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Stories by Noah Kristula-Green
Noah Kristula-Green is the Managing Editor and a Contributor to FrumForum. He was formerly a Web Intern at The New Republic. He lives in Washington DC, grew up in Tokyo, and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in political science from The University of Chicago. His email is noahkgreen [at] gmail.com & you can follow him on Twitter: @noahkgreen
FrumForum will be hosting a livechat tonight while we watch CNN’s GOP debate in New Hampshire. This debate will feature three candidates who will be debating for the first time in this cycle: Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.
Here are some of the key things to watch for:
Will Everyone Gang Up on Romney? Romney maintains a steady lead in polling among GOP candidates, with Gallup reporting that support for him as “increased significantly” to 24 percent, up from 17 percent. Romney’s healthcare law is disliked by the conservative establishment and its similarities to the President’s own healthcare law led Tim Pawlenty to refer to it as “Obamneycare” on Sunday. Pawlenty has said he won’t use that term in the debate so maybe another candidate will step up to the plate.
Will The Sideshows Dominate the Debate? Many of the third-tier GOP candidates lack real seriousness. Here are some of the sideshows we can expect to see: Ron Paul raving about the Gold Standard, Herman Cain elaborating on his recent comments that Obama was raised in Kenya and Newt Gingrich trying to justify his presence on the stage despite losing his entire senior staff.
It will be in the interests of the debate’s moderators to stop the sideshows from dominating the night.
Where Do You Stand on the Ryan Plan? As long as unemployment remains high, any Republican could be competitive against Obama in a general election. One thing that could undermine this is Paul Ryan’s budget which helped the Democrats to pick up a seat in NY-26. The GOP candidates will be pressed on where they stand on Ryan’s budget and on reforming Medicare. It will be important to note which candidates say, “I would sign the Ryan plan into law” and which ones say, “Ryan is a courageous and inspirational figure, and I plan to release my own Medicare plan soon.”
Rep. Anthony Weiner has announced that he will be seeking “treatment” to become “a better husband and healthier person” and the Democratic leadership has also made it clear that they would like nothing better than to see him go. If Weiner decides to stick around, what other options are there for the Democrats to try and push him out the door?
For starters, they could vote to take away his committee seat (Weiner sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.) There is precedent for this. Rep. William Jefferson had his committee seat removed from him when he was caught in a corruption investigation.
The other way that Democrats can put pressure on Weiner is by denying him campaign funds for reelection, something that presumably would be easy to do given that the heads of the DNC and DCCC have called on him to resign.
Remaining options include expulsion and censure. When Rep. Charlie Rangel was censured in 2010, he became the twenty-third congressman to receive that public humiliation.
As for expulsion, while Congress does have the power to expel one of their members, according to a Congressional Research Services document the House has only ever expelled five members from the body. Three of them were expelled during the Civil War for taking up arms against the Union. More recently, Rep. Michael J. Myers was expelled in 1980 due to bribery while Rep. James Traficant was expelled in 2002 on conspiracy to commit bribery.
Democratic leaders presumably don’t want to have to use these options.
Rep. Anthony Weiner may have lied to President Obama directly about his Twitter scandal–denying outright to Obama that he tweeted a lewd photo of himself to a college student, FrumForum has learned.
A highly placed Democratic source told FrumForum that four days before his June 6 press conference, Weiner had a phone conversation with Obama in which Weiner aggressively denied that he had sent the now notorious photo of himself in his underwear.
According to the source:
“The congressman said fairly aggressively what he had been saying in the media. Not admitting that it was him in the pictures, not denying that it was him, but saying with certainty that he did not send them.”
If true, it would help explain why many leading Democrats are unhappy and refusing to support Weiner: having lied to their top guy, he showed that he was willing to bring down the entire party to protect himself.
FrumForum contacted the White House and DNC for comment, but has so far received no response.
Zachary Goldfarb’s reporting in the Washington Post has revealed an important piece of information about why the economy is slowing down. Forget about Republicans in Congress and their gold-bug nonsense, blame Timothy Geithner for pushing austerity from day one:
The economic team went round and round. Geithner would hold his views close, but occasionally he would get frustrated. Once, as Romer pressed for more stimulus spending, Geithner snapped. Stimulus, he told Romer, was “sugar,” and its effect was fleeting. The administration, he urged, needed to focus on long-term economic growth, and the first step was reining in the debt.
Wrong, Romer snapped back. Stimulus is an “antibiotic” for a sick economy, she told Geithner. “It’s not giving a child a lollipop.”
