A thumb-nail assessment of the fiscal cliff bill: Much sound. Some fury. Simplifying nothing.
Nonetheless, those members of Congress who worked together in a bi-partisan fashion to construct and pass the "cliff deal" are to be commended. The major presenting short-term problem of the expiration of "middle class" tax cuts was addressed. Significantly and appropriately, tax rates for the "wealthy" were increased. In addition, the alternative minimum tax was corrected, expiring jobless benefits were extended, and cuts to Medicare reimbursements were prevented.
The congressional compromise pulled us back after we went over the cliff for a very short period of time. The sad truth, however, is that we are still cliff dwellers. Much more remains to be done than got done with this bill.
Consider the following: The sequestration process for automatic budget cuts to defense and domestic programs has been extended by only two months. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare solvency and management remain wide open issues. The debt ceiling debate has raised its ugly head again. And, most importantly, job creation and economic growth do not appear to be central to the ongoing deficit and debt discussions.
Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of the Deficit Reduction Commission stated that the fiscal cliff bill was "truly a missed opportunity to do something big to reduce our fiscal problems." We agree with Bowles and Simpson that the bill was not "something big".
In no way could this be considered a grand bargain. On the other hand, given the composition of the 112th Congress and its track record over the past two years, a grand bargain in this constrained a time period was probably impossible because of the grand canyon - i.e., the ideological chasm - that separated the extreme tea party conservatives in the House from the Democrats and even their more moderate Republican brethren.
Looking at it objectively, the fiscal cliff bill contains elements and produces consequences that offend partisans on both sides of the aisle. While the middle class tax breaks were protected, the payroll tax break was eliminated. It is estimated that this will cost "an average of $1,000 for a household at the national median income." While "new taxes" were on the table, spending cuts were off. The bill generates $620 billion in new tax revenue which seems like a lot but pales in comparison to what is required. Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will reduce revenues over 10 years by $3.64 trillion and increase spending by $332 billion.
So, the bad news is that we are still cliff-dwellers. The good news is that the cliff is no longer the exclusive province of those within the Beltway. It is now occupied by the American public and voters as well.
The results of the national elections sent a loud and clear message that the public is expecting and demanding compromise. They also sent a message that it would be unacceptable to extend the Bush era tax cuts uniformly. Finally, they sent the message that the voters are and will pay close attention to the negotiation processes surrounding the cliff and the behavior of our elected officials in resolving the debt and deficit crisis.
The passage of the fiscal cliff bill with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority in the Senate and a sound bi-partisan majority in the House is a clear sign that many in Congress have gotten the message. Let us hope that this collaborative action by the departing 112th Congress is a harbinger for the 113th.
Right after the elections, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey that revealed that in general the voters were "pessimistic about partisan cooperation" in politics going forward. As we start this New Year, Congress has given the citizenry a small reason to replace this healthy skepticism with guarded optimism.
As it continues its cliff-work over the next 100 days, Congress will determine whether that optimism is warranted. It should be aware that the cliff dwellers will be watching. The dwellers will also be anxiously waiting for Congress to move off the cliff in order to scale the economic summit.
A year-end Washington Post-ABC poll showed that 75 percent of the registered voters responding felt that the "economy is still in a recession." If that is the perspective from those at the bottom and the middle of the cliff one to two years from now, all of the pick and shovel work done to try to address the debt and deficit crisis by only focusing on cost-cutting and shrinking government will have been in vain.
Congress needs to be about more than green eye shades and expense reduction. It also needs to be about investing and revenue generation. Congress needs to finish its fiscal work successfully and quickly and then pass legislation that will stimulate job creation and growth and development of the economy for the middle class and the working poor.
The American people deserve this. They should be given the opportunity to be mountain climbers rather than cliff dwellers.
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The House of Representatives passed $9.7 billion in aid for Hurricane Sandy victims by a 354-67 vote on Friday. All no votes came from Republicans. The Senate is expected to pass the measure later Friday and send it to President Barack Obama.
BY MATTHEW DALY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a bill that boosts taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while preserving tax cuts for most American households.
The bill, which averts a looming fiscal cliff that had threatened to plunge the nation back into recession, also extends expiring jobless benefits, prevents cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors and delays for two months billions of dollars in across-the-board spending cuts in defense and domestic programs.
The GOP-run House approved the measure by a 257-167 vote late Tuesday, nearly 24 hours after the Democratic-led Senate passed it 89-8.
Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, signed the bill using an autopen, a mechanical device that copies his signature.
WASHINGTON, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Speaking after winning a "fiscal cliff" victory, President Barack Obama vowed on Tuesday to avoid a repeat of last year's divisive fight with Congress over an extension of the nation's borrowing authority.
"While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they have already racked up," Obama said in remarks in the White House.
He urged "a little less drama" in coming budget talks about cutting government spending.
Senate Republicans voted to raise taxes on most American households and added trillions to the deficit, proving they truly are the party of Reagan. Now it's up to the House to win one for the Gipper. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Tuesday, January 1st, 2013:
FREMDSHAMEN: VICARIOUS EMBARRASSMENT FOR OTHERS - A high-stakes, multi-layered game of chicken broke out in the Capitol today, as House Republicans grappled with how to handle a fiscal cliff bill sent their way by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, even while it's wildly unpopular within their conference. The damndest problem for the GOP was that last week, when John Boehner failed to get his people to back his Plan B, he said this: "Now it is up to the president to work with Senator Reid on legislation to avert the fiscal cliff." He didn't add: "At which point, we will reject it in dramatic fashion, embarrassing ourselves and the country in the process, before caving and passing it." Republican leadership aides spent much of the day trying to think of ways to amend the bill that would be palatable to enough Republicans and also be able to pass the Senate. No such thing exists, of course, so they are finally going to take the advice Nancy Pelosi gave them weeks ago: Give your extreme members something to vote on for the hell of it, and then give a clean vote on the thing you want passed. If Pelosi can find a way to fund illegal wars, dammit, Boehner can figure out how to pass some tax cuts. House leadership aides are whipping their conference to determine whether they have the votes needed to amend and pass the bill. Once they've gone through that motion -- they don't have the votes, unless the amendment repeals Dodd-Frank or something -- they'll figure out a way to allow a clean vote on the Senate bill and then we can all absorb ourselves into the debt ceiling, sequester and CR fight. We call this governing. [HuffPost's fiscal cliff liveblog]
Charles Krauthammer: "A complete rout by the Democrats."
