Friday, June 04, 2010

It's Been A Very Bad Week For John Boehner


No, I don't know what his handicap is-- not on the links-- and I'm not referring to an overexposure in the tanning bed. Politically, though, the guy keeps stepping in it. Tuesday night Parker Griffith, the conservative Alabama Blue Dog he had lured into the GOP with promises of an easy and well-supported re-election not only was defeated by a landslide-- and by a whacked out teabagger-- but he couldn't even pull off a runoff in a three-way race. I'd love to hear the next conversation Boehner has with a Blue Dog he's trying to lure into his caucus.

Then on Wednesday, Jeffrey Smith reported in the Washington Post the kinds of sleazy and deceptive financial campaign irregularities that often lead to-- at minimum-- severe ethics charges. The kinds of corporate interests and lobbyists who have help Boehner create a reputation as one of Washington's least scrupulous and unethical power-players-- remember, this is the guy who was caught handing out campaign contributions for Big Tobacco on the House floor, while Congress was voting on tobacco legislation!-- have showered Boehner with over $1.4 million in the current election cycle "for a committee he says he created to help fellow Republican lawmakers." He's only spent a third of it on the candidates the donations were meant to help. But he's done a lot of fancy golfing at fancy golf courses, far far from his western Ohio congressional district.
About two-thirds of its expenditures have gone instead to costs the committee describes as necessary to raise money, including fine meals and trips to luxurious resorts where the congressman mingles with corporate-directed groups and lobbyists. Boehner (Ohio) has spent more than $182,000 through the committee on frequent travel with donors to Florida and similar vacation spots, according to Federal Election Commission records, including $70,403 at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples and more than $30,000 at Disney Resort Destinations [two of his favorite-- and most expensive and exclusive-- golf resorts].

...Lawmakers say luxurious settings and donor perks add to the appeal of fundraising events, and Boehner spokesman Don Seymour said the congressman's resort trips were all "overhead costs for fundraisers that ultimately benefit Republican campaigns."

The committee's contributors in January 2009, when Boehner pulled in $223,000 at a Naples golfing fundraiser, were from the insurance, tobacco, pesticide, health-care and investment industries, among others.

Last year, the six-member FEC unanimously questioned the unbridled use of such funds. Lawmakers are generally barred from converting campaign donations to personal use, but leadership PAC receipts effectively have no such prohibition.

