Exploring Paul McKinley's fantasy world (part 2, w/poll)

Last week I highlighted the half-truths and misleading arguments that underpin Iowa Senate minority leader Paul McKinley’s case against Democratic governance in Iowa. I wasn’t planning to revisit the Republican leader’s fantasy world until I read the July 16 edition of his weekly e-mail blast. McKinley claims to offer five “big ideas” to “make Iowa again a state where jobs and prosperity can flourish.”

His premise is absurd when you consider that CNBC just ranked Iowa in the top 10 states for doing business (again), and number one in terms of the cost of doing business. Many of McKinley’s specific claims don’t stand up to scrutiny either, so follow me after the jump. There’s also a poll at the end of this post.

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Grassley backs Republican filibuster, killing jobs bill

The Senate version of a bill designed to create jobs, support state budgets and extend various tax credits and benefit programs failed to overcome a Republican filibuster yesterday. Tom Harkin was among 56 members of the Democratic caucus who voted for the cloture motion (which would end debate on the bill), but Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut voted with all the Republicans present, including Chuck Grassley, to kill the bill (roll call here). Joan McCarter observed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

voted yes, without changing his vote, signaling that this iteration of the bill is indeed dead.

Reid followed the vote by attempting to pass the emergency provisions of the bill, the “doc fix,” unemployment benefits extension, and FMAP as well as the homebuyer tax credit, as separate bills under unanimous consent. McConnell objected to each, so we’re stuck in further limbo.

Extending unemployment benefits should be a no-brainer when the percentage of unemployed Americans who have been out of work for more than six months is higher “than at any time since the government began keeping track in 1948.” Without the “doc fix,” medical providers’ reimbursements for Medicare patients stand to drop about 20 percent. FMAP stands for Federal Medical Assistance Percentage funding, relating to federal government reimbursements for part of each state’s Medicaid spending. The 2009 stimulus bill temporarily raised FMAP payments for states during the recession, with larger increases going to states with higher unemployment rates. Failing to extend this provision will put state budgets under further strain for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years.

Republicans who blocked this bill claim we should not be adding to the federal deficit. A spokesman for GOP enabler Ben Nelson laid out his views here. Ezra Klein pointed out a few glaring problems with the analysis: the federal budget can’t start approaching balance with unemployment at 9 percent, polls show Americans are much more concerned about jobs than the deficit, and the current rate of economic recovery is “far, far too slow to really dent unemployment.” Meanwhile, the same senators who claim to oppose adding to the deficit also oppose rolling back tax cuts or tax loopholes for the wealthy in order to pay for extending unemployed benefits, state fiscal aid and tax credits.

I share John Aravosis’ view that it was a terrible mistake for President Barack Obama to talk tough about reducing the deficit earlier this year. As Aravosis writes,

[T]he President didn’t want to blame Bush and the GOP for the deficit, and he didn’t want to sufficiently defend the stimulus and explain to people that they had a choice between a Great Depression and a bigger deficit. […] If the public understood that the deficit was a) mostly caused by Bush, and b) not nearly as important as staving off a Depression and creating jobs, the GOP would be facing far more pressure not to launch these filibusters at all.

Perhaps no jobs bill passed this week would alter the economy enough to affect the November elections, but if we accept current unemployment levels and don’t pass additional fiscal aid to the states, the economy may still be very weak leading up to the 2012 election.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. From where I’m sitting, the case for Harkin’s filibuster reform proposal has never looked stronger.

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Republicans find candidate for Iowa House district 16

When the filing deadline for Iowa candidates passed in March, many Democrats were shocked that no Republican tried to qualify for the ballot in House district 16. The district in Iowa’s northeast corner covers all of Allamakee County and most of Winnishiek County, including Decorah, site of Luther College. Click here to download a district map (pdf file). Republican Chuck Gipp represented this district for 18 years before retiring in 2008. Although the area has been trending toward Democrats for some time, Republicans still have a slight voter registration advantage. As of the beginning of June 2010, there were 6127 registered Democrats in House district 16, 6819 Republicans and 7737 no-party voters.

This week, someone finally stepped up to challenge freshman State Representative John Beard. More details about that Republican and an early look at the House district 16 race are after the jump.

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The impact of Reaganomics, amped up by Bush

Between 1984 and 2007, “The gap between the wealth possessed by white and black families grew more than four times larger,” in part because of tax cuts and policies that favored high-income groups. Researchers from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University also found in a new report that the average middle-income white family was able to accumulate more wealth (assets minus debts) than the average high-income African-American family: “Consumers of color face a gauntlet of barriers – in credit, housing and taxes – that dramatically reduce the chances of economic mobility.”