MACHO TALK FROM EARLIER - "I'll be shocked if this isn't sent back to the Senate," said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), leaving the first of two meetings on Tuesday. "I don't think that's out of the realm of possibility," said a senior House GOP aide, confirmed by other high-level aides. They had no problem making life uncomfortable for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who they blame for getting them in this mess, said one GOP source close to the situation. "He jammed the House. He's gonna get re-jammed," he said of the possibility the House amends the bill and sends it back to the Senate. But if House Republicans think they can put the onus back on the Senate by amending the bill, they are wildly mistaken, a Democratic Senate aide involved in the talks said. "They are full of hot air. Not a chance we come back," he said. The Senate is adjourned until noon tomorrow. [HuffPost]
Scott Garrett on Fox News, taken majorly out of context, just for kicks: "Nothing ever good happens at 2:00 in the morning...I'll wait until I go into that room down the hallway and get whipped."
@mmcauliff: Q: Is there going to be a vote tonight? Paul Ryan: "I don't know the answer to that. You gotta ask the leader guys."
HOUSE GOP MULLS OPTIONS OVER CHINESE FOOD AND CIGARETTES - Republican lawmakers came out of their caucus meeting on Tuesday afternoon looking sad and not saying too much about their plans. The House is voting now on stuff unrelated to the fiscal cliff -- including a congressional pay freeze -- but might have more votes later. "The Speaker presented his members two options," a House leadership aide told HuffPost's Jen Bendery. "The first would be to make an amendment to the Senate bill that would add a package of spending cuts. The Whip will do a whip check on this spending cuts amendment after the meeting. If we can get the commitment of 218 votes on this amendment, we will bring it to the floor and send it to the Senate. The Speaker and the Leader both cautioned members about the risk in such a strategy. They told them there is no guarantee the Senate would act on it. If we cannot get the commitment of 218 votes tonight, we will bring up the Senate-passed measure for an up-or-down vote in the House."
The pay freeze will keep annual salaries for rank-and-file members at $174,000. So brave.
AMENDMENTS COULD BACKFIRE - Mike McAuliff: "Not only could Republican changes to the fiscal cliff deal create a measure that the Senate refuses to take up, it could create a bill that's actually tougher on the GOP. Why? As the measure stands now, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would push Democrats to hold their noses and back the bill, which is not enthusiastically supported. There could be around 150 Democratic votes in favor, meaning fewer than 70 Republicans would have to sign on. But if Republicans amend the deal with anything Dems like less, all bets are off, said one Democratic source. House Speaker John Boehner would then have to compel more of his caucus to back the deal, and he was unable to get that sort of support when he tried his Plan B proposal to set the tax-cut cut-off at $1 million -- more than double what passed the Senate early this morning. 'It would just kill this thing,' a Democrat said. 'It wouldn't pass.' House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) was asked if amending the bill is the equivalent of killing it. 'To me, that's the case," he said, according to Fox News' Chad Pergram.'" [HuffPost]
With no false modesty, we'll just come out and say it: Told ya so: [McLaughlin Group]
Howard Fineman on Joe Biden's meeting with the Democratic House caucus: 'At 2:06 p.m. Tuesday, Biden swept out of back door of a Democratic caucus meeting about the fiscal cliff deal without giving any concrete indication of what had gone on in an hour and a half of talking and answering questions. I asked him if he had the votes and he said, 'you're an old hand and you know that I never predict the vote.' I asked him what the most effective argument was that he had made and he said, 'you'll have to ask the members that.' He smiled the usual Biden sincerely frozen grimace and added, 'I'm a "foreign policy expert!" Why am I here doing this?' Then he disappeared up the escalator surrounded by a cloud of aides and security officers." [HuffPost]
WHAT NEXT IF DEAL COLLAPSES? More from Howard: "Some Democrats were already thinking out loud about what will follow the collapse of the Senate deal, which they now expect. If Republicans attempt to offer amendments -- as is expected -- Democrats will oppose a rule to allow that to happen procedurally. If the GOP then tries to pass an amended bill, 'they will have to do it with their own votes,' said Rep. James Clyburn, (D- S.C.), a member of the leadership. Either scenario would kill the deal. If the GOP doesn't offer an up or down vote on the Senate deal, well, that would kill the deal, too. And then what? "Well, I say that then we wait for the new Congress to come in on Thursday. We'll have better numbers, more members on our side," said Clyburn. "Then we offer a new bill that they will like even less. They didn't like the 450 (thousand dollar in household income) floor on the tax increase? Let's see how much they like it when we push it back down to 250 (thousand)!" [HuffPost]
BUDGET DEAL RAISES DEFICIT $3.6 TRILLION: CBO - And that doesn't even factor in the lost tourism dollars from all those canceled staffer vacations to Sugar Mountain. Mike McAuliff: "The fiscal cliff deal adds $3.6 trillion to the deficit, over the next 10 years, at least technically. That's because while most people assumed most of the Bush-era tax cuts would be extended, the Congressional Budget Office must look only at what the law says. The law called for letting all the cuts expire, which would have brought in more than $4 trillion. The fiscal cliff deal lets most of that revenue go, letting rates increase only for single filers above $400,000 and $450,000 for couples." [HuffPost]
See the report here
DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - More than 2 million unemployed people have been cut off from unemployment insurance, and are now forced to watch C-SPAN and read newsletters to find out when their benefits might start again. [Hang in there!]
BECAUSE YOUR HOLIDAY PLANS WERE RUINED - Bulldog puppy tries to psych out cat. There's a fiscal cliff metaphor in there somewhere but we're too sleep-deprived to articulate one.
Does somebody keep forwarding you this newsletter? Get your own copy. It's free! Sign up here. Send tips/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter - @HuffPostHill
By David Ingram
WASHINGTON, Dec 28 (Reuters) - An effort led by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to find ways to reduce gun violence after the Connecticut school massacre so far has not included talking to the National Rifle Association, the president of the gun rights group said on Friday.
NRA President David Keene said neither Biden nor his staff has contacted the organization since President Barack Obama unveiled the effort on Dec. 19.
Keene said he was not surprised, given Biden's past support for new gun control laws. "He's not even a friendly antagonist," Keene told Reuters in an interview.
The lack of communication between the White House and the largest U.S. lobbying group for gun owners is a sign that the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, has so far failed to change long-held stances on gun politics. In that tragedy, a young man shot his mother with her own gun before killing 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Biden and up to four Cabinet officers are holding a series of meetings with outside groups to discuss possible gun legislation. The first was with law enforcement officials, another with mayors.