And then President Obama made one of those spectacular speeches that opens so many Americans' eyes. Although he didn't talk specifically about Boehner and his shenanigans, there couldn't be little doubt what he was talking about. And Boehner reacted defensively, angrily and stupidly. President Obama, at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Wednesday:
[W]e meet here at an incredibly difficult time for America-- among other things, it’s a time when the worst environmental disaster of its kind in our nation’s history is threatening the Gulf Coast and the people who live there. Right now, stopping this oil spill and containing its damage must be the top priority of my Administration, and we are waging this battle every minute of every day. 
But at the same time, we are continuing our efforts to recover and rebuild from an economic disaster that has touched the lives of nearly every American. And that’s what I want to talk about today-- the state of our economy, the future we must seize, and the path we choose to get there.
It has now been a little over sixteen months since I took office amid one of the worst economic storms in our history. And to navigate that storm, my administration was forced to take some dramatic and unpopular steps. 
Those steps have succeeded in breaking the freefall. We are again moving in the right direction. An economy that was shrinking at an alarming rate when I became President has now been growing for three consecutive quarters. After losing an average of 750,000 jobs a month during the winter of last year, we have now added jobs for five of the last six months, and we expect to see strong job growth in Friday’s report. The taxpayer money it cost to shore up the financial sector and the auto industry is being repaid, and both GM and Chrysler are adding shifts and operating at a profit. Despite temporary setbacks, uncertain world events, and the resulting ups and downs of the market, this economy is getting stronger by the day. 
Of course, none of this means that the recession is over for the millions of Americans who are still looking for a job or a way to pay the bills. Not by a long shot. The devastation created by the deepest downturn since the Great Depression has hit people and communities across our country hard. And it will not be a real recovery until people can feel it in their own lives.
In the immediate future, this means doing whatever is necessary to keep the recovery going and spur job growth. But in the long-term, it means recognizing that for many middle-class families, a sense of economic security has been missing since long before this recession began. Over the last decade, these families saw their income decline. They saw the cost of things like health care and college tuition reach record highs. They lived through a so-called economic “expansion” that generated slower job growth than any prior expansion since World War II. No wonder some have called the last ten years “the lost decade.”
So the anxiety that’s out there today isn’t new. The recession has certainly made it worse, but that feeling of not being in control of your own economic future-- that sense that the American Dream is slowly slipping away-- that’s been around for some time. 
For better or worse, our generation of Americans has been buffeted by tremendous forces of economic change. Long gone are the days when a high school diploma could guarantee a job at the local factory-- not when so many of those factories have moved overseas. Pittsburgh, a city that was once defined by the steel industry, knows this better than many. And today, the ability of jobs and entire industries to relocate wherever there’s skilled workers and an internet connection has forced America to compete like never before. 
From China to India to Europe, other nations have already realized this. They’re putting a greater emphasis on math and science, and demanding more from their students. Some countries are building high-speed railroads and expanding broadband access. They’re making serious investments in technology and clean energy because they want to win the competition for those jobs. 
So we cannot afford to stand pat while the world races by. The United States of America did not become the most prosperous nation on Earth by sheer luck or happenstance. We got here because each time a generation of Americans has faced a changing world, we have changed with it. We have not feared our future, we have shaped it. 
America does not stand still. We move forward. That is why I’ve said that as we emerge from this recession, we cannot return to the pre-crisis status quo. We cannot go back to an economy that was too dependent on bubbles and debt and financial speculation. We cannot accept economic growth that leaves the middle-class owing more and making less. We must build a new, stronger foundation for growth and prosperity-- and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the last sixteen months.   
It’s a foundation based on investments in our people and their future. Investments in the skills and education we need to compete. Investments in a 21st century infrastructure for America-- from high-speed railroads to high-speed internet. Investments in research and technology, like clean energy, that can lead to new jobs and new exports and new industries. 
This new foundation is also based on reforms that will make our economy stronger and our businesses more competitive-- reforms that will make health care cheaper, our financial system more secure, and our government less burdened with debt.