But is Geithner the source of all our current woes? Or would any Treasury Secretary make a similar argument?
It’s one thing if high unemployment can be pinned on Republicans treating Atlas Shrugged as gospel but it is another when the prime driver of the austerity caucus is from the White House itself. It’s unsurprising, then, that most of the criticism of Geithner is emerging from liberal sources.
John Judis at The New Republic writes that Geithner “is also behind the Obama administration’s unseemly obsession with reducing the debt and deficits — even if that should throw a few people out of work, prolong the Great Recession well into this decade, and pitch American politics to the right.” Paul Krugman describes the reporting on Geithner’s role as “deeply depressing” and Atrios simply notes: “We Are Doomed. Geithner is awful.”
But when FrumForum called up noted conservative economist Bruce Bartlett for his take, he suggested that blaming Geithner ignores the fact he is simply doing what any other Treasury Secretary would have done, and that his critics should really be concerned about the institution of the Treasury, not the person:
The Treasury Secretary really has one job, and one job only, which is raising the money to pay the government’s bills, either through taxation or through borrowing.
… There has never been a Treasury Secretary in the history of this country that wouldn’t have his life made a lot easier by having as little as possible to have to borrow or raise in terms of taxation. It’s an institutional attitude.
As for why it’s hard to get a person into Geithner’s job who might be more willing for the U.S. government to take on larger bills in the short term to help with an economic recovery, Bartlett explained the powerful financial interests which would oppose such a policy:
If they ever tried to appoint somebody, say a Robert Reich or another outspoken liberal, the constituency of the Treasury, which is essentially Wall Street, would have a cow it. It would be extraordinarily embarrassing to the President. You can’t even get appointed to the Federal Reserve if you have a Nobel Prize in economics.
The situation is not entirely without options (Bartlett suggested that had the President focused on the weak economy instead of healthcare reform, he could have used the bully pulpit to keep Washington seized of the jobs situation) but short of Obama appointing a liberal or progressive economist during a recess appointment, it seems that whoever would have been Treasury Secretary would have had a strong voice in pushing against stimulative measures.
This ultimately suggests that while a lot of criticism has been directed at conservatives in the Congress, more attention also needs to be given to the institutions within the executive branch and the incentives they face.
During the Q&A session of Pawlenty’s economic policy speech Tuesday in Chicago, he was asked a simple question: why do we need even more tax cuts? The questioner noted that Pawlenty’s tax proposal would be the third generous tax cut towards the wealthy in recent history, and added: “if there’s a tax war going on, who’s winning that war?”
Pawlenty’s answer was not inspiring. Pawlenty seems to be trapped: he wants his economic policy to generate jobs, and he can articulate what is holding back job creation. However, it’s simply not clear how retaining tax cuts on high income earners solves the problems that Pawlenty identifies.
The crux of Pawlenty’s argument is that there is a small class of entrepreneurs who need to be given the right tax incentives to provide these jobs:
There’s about 5% of this country who are our entrepreneurial class … if that 5% becomes 6%, 7%, 8% or 9% then we have a bright future, and if that 5% becomes 4% 3% or 1%, we’re in deep doo doo, we’re in deep crap.
And what does this entrepreneurial class need to grow and hire people? It seems that Pawlenty has a good list:
it’s about what are those things we need to do make it more likely that businesses are going to start, grow, add employees, buy capital equipment, build buildings, conduct research, and do all the things it takes to keep a private economy going.
And what’s holding them back? Sometimes it’s taxes, other times it’s regulations:
Some of them talk about taxes, some of them talk about regulation, some of them talk about the slowness of permits, some of them talk about energy costs.
This is all very specific stuff, but this goes back to the original question Pawlenty was asked, why will lower taxes on upper-income earners help create jobs? What does that have to do with higher energy costs or slow permits?
Pawlenty rejected the argument that this debate is about income as opposed to job creation: ”I reject the premise that is about nominal measures of who gets wealthy.” If so, then he needs to figure out how his policy proposals deal with job creation.
John Makin’s latest economic outlook letter reads like a preemptive obituary for the economy. The summary of Makin’s letter is that an economic slowdown is expected and it seems predictions that sustained economic growth would return this year will turn out to be wrong. The most disheartening news is that neither the late 2010 fiscal stimulus or the QE2 policy have been able to seriously dent unemployment numbers:
Both QE2 and a substantial additional fiscal stimulus package were enacted late in 2010, causing most growth forecasters, including myself, to raise their projections for first-half growth for 2011 to 4 percent. As we approach midyear, it appears that growth is averaging somewhere around 2.2 percent—too low to reduce the unemployment rate, currently at 9 percent.