The White House has said other meetings will take place with gun safety groups and gun owners, among others, but it has not said whether the NRA will be invited. The White House had no comment on Friday.
Asked about the organization's influence, Obama struck an optimistic note on Dec 19. "The NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers," he said. "I would expect that they've been impacted by this as well, and hopefully, they'll do some self-reflection."
Two days later, NRA executive Wayne LaPierre said at a press conference that new gun laws were not the answer, calling instead for some form of armed guards in every school.
Keene told Reuters: "I'm willing to talk to anybody. I'm willing to sit down with anybody up there." He added, though, that he would not agree to "gut" gun rights.
"I'm going to want to have a conversation about how we protect our children," he said. "That's a serious conversation. Offering sort of feel-good bills doesn't strike me as serious."
Biden's group is due to offer its recommendations in January.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Thursday found that support remains high for preserving specific gun ownership privileges, such as concealed-weapon permits, as well as for some restrictions, such as background checks for every purchase.
* Obama to meet congressional leaders at White House
* House of Representatives convenes Sunday on fiscal crisis
* Reid assails Boehner's "dictatorship" in the House
* Tax hikes, spending cuts to begin next week
By Richard Cowan and Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON, Dec 27 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and lawmakers are launching a last-chance round of budget talks days before a New Year's deadline to reach a deal or watch the economy go off a "fiscal cliff."
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet congressional leaders from both parties at the White House on Friday at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) to try to revive negotiations to avoid tax hikes and spending cuts - together worth $600 billion - that will begin to take effect on Jan. 1.
Members were divided on the odds of success, with a few expressing hope, some talking as if they had abandoned it and a small but growing number suggesting Congress might try to stretch the deadline into the first two days of January.
In order to be ready to legislate if an agreement takes shape, the Republican-dominated House of Representatives convened a session for Sunday.
And House Majority Leader Eric Cantor advised members to be prepared to meet through Jan. 2, the final day before the swearing-in of the new Congress elected on Nov. 6.
It "doesn't feel like anything that's very constructive is going to happen" as a result of the meeting with Obama, said Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker. "It feels more like optics than anything that's real."
The two political parties remained far apart, particularly over plans to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help close the U.S. budget deficit. But one veteran Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, held out the prospect that if Obama came through with significant spending cuts, Republicans in the House might compromise on taxes.
The coming days are likely to see either intense bargaining over numbers, or political theater as each side attempts to avoid blame if a deal looks unlikely.
"Hopefully, there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves the taxpayers from a wholly, wholly preventable economic crisis," Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Democratic-controlled Senate, said on the Senate floor.
But the rhetoric was still harsh on Thursday after months of wrangling - much of it along ideological lines - over whether to raise taxes and by how much, as well as how to cut back on government spending.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top Democrat in Congress, accused Republican House Speaker John Boehner of running a "dictatorship" by refusing to allow bills he did not like onto the floor of the chamber.
Reid urged Republicans in the House to prevent the worst of the fiscal shock by getting behind a Senate bill to extend existing tax cuts for all except those households earning more than $250,000 a year.
Both Reid and Boehner, as well as McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, are to meet Obama on Friday.
U.S. stocks sharply cut losses after news of the House reconvening as investors clung to hopes of an 11th-hour deal. Even a partial agreement on taxes that would leave tougher issues like entitlement reform and the debt ceiling until later could be enough to keep markets calm.
"I'm not convinced it will result in a deal, but you could get enough concessions by both parties to at least avoid the immediacy of going over the cliff," said Randy Bateman, chief investment officer of Huntington Asset Management, in Columbus, Ohio.
Obama arrived back at the White House on Thursday from a brief vacation in Hawaii that he cut short to restart stalled negotiations with Congress.
He is likely to meet the toughest resistance from Republicans in the House, where a group of several dozen fiscal conservatives have opposed any tax hikes at all.
But Flake of Arizona said his fellow Republicans in the House and Senate are resigned to seeing some sort of increase in top income tax rates. But they will push back if Obama does not offer spending cuts.
"There will be resistance from a lot of House conservatives to a deal that does that," Flake said.
Strictly speaking, the fiscal cliff measures begin on Jan. 1 when tax rates go up but the House might stay in session until the following day if an agreement is being worked out.
"This January 1 deadline is a little artificial. We can do everything retroactively. We have to get it right, not get it quickly," said Republican Representative Andy Harris.
Another component of the "fiscal cliff" - $109 billion in automatic spending cuts to military and domestic programs - is set to kick in on Jan. 2.
The House and Senate passed bills months ago reflecting their own sharply divergent positions on the expiring low tax rates, which went into effect during the administration of former Republican President George W. Bush.
Democrats want to allow the tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans and leave them in place for everyone else. Republicans want to extend the tax cuts for everyone.
In another sign that Americans are increasingly worrying about their finances as Washington fails to address the budget crisis, consumer confidence fell to a four-month low in December.
Americans blame Republicans in Congress more than congressional Democrats or Obama for the fiscal crisis, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.
When asked who they held more responsible for the "fiscal cliff" situation, 27 percent blamed Republicans in Congress, 16 percent blamed Obama and 6 percent pointed to Democrats in Congress. The largest percentage - 31 percent - blamed "all of the above."
Here are what I modestly and humbly refer to as "Grayson's Laws of Legislating":
1) Vote for what you're in favor of.
2) Vote for what you can live with, if you must do that to get what you need.
What we've been seeing in the House of Representatives lately has been a series of massive and pervasive violations of Grayson's Laws of Legislating. Instead of "I'll vote for X because it's right," or "You don't like X and I don't like Y, but I'll vote for X and Y if you vote for X and Y," it's "If I don't get Z, I ain't votin' on nothin'." And that's the problem.
Let's take one very pertinent example: the impeding tax increases on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. I don't know a single member of the House, Democratic or Republican, who has said on the record that he or she is in favor of raising taxes, starting next Tuesday, on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year. Let's suppose that you crafted a one-sentence bill reading as follows: "There shall be no income tax rate increases for the 2013 tax year on taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year." Let's suppose that you then administered sodium pentothal (truth serum) to every member of Congress. Let's suppose that you then had a vote on that bill. Obviously, it would pass the House by 435 to 0, or something close to that. Followed immediately by unanimous passage by the Senate, and the president's signature.
(Here is another entertaining thought experiment: Just for fun, administer sodium pentothol to Rush Limbaugh, too. You'd have three hours of total silence on the airwaves.)
So anyway, in the case of "no income tax rate increases for everyone but the rich," Grayson's First Law of Legislating is sufficient. Everyone's in favor of it, so everyone votes for it. Done.