In a global economy, we cannot pursue this agenda in a vacuum. At the height of the financial crisis, the coordinated action we took with the nations of the G20 prevented a global depression and helped restore worldwide growth. And as we have recently witnessed in Europe, economic difficulties in one part of the world can affect everyone else. That’s why we must keep working with the nations of the G20 to pursue more balanced growth. It’s why we need to coordinate financial reform with other nations so that we avoid a global race to the bottom. It’s why we need to open new markets and meet the goal of my National Export Initiative: to double our exports over the next five years  And it’s why we need to ensure that our competitors play fair and our agreements are enforced. This too is part of building a new foundation. 
Now, some of you may have noticed that we have been building this foundation without much help from our friends in the other party. From our efforts to rescue the economy to health insurance reform to financial reform, most have sat on the sidelines and shouted from the bleachers. They said no to tax cuts for small businesses; no to tax credits for college tuition; no to investments in clean energy. They said no to protecting patients from insurance companies and consumers from big banks. 
Some of this, of course, is just politics. Before I was even inaugurated, the congressional leaders of the other party got together and made a calculation that if I failed, they’d win. So when I went to meet with them about the need for a Recovery Act, they announced they were against it before I even arrived at the Capitol. Before we even had a health care bill, a Republican Senator actually said, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” So those weren’t hopeful signs.       
But to be fair, a good deal of the other party’s opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about government. It’s a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges. It’s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face: more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations. 
The last administration called this recycled idea “The Ownership Society.” But what it essentially means is that everyone is on their own. If no matter how hard you work, your paycheck isn’t enough to pay for college or health care or child care, you’re on your own. If misfortune causes you to lose your job or your home, you’re on your own. And if you’re a Wall Street Bank or an insurance company or an oil company-- you pretty much get to play by your own rules, regardless of the consequences for everyone else.
Now, I’ve never believed that government has all the answers. Government cannot and should not replace businesses as the true engine of growth and job creation. Government cannot instill good values and a sense of responsibility in our children like a parent can. Too much government can deprive us of choice and burden us with debt. Poorly designed regulations can choke off competition and the capital businesses need to thrive. 
I understand this argument. After all, one-third of the Recovery Act we designed was made up of tax cuts for families and small businesses. Despite calls for a single-payer, government-run health care plan, we passed reform that maintains our system of private health insurance. 
 But I also understand that throughout our nation’s history, we have balanced the threat of overreaching government with the dangers of unfettered markets. We’ve provided a basic safety net-- because any one of us might experience hardship at some time in our lives, and may need some help getting back on our feet. And we have recognized that there have been times when only government has been able to do what individuals couldn’t do and corporations wouldn’t do. That’s how we have railroads and highways; public schools and police forces. That’s how we’ve made possible scientific research that’s led to medical breakthroughs like the vaccine for hepatitis B and technological wonders like GPS. That’s how we have Social Security, a minimum wage, and laws to protect the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. That’s how we have rules to ensure that mines are safe and that oil companies pay for the spills they cause.    
There have always been those who’ve said no to such protections and investments. There were accusations that Social Security would lead to socialism, and that Medicare was a government takeover. There were bankers who claimed the creation of federal deposit insurance would destroy the industry, and automakers who argued that installing seat belts was unnecessary and unaffordable. There were skeptics who thought the cleaning of our water and our air would bankrupt our economy.  
All of these claims proved false. And all of these reforms led to greater security and prosperity for our people and our economy. 
What was true then is true today. As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic argument they’ve been making for decades. Fortunately, we don’t have to look back too many years to see how it turns out. For much of the last ten years, we tried it their way. They gave tax cuts that weren’t paid for to millionaires who didn’t need them. They gutted regulations, and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight. They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education; in research and technology. And despite all their current moralizing about the need to curb spending, this is the same crowd who took the record $237 billion surplus that President Clinton left them and turned it into a record $1.3 trillion deficit.  
So we already know where their ideas led us. And now we have a choice as a nation. We can return to the failed economic policies of the past, or we can keep building a stronger future. We can go backward, or we can keep moving forward. 
I don’t know about you, but I want to move forward. 
Now, the first step in building a new foundation has been to address the costs and risks that have made our economy less competitive-- outdated regulations, crushing health care costs, and a growing debt. 