Rather than discuss further monetary stimulus or extending and expanding payroll tax holidays, policy makers in Washington have embraced gridlock and austerity. The markets have noticed this and are planning accordingly.
Makin’s paper identifies a disturbing fatalism in the markets. With U.S. monetary authorities effectively neutered by political opposition and other nations expected to mishandle their own economic crisis, the markets are now counting on lower growth:
Markets know that the chance that everything will go right is perhaps not very high. They also know that the instruments available to repair problems, especially additional QE or additional US fiscal easing, are not only unavailable this year, but if anything may be used to move toward a less accommodative stance.
As a result, oil prices have started declining on the assumption that there will be less fuel use and inflation expectations have also been adjusted further downward.
The writing is on the wall. Dean Baker has declared we are entering a second great depression. Earlier on Monday Peter Diamond withdrew his nomination for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board of Governor’s giving the ironically named Club for Growth a skull-cap to hang on their wall as they celebrate his withdrawal.
From a completely cynical perspective, the one person who probably benefits from this is Mitt Romney. I’ve heard many conservatives complain that they just don’t think Romney has the tenacity or fighting spirit to take on Obama in a general election. If monetary and fiscal tightening results in a higher unemployment rate, then concerns that Romney can’t win should evaporate based on the anti-incumbency sentiment alone.
Of course, the disturbing possibility is that voters in November 2012 will be faced with the unhappy decision of having to choose between Democratic incumbents who have presided over a Japanese-style lost decade and Republicans whose solution is to slash Medicaid and radically change Medicare. It’s a depressing thought.
On Tuesday, Tim Pawlenty will deliver his big economic policy speech in Chicago, promising a “specific plan for boosting the economy and creating jobs.” Despite unemployment currently being at 9.1%, it’s unlikely his speech will include actual policies for immediate job growth. So far Pawlenty’s messaging has focused on long-term debt concerns.
This preference is clear in his new YouTube video where Pawlenty opens up with his face right next to the National Debt Clock:
Pawlenty’s message: It’s going to be painful to bring down the debt but at least I’ll be honest with you about it. He promises to phase out ethanol subsidies, reform entitlements, reduce public employee benefits, and adds that there will be no more bailouts.
While these are laudable goals, they don’t speak to the problems of a weak economy right now; they all are about long term spending imbalances. The video doesn’t even acknowledge the unemployment rate or weak economic climate.
It will only be disappointing if Pawlenty’s speech tomorrow has nothing to say about the current economic pain. It will be worse if discredited fringe ideas are included in his speech as well, such as his ill-advised attack on “fiat money”.
When SarahPAC treasurer Tim Crawford emailed Politico to tell them that updates for Sarah Palin’s weekend itinerary “will be posted on the website” it was perhaps the most comprehensive response given to media requests for any information about Palin’s new plans. As of this blog post, the SarahPAC website for the tour is devoid of any logistical information and says that there have been “No Recent Stops.”
It’s also unclear if the “One Nation” bus which is prominent in the advertising of her bus tour will even be in DC today. FrumForum got no response from Sarah PAC when asking about the bus. According to spokeswoman Nancy Regg of Rolling Thunder: “No, her bus will not be at the demonstration today.” Adding that she’s “just riding today.” Of course, given Palin’s unpredictability and lack of media transparency, it’s possible that even Rolling Thunder is unaware of Palin’s plans.
Politicoreports that Palin is expected to simply ride along with her husband in the rally and her name is not on any official scheduling for the event. It remains to be seen if Palin’s future appearances will have a more fully articulated itinerary.
Update: Fox News is reporting that Palin is at the rall, but there is still no sign of the bus.
Posted at 11:56am
Update:Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner reports that Palin was joined by her husband Todd and that Bristol and Piper were there are well:
Palin, along with husband Todd and daughters Bristol and Piper, joined the hundreds of thousands of riders who gather in D.C. every year to raise awareness for prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.
Palin’s arrival at the event around 11:30 a.m. caused a huge commotion that event organizers struggled to contain. Photographers swarmed her; young men in suits hung around the press pack asking Palin to sign copies of her books. Rolling Thunder security yelled at press and fans not to touch the expensive bikes.
