be taken to improve America’s healthcare. For starters, we need to lower America’s infant mortality rate.  It is too high. One serious impediment to improvement may be cultural barriers. Regardless, the effort must be made.

A good place to start would be expansion of community health centers that make healthcare available to all comers, and charge users on a sliding scale tied to income.

Obviously, health issues go beyond infant mortality. Another step would be to step up NIH funding and encourage further research on the health problems that America faces like swine flu and cancer. With the exception of doctrinal libertarians, Americans are comfortable with government lending a hand to fight illness.

Americans applauded FDR’s launch of the March of Dimes to combat polio.  Conversely, Americans were critical of the prior Bush administration’s restrictions on stem cell research.  And so, an open public health strategy, as opposed to a confusing opaque bid at “health insurance reform”, could well win the public’s plaudits and imagination.

A recent release by the Center for Disease Control shows that average life expectancy continues to rise. The questions we face are whether we want that trend to continue, or whether we want to “bend the curve” by nudging grandma into the not so gentle “night?”  Do we want to simply transfer incomes, or do we want to expand health opportunities for all?

With the exception of some healthcare experts, I have a hunch as to which direction the public would go.

To read other contributions to this symposium, click here.

Obamacare: A Giant Wealth Transfer to the President’s Supporters

August 17th, 2009 at 11:23 am 9 Comments

Obamacare is an attempt at an inter-generational and inter-demographic wealth transfer.  It is an effort to redistribute income and benefits to the core of Obama’s support and the urban precincts of Blue America away from older and suburban Americans.  It is an effort, in part, to insure immigrants and their children.  The winners and losers under Obamacare dovetail with the “cross-tabs” of the 2008 election.  That is, a look at the numbers within the numbers shows that the young and multicultural stand to gain.  By contrast, the older and wealthier stand to pay.  In a campaign interview last year with CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Candidate Obama refused to back down when asked about raising taxes for distribution’s own sake in the midst of a recession.  President Obama is keeping his word.

In the 2008 election, Obama lost the 65-and-up vote, 53 percent to 45 percent.  On the other hand, young voters went for Obama by better than 2:1.  Further, in a break with the past, young voters were actually a greater segment of the electorate than seniors.  As grandma and grandpa were staying home on Election Day, the Millennial Generation was running to the polls. Now Obama’s health plans will squeeze savings from the elderly’s Medicare to fund expanded care for poorer and immigrant millennials.

More than 8 in 10 Americans are satisfied with their own healthcare. The elderly in particular are devoted to Medicare. Americans want improved health and healthcare.  Americans want scientific advances, including strides in stem-cell research.  And yes, Americans want the government to spend money on those programs that stand to help all of us.  What Americans do not want is to be put in harm’s way for the sake of some grand political cause. The president has acknowledged his desire to shift wealth from some to others. He is happy to accept the support of his proposed beneficiaries. He should not be surprised by the resistance of his designated targets.

Yet the GOP should not take too much solace from the president’s travails.  Regardless of whether Obamacare goes down, the country will need to grapple with entitlement and medical costs, the demands of a rising population of aging Americans, the demands of a growing population of uninsured immigrants and their children, the gap in life expectancy between whites and African-Americans, and the fact that combating disease has become the political equivalent of sending a man to the moon.  These are difficult tasks for both parties.