To start with, we cannot compete as a nation if the irresponsibility of a few Wall Street bankers and executives can bring our entire economy to its knees. That’s why we’re on the verge of passing the most sweeping financial reform since the Great Depression. It’s reform that will help prevent another AIG. It will end taxpayer-funded bank bailouts. And it contains the strongest consumer protections in history-- protections that will empower Americans with the clear and concise information they need before signing up for a credit card or taking out a mortgage. 
Financial reform will not guard against every instance of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street, but it will enshrine a new principle in our financial system: from now on, instead of competing to see who can come up with the cleverest scheme to make the quickest buck, financial institutions will compete to see who can make the better product and the better service. That’s a competition that benefits Wall Street and Main Street. And it’s why we cannot afford to go back. We must move forward.  
We also know we can’t compete in a global economy if our citizens are forced to spend more and more of their income on medical bills; if our businesses are forced to choose between health care and hiring; if state and federal budgets are weighed down with skyrocketing health care costs. 
That’s why we finally passed health insurance reform. Now, let’s be clear-- costs will not come down overnight because health care passed, and in an ever-changing industry like health care, we will continuously need more cost-cutting measures as the years go by. 
But once this reform is in full effect, middle-class families will pay less for their health care, and the worst practices of the insurance companies will end. People with pre-existing medical conditions will no longer be excluded from coverage. People who become seriously ill will no longer be thrown off their coverage for reasons contrived by their insurance companies. Taxpayers will no longer have to pay-- in the form of higher premiums-- for trips to the ER by uninsured Americans. Businesses will get help with their health care costs-- in fact, small businesses are already learning they’re eligible for tax credits to cover their workers. And with less waste and greater efficiency in the system, this reform will do more to bring down the deficit than any step we’ve taken in more than a decade. 
The other party has staked their claim this November on repealing these health insurance reforms instead of making them work. They want to go back. I say we move forward.
Making health care more cost efficient is critical, because it’s also true that we cannot be competitive as a nation if we remain dragged down by our growing debt. 
By the time I took office, we had a one year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two major tax cuts skewed to the wealthy and a worthy but expensive prescription drug program. And I always find it interesting that the same people who participated in these decisions are the ones who now charge our administration with fiscal irresponsibility. 
The truth is, if I had taken office in ordinary times, I would have liked nothing more than to start bringing down the deficits they created. But we took office amid a crisis, and the effects of the recession put a $3 trillion hole in our budget before I even walked in the door. Additionally, the steps we took to save the economy from depression temporarily added more to the deficit-- and if we had spiraled into a depression, our deficits and debt levels would be far worse.  
Now, the economy is still fragile, so we cannot put on the brakes too quickly. We have to do what it takes to ensure a strong recovery. A growing economy will unquestionably improve our fiscal health, as will the steps we take in the short-term to put Americans back to work.  
That’s why I signed a bill that will provide tax cuts for small businesses that hire unemployed workers, and why I’ve urged Congress to pass a Small Business Lending Fund, so that small businesses can get the credit they need to create jobs and grow. I also believe it’s critical that we extend unemployment insurance for several more months, so that Americans who’ve been laid off through no fault of their own get the support they need to provide for their families and can maintain their health insurance until they’re rehired. And we’re working to give state and local governments the resources they need to prevent the likely layoff of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers over the next few months. 
But as we look ahead, we cannot lose sight of the urgent need to get our fiscal house in order. And I believe there are four key components to putting our budget on a sustainable path. Maintaining economic growth is the first, and health care reform is the second. 
The third component is the belt-tightening steps I’ve outlined to reduce our deficit by $1 trillion.  Starting in 2011, we will enact a three-year freeze on all discretionary spending outside of national security-- something that was never enacted in the last administration. We will allow the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire. We have gone through the budget, line by line, and identified more than 120 programs for elimination. We have restored a simple budgeting rule that every family and business understands: Pay-as-you-go. And we will charge the largest Wall Street firms a fee to repay the American people for rescuing them during the financial crisis-- a fee that will bring down the deficit by $90 billion over the next decade. This is only one-eighth of the amount these banks will pay out in bonuses over the same time period.