It turns out that many, many components of the so-called "fiscal cliff" could be resolved quite simply by applying Grayson's First Law of Legislating. I think it's fair to say that a majority of the members of Congress, right or wrong, are in favor of raising the debt ceiling before the government's borrowing capacity is exhausted. I think it's fair to say that a majority of the members of Congress, right or wrong, are against a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors, starting next week. I think it's fair to say that a majority of the members of Congress, right or wrong, are against an 8 percent cut in air traffic control on Jan. 1. If you had single votes, up or down, on 90 percent of the components of the "fiscal cliff," the outcome would not be in doubt.
And as for the remaining 10 percent, then you've got Grayson's Second Law of Legislating to apply. I really, really don't want to see unemployment insurance benefits cut off for millions of unemployed workers, seven days after Christmas. Maybe Rep. Skullinrear (R-Tea Party) doesn't care. But Rep. Skullinrear really, really doesn't want to see a 12 percent cut in defense spending from sequestration next week. I may not share Rep. Skullinrear's morbid preoccupation with blowing stuff up. Nevertheless, his morbid preoccupation with blowing stuff up, together with my odd aversion to seeing families living in cars, gives the two of us something to talk about.
Mick Jagger, that eminent political scholar, had it all figured out more than 40 years ago. You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find -- you just might find -- that you get what you need.
But in the House, that's not what we're seeing at all. Instead, we see what might be called the "Young John McCain" Law of Legislating. Senator John McCain has written that when he was a toddler, he sometimes got so furious that he held his breath until he passed out.
Now John Boehner is doing it. Boehner is holding his breath until America passes out.
It's been 10 months since the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board coined the term "fiscal cliff" when he called attention to the "massive fiscal cliff of large spending cuts and tax increases" that will go into effect less than a week from now. Ten months. But in all of that time, there has been nothing in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives even remotely resembling a line-by-line vote on whether each one of those spending cuts and tax increases, individually, is good or bad. Just John Boehner holding his breath until the Democrats "agree" to extending tax breaks for the rich, and cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.
It's the worst case of legislation constipation that I've ever seen. But that's what happens -- what ought to happen -- when the folks in charge say over and over again, "I'm in favor of X, but I won't vote for X, or even allow a vote for X, unless I get Y."
We're going to need some kind of patch to get through this. But I hope that the Powers That Be learn from this mistake. Slice it all into little pieces, and then vote each piece up or down. It works. And it's a lot more practical than hoping that John Boehner, or Barack Obama, pulls a rabbit out of his hat.
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
Oh, you can't always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes,
You just might find, you just might find,
You get what you need.
- The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (1969).
The role of the Obama administration in suppressing the long-running Kurdish uprising in Turkey is largely unknown. But a few weeks ago a U.S. diplomat dropped an intriguing clue. Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., Obama's ambassador to Turkey, revealed that the U.S. had secretly offered Turkey what was, in effect, a bin Laden-style assassination of the top leadership of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the rebels who have been fighting the U.S.-equipped Turkish army since 1984.
"Your enemies are our enemies," Ricciardone told Turkish reporters at a news conference in Ankara. "The power of the multidisciplinary approach is what got bin Laden in the end, and we would like to share that and exploit that intimately."
When I heard the ambassador's remarks, I had just left Syria, where a different Kurdish group is struggling for its own autonomy. I was en route at the time to Mt. Qandhil, one of the highest mountains in neighboring Iraq, where PKK rebels have a sanctuary. I was seeking reaction to news that Turkey was quietly negotiating with Abdullah Ocalan, the notorious PKK founder who was captured in 1999 with U.S. assistance, and who since then, has become a cause célèbre with many Kurds in the Middle East.
The 28-year-old Kurdish uprising in Turkey has resulted in 40,000 deaths, most of them Kurds. The U.S. considers the PKK a terrorist group, but experts say both the rebels and Turkish troops have committed human rights abuses. Today, the struggle goes beyond military conflict. Since 2009, some 8,000 Kurdish civilians have been arrested in Turkey. That includes lawyers and at least 100 journalists -- more than in Iran or China.
This fall, some 700-1,000 prisoners went on hunger strike in Turkey, demanding that Ocalan be removed from solitary confinement and that Kurds receive broadcasting rights, education in their native tongue and ethnic recognition in the Turkish constitution. Turkey claims that most of the prisoners have ties to the PKK, but according to Human Rights Watch, many Kurds were arrested in a "crackdown on legal pro-Kurdish politics."
Against this backdrop came Ambassador Ricciardone's startling disclosure: the administration's misguided proposal to target the Kurdish rebel leadership. In fact, the PKK is not al-Qaeda, nor has it targeted Americans -- and Turkey wisely rejected the U.S. offer. "Bin Laden was caught in a house," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan sought to explain diplomatically, "but the struggle here is in mountainous geography."
After rebuffing the assassination proposal, Turkey successfully negotiated an end to the vexing hunger strike, which had garnered considerable support in southeast Turkey, where most of the country's 15 million Kurds reside. Had the cockamamie scheme succeeded, the killings would likely have turned Kurdish public opinion against the U.S. and given the rebels a powerful recruiting tool.
This is not the first effort by a U.S. administration to suppress the Kurdish uprising in Turkey. In 1999 the Clinton administration secretly used FBI agents to track and help capture Abdullah Ocalan. For its part, the Obama administration has been helping the Turks fight the PKK for some time by sharing military technology and intelligence. But American participation in the conflict received little attention until a year ago when a U.S. drone mistakenly identified Kurdish civilians as rebels, resulting in the deaths of 35 villagers. The assassination offer came at a delicate moment in Turkish-Kurdish relations and, while it might have wiped out the PKK's top command, it exposes how out of step the Obama White House is with the aspirations of ordinary Kurds in the Middle East. There are 30 million Kurds in the region, spilling over the borders of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. Despite U.S. foreign policy to the contrary, many Kurds in these countries support the PKK and the age-old Kurdish dream of a unified homeland.
In Syria, where the Kurds number two million, "Apo" -- as PKK leader Ocalan is widely known -- now enjoys a cult-like status. That is partly because Syrian Kurds overwhelmingly back the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, a PKK ally. But the deeper reason is that local Kurds, like those in Turkey and Iran, are simply fed up with generations of second-class citizenship. With the Arab opposition to the Assad regime badly fragmented, many Kurds believe they will emerge as a winner in Syria's bloody civil war. Despite all odds, they cling to the belief that autonomy -- a "Kurdish Spring" as some call it -- is coming.