“I’m very not appreciative of the way she came in here,” Ted Shpak, Rolling Thunder’s national legislative director, said of Palin’s arrival. The former governor came in the front of the Pentagon’s north parking lot, where event staff and press were assembled. “If she wanted to come on the ride, she should have come in the back.”
The New York Times provides a similar report of her arrival as well as a photo of Palin riding on the back of one of the motorcycles.
There are no plans for Palin to speak at the event being held at the Korean War Memorial later today. While her bus tour ostensibly started today, there is currently no sign that her bus is even in D.C. It’s likely that the real “One Nation” tour will start once she rolls into New Hampshire.
In this video, ABC News catches Paul Ryan and Bill Clinton sharing a few words behind the scenes at a Pete Peterson Foundation event:
Clinton says he is glad the Democrats won in NY but says “I hope the Democrats don’t use this as an excuse to do nothing.” Ryan in turn says that he is afraid there is going to be “paralysis” over the debate but says that it’s the only way “to get this thing moving.” At the end, Clinton says that Ryan should “give him a call”.
Is Clinton just engaging in triangulation, even out of office?
The open seat in NY-26 has gone to the Democrats, yet some conservatives still argue that despite its political unpopularity the GOP budget needs to be implemented because immediate and significant spending cuts can cause significant economic growth. But does this claim hold up? It turns out that conservatives are overstating the evidence from a key study they use to make this case and that the reality is much more sobering.
Conservatives and Republicans have attempted to find empirical evidence to support their belief that economic growth can come with austerity. They frequently cite a study done by Harvard economists Alberto Alesina and Silvia Ardagna. The study looked at what the best ways for countries to reduce their deficits have been: whether through spending cuts or revenue increases. Their data shows that over the long-term, spending cuts are a better way to bring long-term deficits under control. A second study by Alesina went further and argued that “large, credible and decisive” cuts can be immediately followed by “sustained” growth.
This study has since found its way into different strains of conservative and Republican literature. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate budget committee released a white paper on May 12th that looked at “Fact-Based Budgeting” and included statements like this:
Indeed, a consistent and striking conclusion from a large and growing body of evidence is that successful efforts to climb out of debt are composed mostly of spending reductions, and that these reductions not only do not tend to harm economies but, rather tend to lead to economic growth.
Alesina’s work is cited in the footnotes. The work has also been positively cited in the pages of the Weekly Standard and in othersources.
So what’s problematic with Alesina’s results? Alesina has indeed found cases where reducing spending was followed by economic growth and reduced deficits. The problem: he found very few cases. More specifically he found 9 examples out of 107 attempts to reduce spending.
Even if we are more generous with our parameters, the data is still not an overwhelming majority. If we are only interested in times where reducing spending was followed by an economic expansion, the result is 26 cases. If we are interested in the number of times that reduced spending was followed by successfully reducing the deficit (doesn’t mean the economy had to grow!) we find 21 cases in his data.
Chad Stone, Chief Economist of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, very generously went through the study to provide the above numbers to FrumForum. The following are the six countries that have seen a reduction in spending followed by both economic growth and a reduction in the deficit, with the years noting when the policies were enacted:
New Zealand (1993, 1994)
Norway (1979, 1980, 1996)
A question for any policy maker then becomes: is America in 2011 in the same situation that the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, or any of the other high-tax European or Scandinavian countries are in? Are any of their economic situations that led to those spending cuts being followed by lower deficits and higher growth anything like the situation America is currently in?
But perhaps more immediately problematic for conservatives is that when the IMF looked at these arguments they found that growth and deficit reduction occurred in countries where cuts in spending were accompanied with easing and looser monetary policy from central banks. This means those countries also had policies such as the conservative-derided quantitative easing (QE2). (The IMF’s report states: “it appears that the difference in monetary policy responses accounts for much, though probably not all, of the difference in output performance.”)
As David Beckworth noted: “Fiscal tightening coincided with a recovery only because monetary policy was easing.”
So the evidence for Republicans is much less heartening. It seems that reducing spending only causes economic growth in a minority of cases, and that in those cases, the reduction in spending needs to be off-set by a monetary policy that is expansionary. The GOP currently is in denial about how big the economic growth from spending cuts will be and opposed to monetary stimulus due to the intellectual capture of the party by gold-standard and hard money advocates.
And this is why some Republicans and conservatives will still support the GOP budget. They really do believe it will work, and the only thing that can make it better are higher interest rates.