Dragged away from a golf game, Boehner was in a foul mood and started fuming and screeching about how Obama was diminishing the presidency. How? By being mean to Republicans-- like by reminding people about Jim DeMint rallying them into obstructionist mode to bring about his "Waterloo." Glad Boehner cleared that up and made sure everyone would understand how a clear and consistent, if a little childish and irresponsible, ploy of saying no to every solution on ideological grounds proved that Republican economics always rules the universe-- just as long as that universe is defined by the brilliant scientists and experts-in-everything at Fox News. Boehner absolutely refuses to accept-- refuses-- a Democratic president who won't allow himself to be beaten up by a gaggle of Republican pygmies and perverts.
“The president diminishes the Office of the President when he resorts to straw man arguments that willfully mischaracterize the views of others," Boehner shot back this afternoon. "All of the President’s talk of post-partisanship, reaching out, and finding common ground reminds us that the country deserves better than his hyper-partisan speech today.”

..."It’s clear from his harsh partisan rhetoric today that President Obama has run out of excuses for his broken promises on the economy," the House Republican leader said Wednesday.

"It’s time for the President to step up, exhibit real leadership, and call on congressional Democrats to offer a budget that reins in out-of-control spending to help create jobs and get our economy moving again," Boehner added.

Hopefully you're aware that the Democrats are fielding the best candidate they've ever had in western Ohio against Boehner this year, Justin Coussoule. Blue America has endorsed him as well. Much to Boehner's chagrin, it will be harder and harder for him to keep vomiting out the same nonsense about how nothing is working when employment stats in his own area are starting to turn around the disaster that his and Bush's idiotic policies over the last several years have created. Cincinnati's Business Courier reported Wednesday that, like in the rest of Ohio, "the Cincinnati-Middletown metro’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, fell to 10.2 percent in April, from 10.7 percent in March. In April 2009, the jobless rate was 8.9 percent."

Justin Coussoule, Boehner's Democratic opponent this year, on the other hand, is having a great week-- and not just because of Boehner's missteps and crude statements. Justin has been invited to Washington to meet with Democratic leaders there. (You may recall he's already been endorsed by two of the smartest and most progressive members of Congress, Alan Grayson and Barney Franks.) Anyway, by all means consider helping Justin raise the money he needs to get his message out. We asked him about Boehner's mind-blowing hypocrisy:
Maybe John Boehner thinks the President should call on Congressional Democrats to provide a budget that "reins in spending" because he knows the Republicans can't or won't do it. In the 8 years of the Bush presidency, the national debt doubled from $5 trillion to $10 trillion dollars. As a Republican rubber stamp, Boehner never gave second thought to how we would pay for the millions in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans; never gave second thought to government spending that will create a burden on future generations because he doesn't believe in pay-as-you-go. I believe that like every American family, what we spend must mirror what we have. I balance my checkbook at the end of each month, and sometimes there just isn't money for that shiny new toy. I fully support Pay-as-you-go when we make spending decisions. And making the difficult decisions on where to spend and where to rein in spending takes someone who knows how to choose the harder right over the easier wrong, just as I learned at West Point. Doing the right thing might not be popular, but that's what leaders do. When John Boehner says that someone should step up and exhibit real leadership, how does he define that? At West Point, we learned that a leader was one who inspires others, not someone who twists arms and makes threats to get others to go along.

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At 8:57 AM, Anonymous Balakirev said...

I loathe Boehner, Howie, but his district is very conservative and Repub. His antics haven't done him any harm in the past, but we can only hope that a good, vibrant opponent will hammer away at Tan-o-matic's abysmal record. Takes a lot of money to do these days, of course, and Boehner has that, too.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Good news Balakirev-- the district is overwhelmingly Independent now, not Republican. And Boehner's approval ratings are very low. He's never had a serious opponent before and if Coussoule can raise the money to conduct a reasonable campaign, he has a chance to turn the anti-incumbent feelings in western Ohio into a victory.

At 11:13 AM, Anonymous me said...

"I'd love to hear the next conversation Boehner has with a Blue Dog he's trying to lure into his caucus."

I understand the sentiment, but I'd still love for him to get them all. If we're going to be stuck republicans, I'd MUCH rather that they call themselves republicans. It's easier to get rid of them that way.

At 11:17 AM, Anonymous me said...

"this is the guy who was caught handing out campaign contributions for Big Tobacco on the House floor, while Congress was voting on tobacco legislation!"

Why oh why could we not get that on front pages all across the country??

As it is, very few people have ever heard of that incident.

Why do not ALL Democratic candidates use that?? It's an indictment of the entire GOP congressional contingent.

It should be hammered on talk shows and editorials. Dems should bring it up at every possible opportunity.

But they don't. They are complete wusses, and worse, many of them are crooked themselves.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Leigh said...

Balakirev - you have to believe that this is a WINNABLE race. To repeat, Independents outnumber Republicans 2:1 in this district. When you go out and talk to the people that live here, Boehner is NOT universally loved... in fact, in fact, 1 out of 6 Republican primary voters chose one of the other (R) candidates who had almost NO COVERAGE and no name recognition prior to the race. We HAVE to support Justin Coussoule, the progressive Democrat in this race. He CAN and WILL win this race, but only if we support him with funds and our voices!!

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Tom Betz said...

Leigh, I love your optimism, but today's Independent is a Republican who's ashamed to admit it in public. But in the privacy of the voting booth, unless someone has made him a really good argument to do otherwise (and for very selfish reasons), he's going to vote Republican. I really hope Coussoule can make that argument convincingly.


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