In one Syrian town this fall, I counted about 700 protesters in the streets. Young and old, they spoke Kurdish, played Kurdish music and wore traditional Kurdish clothing; many carried Kurdish flags or photos of Ocalan. Just a short time ago, such behavior would have landed them in jail -- or worse.
Across the Tigris River in Iraqi Kurdistan, where the economy is still booming in the wake of the popular U.S. invasion, Ocalan has a strong following. I have heard people in shops and tea houses there refer to the imprisoned rebel leader as "Nelson Mandela" -- but, of course, not everyone agrees. "I don't like Apo's ideology," Mohammed Haji Mahmoud, an elected parliamentarian in the Kurdistan Regional Government, told me. Still, he cautioned the U.S. not to underestimate Ocalan's appeal: "If Apo ran for president in Turkish Kurdistan," Mahmoud said, "He'd be elected by acclaim."
And Iran? The case of PEJAK, the Iranian Kurdish guerrillas who share territory with the PKK on Mt. Qandhil, is instructive. The PEJAK group wants regime change in Tehran, just as many officials in Washington do. But the rebels view Ocalan as a freedom fighter, not a terrorist.
As I approached Mt. Qandhil, my fixer advised me to remove the battery from my cell phone, lest we become a target for a U.S. drone. That seemed a little paranoid, but it made me think about all the Kurdish uprisings -- including the current one -- that have taken place in these lands over the last century. Military "solutions," like the recent one proposed by the Obama administration, have failed to solve the Kurdish question, but there still may be a chance for diplomacy.
The next time the Kurds raise legitimate grievances, the U.S. should urge negotiation, not assassination. In 21 years of traveling to the region, I have never met a Kurd who didn't like Americans. It seems a pity to squander that good will.Kevin McKiernan is a journalist and filmmaker. He directed the PBS film Good Kurds, Bad Kurds and is the author of the book The Kurds: A People in Search of Their Homeland. His report on the Kurds in Syria appeared this month in the Santa Barbara Independent.
HONOLULU — President Barack Obama will cut short his traditional Christmas holiday in Hawaii, planning to leave for Washington on Wednesday evening as he and lawmakers consider how to prevent the economy from going over the so-called fiscal cliff.
Obama was expected to arrive in Washington early Thursday, the White House said Tuesday night. First lady Michelle Obama and the couple's two daughters will remain in Hawaii.
In the past, the president's end-of-the-year holiday in his native state had stretched into the new year. The first family had left Washington last Friday night.
Congress was expected to return to Washington on Thursday. Before he departed for Hawaii, Obama told reporters he expected to be back in the capital the following week.
Automatic budget cuts and tax increases are set to begin in January, which many economists say could send the country back into recession. So far, the president and congressional Republicans have been unable to reach agreement on any alternatives.
Lawmakers have expressed little but pessimism for the prospect of an agreement coming before Jan. 1. On Sunday, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she expects any action in the waning days of the year to be "a patch because in four days we can't solve everything."
The Obamas were spending the holiday at a rented home near Honolulu. On Christmas Day, the president and first lady visited with members of the military to express thanks for their service.
"One of my favorite things is always coming to base on Christmas Day just to meet you and say thank you," the president said at Marine Corps Base Hawaii's Anderson Hall. He said that being commander in chief was his greatest honor as president.
Obama took photos with individual service members and their families.
On Christmas Eve, Obama called members of the military to thank them for serving the nation, then joined his family for dinner, the White House said. The Obamas opened gifts Christmas morning, ate breakfast and sang carols.
Friends were joining the Obamas for Christmas dinner Tuesday night, the White House said.
WASHINGTON—Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama called Friday for a return to negotiations to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, a day after talks cratered in a very public fashion when Republicans abandoned House Speaker John Boehner's backup plan.In truth, talks to secure a big deficit-reduction deal had already broken down Monday afternoon in the office of Mr. Boehner (R., Ohio), a Wall Street Journal reconstruction shows. Mr. Boehner had been negotiating a deal with the White House to let tax rates rise for upper-income people.
Last night, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) pulled his “Plan B” off the House floor because it lacked support from the House Republican caucus. The media is atwitter about Boehner’s failure to control his troops, because they believe that President Obama has gained a tactical victory from it. But as a policy matter, it’s far better that Republicans pass nothing, than pass a tax increase without any accompanying reform of our runaway spending on health-care entitlements. Indeed, despite all of the dramatic hyperbole about the “fiscal...
House Speaker John Boehner's big idea for a backup "Plan B" exploded Thursday night when, after days of wrangling with his own troops, he realized he didn't have enough votes to pass the tax cut part of his plan. With four days until Christmas and 11 until the effects of the "fiscal cliff" begin the big question today is: what happens now? Boehner sent House Republicans home for Christmas after last night's legislative collapse, ensuring nothing will be passed until Dec. 27 at the earliest, when members are due back in town. That leaves...
President Barack Obama issued a video response Friday to a petition on the White House website calling for the stricter gun control measures in the wake of last week's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"Like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms," Obama said in the video. "It's encouraging that many gun owners have stepped up this week to say there are steps we can take to prevent more tragedies like the one in Newtown."
Obama continued: "Here's what I think we should do. This week I called on Congress to take up and pass common-sense legislation that has the support of the majority of the American people, including banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and making sure criminals can't take advantage of legal loopholes to get their hands on a gun."
"The goal of this petition is to force the Obama Administration to produce legislation that limits access to guns," reads the petition, launched hours after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. "While a national dialogue is critical, laws are the only means in which we can reduce the number of people murdered in gun related deaths."
Petitions on the White House website must pass a threshold of 25,000 signatures in order to warrant a response from the administration. The gun control petition quickly blew past that threshold, and on Monday overtook a submission asking Obama to allow Texas to secede from the union.
In his response, Obama called on the petitioners to contact their representatives in Congress to support tougher gun measures.
"If there's even one thing we can do as a country to protect our children, we have a responsibility to try," Obama said.
The response is the latest effort by the Obama administration signaling a renewed focus on reducing gun violence. On Wednesday, the president held a press conference to announce the formation of a task force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to address the problem.
"The fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing," Obama said. "The fact that we can't prevent every act of violence doesn't mean we can't steadily reduce the violence."
No, I am not suggesting that John Boehner (R-OH) and a group of Republicans switch parties, or even become Independents. That is not likely to happen.
But, the collapse of "Plan B" (B=Boehner) provides an opportunity to make the House of Representatives functional again.