The growing wealth gap between the races in the U.S. is the focus of the new report, which you can download here. Other researchers have found equally damning evidence of the widening gap between the very rich and everyone else. This graph shows how “the top 10 per cent of income earners in the US took home an ever more outsized share of the total national income starting at the end of the 1970s.” From the World War II era to the early 1980s, the “top 10 percent took 30-35 per cent of total national income,” but by 2007 that figure had grown to about 50 percent–a level not seen since just before the Great Depression.

Ronald Reagan’s fiscal policies started this trend, but George W. Bush accelerated it with his enormous tax cuts for the highest earners. During Bush’s presidency, “The share of the nation’s income flowing to the top 1 percent of households increased sharply, from 16.9 percent in 2002 to 23.5 percent in 2007 – a larger share than at any point since 1928.” In addition, approximately “Two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households […].”  

This enormous wealth gap is invisible to the Reagan-worshippers who now dominate the Republican Party. For them, any attempt to increase working-class wages is a “job-killer,” and tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the well-off are the solution to every problem. Look at how the Republican candidates for Iowa governor balk at spending $42 million to send more than 12,000 kids to pre-school but brag about plans to cut corporate taxes by $80 million to $160 million. Their priorities would be laughable if the real-world consequences were not so tragic.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Senate to extend unemployment benefits, but Grassley votes no (again)

The U.S. Senate defeated a Republican attempt to filibuster another month-long extension of unemployment benefits yesterday by a vote of 60 to 34. Four Republicans voted with all of the Democrats present on the cloture motion, but Iowa’s Senator Chuck Grassley supported the filibuster, as did most of his fellow Republicans (roll call here). Senator Tom Harkin was absent but would have voted to overcome the filibuster.

Republicans claim they simply want the unemployment benefits to be “paid for” (though they never objected when supplemental spending for the war in Iraq, or tax cuts for the wealthy, added to the deficit). Senator Chuck Schumer of New York countered,

“Unemployment extensions have always been considered emergency spending, and there’s a reason for that. […] Unemployment insurance is a form of stimulus, but offsetting the extension of this program would negate the stimulative impact. It would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Governor Chet Culver had written to the entire Iowa delegation in Congress urging them to pass the benefits extension. Unlike Grassley, our governor understands how important these benefits are as economic stimulus:

The nonpartisan Iowa Fiscal Partnership released a study earlier this year showing the economic impacts of stimulus spending for unemployment benefits. Analysts found that direct spending for unemployment insurance included in the federal stimulus, along with ripple effects from that spending, produced $501.7 million increased economic activity and $112.1 million in income in 2009, creating or saving 3,727 jobs.

For the current year, the researchers also found direct and indirect benefits but in lower amounts, $314.6 million activity, $68.6 million income and 2,258 jobs.

So extending unemployment benefits doesn’t just help the jobless and their families, it helps businesses in virtually every community. The bad news is that the bill the Senate is poised to pass this week is not retroactive, meaning that unemployed Americans whose benefits expired on April 5 won’t get back the money they would have received this month had the Senate passed this bill before the Easter recess. It was a big mistake for Democrats to go home without taking care of this business in March.

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Is Larry Summers on the way out?

The Atlantic’s Joshua Green thinks so:

I think Summers is going to leave sooner rather than later, possibly before the mid-term elections, and if not then, soon afterward.

Why? Because Summers is frustrated by his role, and his colleagues are clearly frustrated with him. Alexis Simendinger had a devastating item in last week’s National Journal suggesting that Summers’s “legendary self-regard” and “ego the size of the national debt” had gotten out of control. Some of Summers’s frustration no doubt stems from his wanting to be Treasury secretary. When that plum went to Geithner, Summers cast his eye on the Fed chairmanship and agreed to bide his time until Ben Bernanke’s term ended at the NEC–a staff position well below his old job as Clinton’s Treasury secretary. Most administration officials tactfully avoid pointing this out, because Summers has a fragile ego. But that’s why Joe Biden is so great. “How many former Secretaries of the Treasury would come in not as Secretary of the Treasury?” Biden blurted out to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza last fall.

But Summers didn’t get the Fed job either. Apparently that didn’t sit well. Administration insiders told Simendinger that Summers demanded a series of perks as compensation, including cabinet status, golf dates with the president, and a personal car and driver. In the “No Drama” Obama administration, such behavior stands out.  […]

Summers always seemed a bad fit for NEC director because the job entails dispassionately presenting the president with the counsel of his competing economic advisers. Summers doesn’t do “dispassionate” and he didn’t want to limit himself to fielding others’ advice–he had plenty of his own to offer. In other words, he was supposed to be the referee, but he also wanted to play power forward.

Summers was one of President Obama’s worst appointments, in my opinion, but I wouldn’t expect the president to reshuffle his economic team unless a mostly-jobless recovery continues, or the worst-case scenario of a douple-dip recession develops. Anyway, Summers’ departure wouldn’t herald a real change in economic policy if Green is right about Timothy Geithner being “ever more secure at Treasury.”

What do you think, Bleeding Heartland readers?

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