Here is how it could work. In the next Congress, Democrats hold 200 seats. That means that only 18 Republican votes are required to pass a given piece of legislation.
Or, to keep John Boehner as Speaker, if Democrats were willing to provide their votes to Boehner as well.
Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Boehner and 20-plus Republicans brought a compromise fiscal cliff deal to the floor. That deal would have to exclude items truly obnoxious to Democrats, such as the chained-CPI for social security, and include other items such as the debt-ceiling extension, unemployment insurance, the $50B for infrastructure, and the ~$60B for Hurricane Sandy relief.
For those 20-plus Republicans, it could be enough to include the $400,000 cut-off, the $1.2T revenue goal, and the reduced spending the president offered minus the Social Security change.
If 20-plus Republicans voted for that package, the quid-pro-quo would be for the Democrats to vote along with those same Republicans to keep John Boehner as Speaker. Boehner would get to keep his House Chairs (so long as they voted with him!).
This would lead to a new governing coalition in the country, at least for the next two years. The "gang of 20" would certainly be primaried by the right wing, but traditional Republican money ought to have a great incentive to rush to their defense, starting immediately, and to refrain from funding organizations such as the Republican National Committee and the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.
What does John Boehner have to lose by doing this? Not much. He has at most one more term beyond the next Congress as Speaker anyhow.
On the positive side, Boehner would have a much more pleasant job, wielding a lot more power than he currently enjoys. Instead of tanking the country, the outcome of the policies might provide him a decent legacy.
Even more profoundly, he would have a chance to begin the remake the Republican brand by actual legislative achievements -- sometimes with his Republican majority supporting him, sometimes with the "gang of 20-plus" along with the Democrats.
With Boehner in this position, for example, comprehensive immigration reform could pass. Knowing that it is going to pass may stimulate some of the Republicans to vote along with it anyhow so as not to be on the wrong side of demographic history.
Democrats, and the country, are far better off with a Speaker Boehner for whom they vote, than a Speaker Cantor who will lead us all into the abyss.
Yesterday began with President Obama’s base grappling with how to interpret the new concessions he’d offered House Speaker John Boehner in their fiscal cliff negotiations.
WASHINGTON -- Pro-gun lawmakers suggested Tuesday the country needs to take a "wholistic" approach to violence, rather than writing new gun laws after the Sandy Hook school massacre, and the sponsor of an assault weapons proposal said it would be hard to pass.
Lawmakers from both parties signaled willingness to discuss new gun control legislation in the aftermath of Friday’s shootings in Newtown, Conn., which left 28 dead -- including 20 children, ages 6 and 7. But congressional supporters of gun rights said they remained reluctant to pledge support for anything beyond a conversation. That reluctance shows the steep challenge for those who believe the massacre creates an opportunity to act.
“This is an uphill climb -- and I recognize that -- every step of the way," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who plans to introduce legislation early next year that would reinstate a ban on assault weapons.
The White House said Tuesday President Barack Obama is “actively supportive” of efforts like Feinstein’s, and would also back legislation to close a loophole that allows weapons to be sold at gun shows without criminal background checks. On the same day, House Democrats expressed support for legislation that would prohibit the manufacturing of high-capacity magazines.
But pro-gun lawmakers said they were less than enthusiastic about taking immediate action.
“I have no problem debating ideas,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “My commitment is to continue to protect what is a constitutional right. This is not a policy position. This is in the Constitution of the United States, which I did not write.”
Rubio said he is open-minded to a possible commission to examine gun violence, “as long as it’s a holistic approach and not simply focused on guns.” He added that Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, and wasn't spared from massacre.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he also was unwilling to support an assault weapons ban. “I want to see the language before I make that decision,” he told The Huffington Post.
“I think everybody has to be at the table to talk about this ... and I think it’s important to make the right judgment about what we deal with,” Nelson said, echoing Rubio’s call for a wholistic approach. “Mental health needs to be a considerable part of the discussion. Family relationships and the like have to be part of the discussion, so it’s not simply just a discussion about weapons.
“There are very different thoughts from different parts of the country and we want to talk as though it’s monolithic, but it’s not,” Nelson added.
Other senators were similarly reticent about renewing a ban on assault weapons.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) joined the chorus of support for a commission, but offered little else. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said government should support families of the victims, then engage in "a thoughtful discussion.”
Banning assault weapons is not the answer, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told Politico. "We've seen that movie before and it's sad," he said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said such a ban should be considered. But she stressed that the issue was not simply gun control.
“It’s called stronger gun laws to protect innocent people in this country,” McCaskill told HuffPost, adding that restrictions on the size of ammunition clips also is worth considering.
Others proposed revisiting funding for mental health and how a culture of violence in video games and movies might influence young minds.
Despite obstacles to immediate action, Feinstein said she hoped lawmakers are serious when they say it really is different this time. If the lives of children are not enough to spark a legislative response, she said, there is little else that could make a difference to the future of gun control.
"If these children don't make a difference to people, if the wiping out of any future they might have doesn't make a difference to people [over] the rights of a few [to possess] a specific class of weapons -- which fall prey to grievance killers [and] shouldn't be on the streets -- that ought to be a no brainer," Feinstein said.
Mike McAuliff contributed.
WASHINGTON — Signaling new movement in "fiscal cliff" talks, House Speaker John Boehner has proposed raising the top rate for earners making more than $1 million, a person familiar with the negotiations said. President Barack Obama, who wants higher top rates for households earning more than $250,000, has not accepted the offer, this person said.
The proposal, however, indicated progress in talks that had appeared stalled. The person would only discuss the plan on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations.
As part of a broader budget deal, Boehner is still seeking more spending cuts than Obama has proposed, particularly in mandatory health care spending. Boehner has asked for a long-term increase in eligibility age for Medicare and for lower costs-of-living adjustments for Social Security.
Boehner's tax proposal was first reported by Politico.
A Boehner aide would not comment on the report.
At issue are expiring tax rates that would automatically increase on Jan. 1 for virtually every income tax payer if Congress and the president don't act. Steep budget cuts are also scheduled to kick in, unless Congress and Obama agree to forestall them with other deficit reduction measures.
Obama has insisted on extending current rates for the 98 percent of taxpayers in household that earn less than $250,000. He would let the top two marginal rates increase from 33 percent to 35 percent and from 36 percent to 39.6 percent for those taxpayers making over that threshold.
Until now, Boehner had maintained his opposition to raising any rates. Instead, he had proposed to raise up to $800 billion in tax revenue over 10 years by limiting tax loopholes and deductions as part of a broad tax overhaul.
But the speaker and House Republicans have come under increasing pressure form a number of Senate Republicans who say they should yield to Obama's demand on tax rates and then press him for additional cuts early next year in exchange for an increase in the nation's borrowing limit.
Obama has proposed about $600 billion in spending reductions over 10 years, including about $350 billion in Medicare and other health care savings. But he has also proposed about $200 billion in additional spending, including aid to the unemployed and to struggling homeowners and for public works projects.
With negotiations on how to address the fiscal cliff apparently stalled, congressional Republicans are reportedly floating a fallback plan in both chambers of Congress to avert financial crisis if a deal is not reached. That plan would include ceding to President Obama on letting tax cuts expire for the top two percent of earners, but would also take a more hostile approach to other Democratic proposals.
Just over two weeks remain until the January 1 deadline, when simultaneous tax hikes and drastic spending cuts are set to kick in. While Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) have met in person twice this week to discuss the looming crisis, the ongoing negotiations appear to have yielded very little in the way of progress. On Wednesday, Boehner warned House Republicans to not make plans for the upcoming holiday, signaling that there may not be a deal by the end of the year.
According to the New York Times and the Washington Post, Republican leaders are gearing up for that possibility and proposing an alternate strategy to pursue if a deal does not go through. The Times reports:
If no deal is reached, Republicans are increasingly talking about a more hostile outcome in which the House passes legislation that extends tax cuts for the middle class, sets relatively low tax rates on dividends, capital gains and inherited estates, and cancels the across-the-board defense cuts, but leaves in place across-the-board domestic cuts. Then House Republicans would engage in what Mr. Boehner, in a private meeting last week, called “trench warfare,” a running battle with the president on spending, first as the government approaches its statutory borrowing limit early next year, then in late March, when a stopgap government spending bill runs out. But such legislation might not be able to pass the Senate, leaving the country no closer to a resolution.
This strategy would result in significantly less new tax revenue than even Boehner's initial offer of $800 billion. Republicans could then declare victory on taxes while also appearing to compromise on extending middle class tax cuts, thus putting them in a position to pressure Democrats on spending cuts.
According to the Washington Post, one proponent of this strategy is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who earlier this week pressed Obama to get specific on how to cut federal spending.
"[Obama] seems to think if all he talks about is taxes -- and that’s all reporters write about -- somehow the rest of us will magically forget that government spending is completely out of control and that he himself has been insisting on balance," McConnell said Tuesday.
According to the Post, Boehner and other House Republicans have rejected the strategy reportedly floated by McConnell and other Republican leaders.
(Adds new poll results)
* Boehner warns talks could extend through holidays
* Poll shows strong Republican support for raising taxes on the rich
* White House firm on raising taxes for top 2 percent of earners
By Kim Dixon and David Lawder
WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Sharp differences remained on Wednesday between congressional Republicans and the White House in talks to avert the "fiscal cliff" of steep tax hikes and budget cuts, and negotiators warned the showdown could drag on past Christmas.
A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released late on Wednesday, however, held the potential to shake up the stalemate. Three-quarters of those surveyed, including 61 percent of Republicans, said they would accept raising taxes on the wealthy to avoid the so-called cliff, as Democratic President Barack Obama is demanding.
With Republicans in Congress already divided, that rejection by their own supporters of the core demand of Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner could further weaken his position.
Both sides refused to give any ground in public, one day after what Boehner described as a "frank" conversation with President Barack Obama about the remaining hurdles to a deal.
Boehner said Obama's latest proposal for $1.4 trillion in new tax revenues did not fulfill his promise for a balanced approach to taming the federal deficit and could not pass Congress.
"I remain the most optimistic person in this town, but we've got some serious differences," Boehner told reporters after a meeting with House Republicans where he warned members the negotiations could run through the holidays and up to the end-of-year deadline.
If a deal is not reached, taxes will go up for almost all working Americans at the start of the New Year and steep government spending cuts will kick in.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would not relent on his demand that Republicans drop their opposition to raising new revenue by increasing the tax rates for the wealthiest 2 percent of all Americans.
"There is no way to do this without rates going up on the top earners," Carney said. The Republican stance that sufficient revenue could be gained by closing tax loopholes and limiting deductions was "just not plausible economic policy," he said.
In what has now become a daily battle of sound bites and political stagecraft, a group of Republican congressmen posed in the cold outside the Capitol with a few dozen small children to illustrate their argument that Obama's budget proposals would bury the next generation in unsustainable debt.
"We are going to relegate these kids, our grandkids, to a lower standard of living," Republican Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin said. "We are going to leave them with higher tax rates. This is unacceptable."
Obama and Boehner each have proposed cutting deficits by more than $4 trillion in the next 10 years as part of a deal to avert the cliff, but they differ on how to get there. Economists have warned that failure to strike a deal could send the economy back into recession.
On Tuesday, Boehner rejected a White House proposal to shrink the amount of deficit reduction that comes from revenue to $1.4 trillion from $1.6 trillion over 10 years. Boehner has called for $800 billion in revenue through tax reform.
'A PRETTY FRANK CONVERSATION'
Boehner said Obama's plan did not do enough to reduce the federal deficit. "The president and I had a pretty frank conversation about just how far apart we are," he said of their Tuesday phone talk.
Carney ridiculed the Republican argument that sufficient revenue could be raised by closing tax loopholes or capping deductions. "Those magic beans are just beans, and that fairy dust is just dust," he said. "It is not serious."
Boehner has repeatedly offered gloomy assessments of the state of the talks in public, even as signs of progress have sprouted on Capitol Hill. The pace of staff-level talks has quickened in recent days as the two sides exchanged counter-offers that neither side said was sufficiently detailed.
The stubborn differences have dampened hopes of a potential deal before the Christmas holiday. "Keep your Christmas decorations up and make no plans" to leave Washington, was Boehner's advice in the closed-door meeting with Republicans, Representative John Shimkus of Illinois told reporters.
In exchange for more tax revenues, Republicans have demanded deep spending cuts in politically popular social entitlement programs like the government-funded Medicare and Medicaid healthcare plans.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that House Democrats objected to Republican efforts to raise the age when seniors become eligible for Medicare, which now stands at 65, as a way to cut government spending.
"Raising the retirement age does not get you that much money, so you're doing a bad thing when it comes to seniors, and you're not achieving your goal," she told CBS.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said on Wednesday that Boehner and Republicans needed to make concessions on taxes. "To this point there hasn't been a lot of progress, and I'm very, very disappointed," he said on the Senate floor.
Financial markets have watched the negotiations with interest. JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon said the United States could have a "booming economy" in a couple of months if lawmakers in Washington reach agreement.
A budget deal could mean 4 percent economic growth and a drop in unemployment, Dimon said at a New York Times conference in New York. A deal would need to link any tax increases with spending cuts, he said.
"The table is set very well right now," Dimon said.
The stock market was closely following an announcement by the Federal Reserve of a new stimulus plan but the fiscal cliff was not far from investors' minds.
"This was expected, and the market is waiting for the year-end 'fiscal cliff' issue to be solved, so what we have to do is have confidence our political system can actually make a functional decision," said Troy Logan, managing director and senior economist at Warren Financial Service, in Exton, Pennsylvania. (Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Richard Cowan, Rachelle Younglai, Mark Felsenthal; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Alistair Bell and Christopher Wilson)
I want to vote for a comprehensive bipartisan plan to address the fiscal cliff. I'm willing to take a tough vote. I'm willing to make sacrifices. I'm willing to feel the heat. But I'm not willing to solve the fiscal cliff by throwing seniors over the cliff. I draw the line at cutting benefits in Medicare and Social Security.
Last week, House Republicans unveiled their fiscal cliff counterproposal. While they continue to call for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, they propose offsetting this cost by gutting Medicare benefits, including raising the age of Medicare eligibility to 67. I won't go there. As California's Insurance Commissioner for eight years, I know this would be horrible policy, throwing millions of seniors into the rapacious hands of an insurance industry interested only in profits for its shareholders.
Medicare is a promise we made to seniors more than four decades ago. When President Johnson signed Medicare into law, one in three seniors lived in poverty. Half of seniors had no health coverage at all. Today, fewer than one in ten seniors live in poverty and almost all have guaranteed access to affordable coverage. With medical expenses as high as they are, that's a remarkable improvement, and we have Medicare and Social Security principally to thank for it.
The seniors being kicked off Medicare under the GOP plan will face uncertainty, delayed treatments, and more expensive care -- if they can even afford health care at all. Do we really want our emergency rooms clogged with seniors who couldn't afford their heart medication and suffer a preventable heart attack? Is it really in anyone's interest to see grandmothers and grandfathers sent to an early grave because they were forced to choose between having a roof over their head or paying out of pocket for lifesaving diabetes medication? This is, to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney, severe conservatism, and it's the opposite of a reasonable bipartisan fact-based compromise.
If the House Republican plan to increase the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 moves forward, health care delivery in America would become more expensive for everyone. Seniors remaining on Medicare would see a substantial increase in their premiums because seniors ages 65 and 66, in the aggregate, are a lot healthier than seniors 67 and above. By moving 65- and 66-year-olds into the expensive private market, states, local governments, employers and the general public would pick up the multi-billion dollar tab. For example, businesses who provide health insurance and have older workers would bear the full cost of health insurance -- effectively shifting the cost to these employers and their employees.
If the goal is to keep the Medicare system running as efficiently as possible, we should be looking into ways to lower the age of Medicare eligibility, not ways to increase it. The Republican plan chips away at Medicare affordability -- one of its greatest strengths -- seemingly by design. I'm willing to compromise, but I'm not willing to compromise the health and economic security of seniors and everyone who hopes to become a senior.
I approach this from the perspective of someone who regulated the insurance industry for eight years. I know how they operate, and I know how health care delivery operates in America. I know changes need to be made to Medicare to make it more solvent in the years and decades to come, and I know we can make those changes without harming benefits. For example, we can empower Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices or we can import drugs from Canada and other countries with robust safety standards. We can improve electronic records and crack down further on Medicare fraud. We can ramp up the prevention and early treatment provisions in current law. Each of these ideas has support among most Democrats and many Republicans. Let's make these ideas the starting point in extending the solvency of Medicare (beyond the eight additional years from the Affordable Care Act) and in preventing our national debt from becoming unmanageable in the long-term (as was done under President Clinton).
Compromise to address the fiscal cliff is not an end; it is a means to an end: preserving the health and well being of all Americans. We can fashion a bipartisan deal that keeps seniors' retirement security preserved. We can take a step back from the fiscal cliff without breaking our promise to seniors.
We can get this done and done right, but raising the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 is a nonstarter for me, and it's a nonstarter for many of my Democratic colleagues.
Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield) served as California's Insurance Commissioner for eight years. He represents California's new 3rd Congressional District, which includes all or part of eight Northern California counties.
When you fly along the Mediterranean today, what do you see below? To the north, you look down at a European supranational state system "” the European Union "” that is cracking up. And to the south, you look down at an Arab nation state system that is cracking up. It's an unnerving combination, and it's all the more reason for the U.S. to get its economic house in order and be a rock of global stability, because, I fear, the situation on the Arab side of the Mediterranean is about to get worse. Egypt, the anchor of the whole Arab world, is...
Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief at The Huffington Post, appeared on the McLaughlin Group last week to discuss the current state of political negotiations over the so-called "fiscal cliff."
While co-panelist Pat Buchanan said he believed negotiations would be resolved by a compromise, and Newsweek's Eleanor Clift believed "reasonableness may descend on Washington," Grim pointed out that the Obama administration seems adamant in its demands -- both for a tax hike on the top 2 percent of earners, and the elimination of congressional approval over increases of the debt ceiling.
There was another meeting on Thursday, and the White House made it very clear that they're not giving much. The White House feels very burned by the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations. They feel like they have the leverage, and they're leaving it up to Boehner to capitulate.
[...]They think they have enough leverage that they can force Republicans to put the debt ceiling into any package that they eventually come up with, and if they don't, he feels like there's some other way he can force them to deal with this issue.
When host John McLaughlin suggested that the administration's debt ceiling proposal was an example of executive overreach, Grim countered in the following exchange:
Grim: [The debt ceiling] has to be raised.
McLaughlin: Now, that's the power of the purse.
Grim: The power of the purse is the power to spend. Congress has already authorized and appropriated all this money. Now it wants to come back in and prevent the government from paying the debts accrued by Congress itself. So there is something absurd in Congress coming in behind and saying 'all this money we appropriate--we don't want to pay for that. We're going to default on our national debt, spark a global crisis.
McLaughlin: If he has the power to raise the debt ceiling -- the de fact power to do it, is that causing a... bad balancing between the executive branch and the legislative branch?
Grim: Not at all, because Congress still has the power of the purse. If they don't want to spend money, then they don't have to spend money. All this does is say that the Congress cannot unilaterally default on the federal debt.
Watch the full segment below: