The conservative commentariat is having a field day at the expense of Hunter Biden, the vice president's 44 year-old son who was discharged from the Navy after testing positive for cocaine use. For its part, the Weekly Standard decried the "limited duty" reserve commission program under which Biden achieved his rank, lamenting "the culture of entitlement in political Washington that has tarnished the Navy." Meanwhile, RedState, which claims to "loathe political dynasties," breathed a sigh of relief that Biden "might have gotten lucky and managed to avoid a drug test long enough to get the career-enhancing status of 'military veteran.'"
But if recent history is any guide, Hunter Biden shouldn't despair too much over his current embarrassment for the same reason the right-wing echo chamber should temper its fevered case of schadenfreude. After all, George W. Bush showed that a former cokehead could still become President of the United States.
Dubya, as the story goes, quit drinking in the mid-1980's after the Reverend Billy Graham asked him if he was "right with God" and wife Laura supposedly told him to choose "Jack Daniels or me." But it was the questions over Bush's past cocaine use which periodically threatened to blow up his political career. Which is why he and his spokesman Scott McClellan refused to answer them.
Those refusals during 1999 and 2000 often produced comic results. Challenged about the cocaine rumors during his 1994 Texas gubernatorial race, Bush responded, "''What I did as a kid? I don't think it's relevant." As his campaign against Al Gore heated up, Bush frequently joked, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible." In August 1999, Bush denied using illegal drugs during the previous 25 years, even resorting to counting on his fingers when asked if he could pass an FBI background check:
"As I understand it, the current (FBI) form asks the question, 'Did somebody use drugs within the last seven years?' and I will be glad to answer that question, and the answer is 'No,'" Bush said in the interview.
At that 1999 same press conference, Bush fumed at what he viewed as a planted question. As the New York Times detailed:
''You know what happens, somebody floats a rumor and it causes you to ask a question,'' Mr. Bush said, interrupting the questioner in a rising voice, a tape recording of the news conference and a transcript provided by Mr. Bush's office showed. ''And that's the game in American politics, and I refuse to play it. That is a game, and you just fell for the trap, and I refuse to play.''
Eventually, the Bush campaign settled on a consistent approach and a new rationale. They would not comment on Bush's alleged past use drug use, explaining that the silence was for the kids. Call it strategic ambiguity.
First debuted in 1998, by 2000 Bush's version of plausible deniability was a standard on the stump:
In October 1998, Mr. Bush told Newsweek magazine that he had declined to itemize his ''irresponsibility'' because he wanted to set a proper example for teen-agers. ''The question is: Have you learned from your behavior?'' Mr. Bush said in the interview. ''The answer is yes. If I were you, I wouldn't tell your kids that you smoked pot unless you want them to smoke pot. I don't want some kid saying, 'Well, Governor Bush tried it.'''
Throughout the 2000 campaign, Governor Bush's non-denial assumed the predictable form:
"I've told the people of this country that, over 20 years ago, I made some mistakes when I was younger. I've learned from those mistakes."
Despite his doubts about Bush truthfulness on display in his new book, Scott McClellan then as always faithfully regurgitated the party line. In August 1999, McClellan like Bush was giving in to "political convenience":
Scott McClellan, a Bush campaign spokesman, today characterized the issue as ''baseless allegations and ridiculous rumors.'' But Mr. McClellan added: ''What he may or may not have done in the past is not the question we should be asking. It is, 'Has he learned from his mistakes?' and the answer is yes.''
Ultimately, Scott McClellan told much bigger lies to the American people on subjects more profound than what a young George W. Bush put up his nose. But in answering charges of Bush's cocaine use then, McClellan defended his boss by resorting to the over-arching falsehood, the sham that came to define the American tragedy that has been the Bush presidency:
''What Americans want to know is will he uphold the dignity and honor of the office. He will.''
Much to his chagrin, Scott McClellan during his rocky tenure as President Bush's press secretary learned otherwise. In his 2008 memoir, McClellan worried about Bush's white lies about white lines. As ABC News reported:
Writes McClellan: "'The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,' I heard Bush say. 'You know, the truth is I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don't remember.'
"I remember thinking to myself, How can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn't make a lot of sense."
And yet, McClellan concludes, "I think he meant what he said in that conversation about cocaine. It's the first time when I felt I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that probably was not true, and that, deep down, he knew was not true. And his reason for doing so is fairly obvious - political convenience..."
Congratulations to the class of 2001. To those of you who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say, well done. And to the C students I say, you, too, can be President of the United States.
As for Hunter Biden, he should take some time to relax and reflect. A good place to start would be comedian Chris Rock's classic 1990's stand-up performance, Bring on the Pain. As he joked about former Washington DC mayor and legendary crack aficionado Marion Barry:
Marion Barry, now come on man. How are you going to tell little kids not to get high when the mayor's on crack?
"Don't get high, won't be nothing."
"I can be mayor!"
Or even, as George W. Bush proved, President of the United States.
Not content with having blocked President Obama's nominee for Surgeon General over his common sense description of gun violence as a public health issue, Republicans in and out of Congress want one of their own to be the President's point-man on Ebola. Instead of Ron Klain, conservatives including Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Steve Forbes are championing physician and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as their ideal Ebola Czar. But if they decry Klain as a "political hack," it's hard to imagine a worse choice than Dr. Frist to combat the deadly virus. After all, the multimillionaire GOP partisan who almost went to prison over insider trading and wrongly diagnosed Terry Schiavo also lied to the American people about the transmissibility of HIV/AIDS.
Bill Frist's perversion of science for partisan political purposes begins, but certainly does not end, with AIDS. In December 2004, Senator Frist tried to defend a federally-funded abstinence program which claimed that HIV/AIDS could be contracted through tears and sweat. Pressed by ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, Frist was forced to recant.
He repeatedly declined to say whether he thought HIV-AIDS could be transmitted through tears or sweat. A much-disputed federal education program championed by some conservative groups had suggested that such transmissions occur.
After numerous challenges by Stephanopoulos, Frist said that "it would be very hard" for someone to contract AIDS via tears or sweat. The Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: "Contact with saliva, tears, or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV."
But when it came to the case of Terri Schiavo in 2005, Dr. Frist's malpractice went from the merely pathetic to the absolutely perverse. During the height of the intense battle over Michael Schiavo's effort to honor his wife's wishes in March 2005, Doctor Frist took to the Senate floor to offer his own videotape diagnosis of a patient he had never seen. Disputing assessments that Schiavo was in a permanent vegetative state (a diagnosis later confirmed by autopsy), Frist declared:
"I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office," he said in a lengthy speech in which he quoted medical texts and standards. "She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."
A surprised and concerned Laurie Zoloth, director of bioethics for the Center for Genetic Medicine at Northwestern University, noted of Doctor Frist's statements, "It is extremely unusual -- and by a non-neurologist, I might add. There should be no confusion about the medical data, and that's what was so surprising to me about Dr. Frist disagreeing about her medical status." Democratic strategist Marshall Wittman was much less charitable:
"I suspect that Senator Frist has his eye more on the Iowa caucus than the Hippocratic Oath."
Frist's political uses of science cut both ways. In 2001, Senator Frist strongly supported President Bush's draconian curbs on stem cell research. But in the wake of his disastrous intervention in the Schiavo case, the would-have-been presidential candidate Frist decided discretion was the better part of valor and switched sides. After his Schiavo debacle, Frist no doubt concluded the reversal on stem cells was necessary for the 2008 general election. Calling him a "sell-out" and "Dr. Duplicity", his former friends on the religious right made it clear he would never survive the GOP primaries.
As it turns out, Doctor Frist's dubious medical ethics both predated and followed his time in elected office. As a student, Frist was a frequent visitor to animal shelters where the future physician adopted cats only to dissect them later as part of his learn-at-home medical studies. Later, Senator Frist's World of Hope faith-based charity may have won awards for its work on AIDS, but its fundraising also filled the coffers of many of Frist's closest associates. And in 2007, Frist narrowly avoided insider trading charges in connection with his sale of stock from the HCA business started by his father and brother.
And if the name HCA sounds familiar, it should. As I documented two years ago, Hospital Corporation of America has been the nexus of wrongdoing by some of the biggest names in Republican politics. One of the nation's largest for-profit hospital firms, HCA was facing scrutiny for suspect billing practices, unnecessary procedures and questionable profit-taking that increased following its 2009 buyout by private equity firms including Mitt Romney's former firm, Bain Capital.
Before the giant chain came to operate 163 hospitals nationwide, it was owned by the family of former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. In the 1990's, the Hospital Corporation of America founded by Frist's father merged with Columbia Healthcare Corporation, a group then led by current Florida Governor Rick Scott. Scott was later forced off the board after HCA was forced to pay a staggering $1.7 billion penalty for Medicare fraud. For his part, in 2007 Doctor Frist was eventually cleared of insider trading involving his supposedly blind trust's sale of HCA stock.
To be sure, Bill Frist has contributed his time, money and expertise to help the needy and the sick. (Two weeks ago, he penned an op-ed offering his own advice on how to handle the Ebola crisis.) But he long ago disqualified himself as a leader in public health policy when repeatedly placed the needs of his Republican Party over patients. That's why the conservative campaign to crown Dr. Bill Frist as Ebola Czar deserves the same response as his disgusting performance in the Schiavo case. AS Democratic strategist Jim Jordan put it at the time:
"It's quackery. It'd be hilarious if it weren't so grotesque."
The President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was arguably President George W' Bush's single greatest achievement. Thanks to American leadership and over $50 billion in U.S. funding committed since President Bush launched the initiative in 2003, millions of lives have been saved and millions more HIV/AIDS cases prevented in 15 African countries targeted for international action. During his July 2013 trip to Africa, President Obama rightly called PEPFAR one Bush's "crowning achievements" and used their joint 2013 visit to Tanzania to "thank him on behalf of the American people for showing how American generosity and foresight could end up making a real difference in people's lives." As Bill Clinton put it in 2012:
"I have to be grateful, and you should be too, that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries."
That's why it's once again time for the United States to step up with a new multi-year, multi-billion dollar commitment, this time against Ebola. With over 4,500 already dead and tens of thousands more at risk in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it's not simply (as Bill Clinton is so fond of saying) "the right thing to do. In this case, charity does not begin at home: Americans' health and safety requires America to go all in--in Africa.
While the U.S. media fuel panic over the one fatality and handful of Ebola cases here, the need for urgent, global mobilization to save West Africa cannot be overstated. As CNN reported on Friday:
Liberia, meanwhile, which is hardest hit by the virus, says it requires 2.4 million boxes of protective gloves -- and 85,000 body bags, to be able to fight the virus in the next six months. Currently, it only has 18,000 boxes of gloves and less than 5,000 body bags.
Let that second number sink in.
Eight-five thousand body bags needed.[Emphasis original.]
"We all have a stake in the battle against Ebola. It is the duty of all of us, as global citizens, to send a message that we will not leave millions of West Africans to fend for themselves."
And the United States has only begun to fight.
So far, Congress has approved $750 million in Pentagon spending to be redirected to President Obama's relief mission. The U.S. has also pledged over $200 million to a United Nations fund hoping to raise $988 million. But the resources will be only a fraction of what will be needed not only to combat the current Ebola outbreak, but to fight and prevent future epidemics. African economies devastated by Ebola and the wholly inadequate public health infrastructures in most will require global aid and partnerships for years to come.
That's why President Obama should announce the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief (PEPFER), committing $25 billion over the next five years. Those dollars will build hundreds of clinics, buy thousands of ambulances, create stockpiles of protective gear, fund the deployment of hundreds of doctors, nurses, technicians and other public health professionals. New "clean" room emergency facilities should be rolled out in the U.S., in Europe and in sub-Saharan Africa to handle individual cases in order to head off future contagions. Critically, PEPFER should invest in new treatments and vaccines for Ebola. And the global program should help set up "trust funds" for African governments to ensure future "recurring" funding for doctors and nurses as well as maintenance for hospitals, clinics and equipment. (As I learned first hand in The Gambia in the late 1980's, the "recurrent cost problem" after initial foreign aid dries up is one of the great pitfalls on international assistance to developing economies.)
Despite the current epidemic of conservative political opportunism, Barack Obama should be able to demand bipartisan support for the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief. Americans in general and Republicans in particular may hate foreign aid, but they hate Ebola even more. And there can be no question of how to come up with $25 billion over five years. After all, President Bush and his GOP allies never required new taxes or spending cuts as a "pay for" for PEPFAR. And as the CBO recently reported, the federal budget deficit for FY 2014 didn't just decline to its lowest level since 2007; it was $20 billion than the nonpartisan budget agency forecast in August.
So, the United States can definitely afford the President's Emergency Program for Ebola Relief. As the horrifying body count in Africa and the disturbing demagoguery here show, America can't afford to not do PEPFER. As President Bush told the nation when he unveiled his historic campaign against HIV/AIDS during the 2003 State of the Union Address:
Ladies and gentlemen, seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many. We have confronted, and will continue to confront, HIV/AIDS in our own country. And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa.
As Monica Nyawo, a counselor at an AIDS clinic near Durban who is HIV positive put it in June 2013, "I am alive because of the ARVs [anti-retroviral drugs]I received through the PEPFAR funding." And as President Obama declared of countless others like her:
"President Bush deserves enormous credit for that. It is really important. And it saved lives of millions of people."
It's now time for the United States to take action on a grand scale against Ebola. It's not just enlightened self-interest to protect Americans here at home. With so many at risk in Africa, it's simply the right thing to do.
The New York Times had published a new report detailing the numerous cases of American and Iraqi soldiers accidentally exposed to chemical agents from Saddam Hussein's decaying Gulf War era weapons. But as disturbing as the fact that there were "17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003" is the secrecy the U.S. government has maintained ever since. To put it another way, first the Bush administration lied to the American people about the weapons of mass destruction Saddam did not have, only then to stay silent about the chemical munitions he actually had hidden or abandoned many years earlier.
But as the Times makes clear, far from confirming ongoing conservative claims that Iraq possessed stockpiles of WMD ready for use in 2003, the new revelations prove the reverse:
The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government's invasion rationale.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Bush insisted that Mr. Hussein was hiding an active weapons of mass destruction program, in defiance of international will and at the world's risk. United Nations inspectors said they could not find evidence for these claims.
Then, during the long occupation, American troops began encountering old chemical munitions in hidden caches and roadside bombs. Typically 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets, they were remnants of an arms program Iraq had rushed into production in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.
All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.
"'Nothing of significance' is what I was ordered to say," said Jarrod Lampier, an Army major whose unit discovered 2,400 nerve-agent rockets unearthed in 2006 at a former Republican Guard compound. And as the Times C.J. Chivers explained:
Participants in the chemical weapons discoveries said the United States suppressed knowledge of finds for multiple reasons, including that the government bristled at further acknowledgment it had been wrong. "They needed something to say that after Sept. 11 Saddam used chemical rounds," Mr. Lampier said. "And all of this was from the pre-1991 era."
Bush's war may be over, but his insults to the American people continue. The decrepit weapons were built during Iraq's war with Iran, with assistance from the U.S. and Germany. As U.S. troops happened upon decaying shells, neither the American public nor Congress were informed. Told to keep word of their discoveries and medical conditions quiet, American servicemen did not get the treatment they required. As the Times lamented, "First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war's outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find." And now the fear is that some of these decades-old munitions will fall into the hands of the Islamic State.
In August 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney warned, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." But as Karl Rove later wrote in his memoir Courage and Consequences, his own greatest failure was not pushing back harder against the allegation that President George W. Bush had taken the country to war under false pretenses. As Peter Baker explained in the New York Times in 2010 ("Rove on Iraq: Without W.M.D. Threat, Bush Wouldn't Have Gone to War"):
"Would the Iraq War have occurred without W.M.D.? I doubt it," he writes. "Congress was very unlikely to have supported the use-of-force resolution without the W.M.D. threat. The Bush administration itself would probably have sought other ways to constrain Saddam, bring about regime change, and deal with Iraq's horrendous human rights violations."
He adds: "So, then, did Bush lie us into war? Absolutely not." But Mr. Rove said the White House had only a "weak response" to the harmful allegation, which became "a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush presidency."
As it turned out, President Bush's WMD deception was a poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of American democracy. And for the 4,500 Americans who died in Iraq, the 30,000 wounded--including those sickened and suffering from accidental exposure to the remnants of Saddam's decrepit, decaying and obsolete pre-Gulf War chemical arsenal--the poison is still very much with us.
As the Washington Post among others reported Monday, Google is testing a new service "that provides live video chat advice to searchers looking for information on some medical conditions." The feature, uncovered by a Reddit user who noticed his Android phone suggested "Talk with a doctor now" when he did a search about "knee pain," may be a forerunner of the mass adoption of telemedicine to cost-effectively provide information, evaluation and treatment, especially for those in rural and under-served areas.
But if the new video consultations catch on (consultations whose costs Google will cover during this testing period), they will nevertheless be limited, and not just because most states prohibit doctors from practicing across state lines. As The Atlantic recently reported, "Medicated abortions provided via telemedicine" have already been blocked by opponents across much of the country.
As Alana Semuels explained, telemedicine is already delivering health care and saving millions of dollars for patients and doctors in even the remotest areas of Alaska. One assessment showed that "telemedicine saved Medicaid and Medicare 19 percent on costs when it helped offer hospital-level care in patients' homes."
But there is one procedure that, though it could be easily, safely, and cheaply administered via telemedicine, is widely unavailable: the termination of a pregnancy. Fifteen states have adopted bans on telemedicine abortion since 2010. The practice was only ever available in three states--Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas--though Texas now has banned it. In Iowa telemedicine abortion continues to be available, though is being challenged in courts, and in Minnesota the legislature passed a ban, which the governor vetoed.
Of course, the growing opposition to what foes of reproductive rights brand "webcam abortions" has nothing to do with women's health or safety and everything to do with abortion itself.
Three years ago, a study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology found that allowing physicians to remotely supervise administration of the pregnancy-ending drug RU-486 is just as safe, effective and acceptable to patients as a face-to-face office visit. In the first 10 years since its introduction in the United States, over 1.5 million women used RU-486 to induce abortions. The mortality rate for RU-486 (also known as Mifeprex) is one in 100,000; by contrast, Viagra's is five in 100,000. Even the small number of "adverse events" (14 deaths and 612 hospitalizations) could not be confirmed by the FDA to be related to the drug itself, prompting medical ethicist Arthur Caplan to warn:
"Unless these groups have some broader heartburn over the notion of rural areas getting access to doctors by video, I don't think this is in any way a serious complaint. Clearly we don't have enough primary care providers. One way to solve this is through telemedicine. We don't want to be attacking that, we probably want to be celebrating it."
But in Iowa as in states like Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, Nebraska and Tennessee, attacking telemedicine and the doctors who deliver it is exactly what Republicans are doing. As the Quad City Times reported in February, the Iowa House voted for a prohibition on just such procedures. By a 55-42 vote, legislators passed House File 2175, which would "ban the practice of doctors prescribing abortion-inducing drugs from remote locations, typically using a video link." But while that bill has not yet become law, the Iowa Board of Medicine ruled physicians to be present and to perform a physical examination before drugs are dispensed. (Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which since 2008 has helped 6,400 women access abortion services via telemedicine, is currently appealing to the state supreme court.)
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Angie Remington summed up the situation many Hawkeye state women face:
"The intent was really for women to be able to receive the care they need without having to travel 500 miles round trip...Through this program, there have been many women who have told stories like, 'I don't think I would have been able to get an abortion, if not through this service.'''
But if anti-abortion forces have their way, no American woman would be able to get an abortion through any telemedicine service. To put it another way, they will ensure that the Google doctor can't see you now.
In a midterm campaign filled with affronts to voters and reality alike, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached a new low in last night's Kentucky Senate debate. Declaring once again that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed "root and branch," McConnell pretended nothing would happen as a result to the 520,000 Kentuckians whose new health insurance was made possible only by federal subsidies and expansion of Medicaid. Instead, McConnell said the Kynect program's "website can continue," continue that is, with no insurance plans to sell to customers who could no longer afford them regardless.
"I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room."
Mitch McConnell couldn't agree more. He lectured David Gregory in July 2009 (around the 4:54 mark above) on that very point, almost a year before the passage of the Affordable Care Act:
GREGORY: Do you think it's a moral issue that 47 million Americans go without health insurance?
McCONNELL: Well, they don't go without health care. It's not the most efficient way to provide it. As we know, the doctors in the hospitals are sworn to provide health care. We all agree it is not the most efficient way to provide health care to find somebody only in the emergency room and then pass those costs on to those who are paying for insurance. So it is important, I think, to reduce the number of uninsured. The question is, what is the best way to do that?
Five years later, would-be Senate Majority Leader McConnell's answer is to strip 500,000 of his constituents--12 percent of Kentucky's population--of their health insurance. Instead, they can go to a website that can do nothing for them on their way to an emergency room which must.
"Reality," Stephen Colbert famously explained to President George W. Bush, "has a well-known liberal bias." And for Republicans, reality bites most when it comes to tax cuts. After all, for over 30 years, tax cuts have been the GOP's one and only prescription for both economic booms and busts, recessionary slowdowns and budget surpluses, and probably even male pattern baldness and erectile dysfunction. Ever since Arthur Laffer first bottled his supply-side snake oil, the GOP's best and brightest have promised that the explosion of economic activity unleashed by lower tax rates would more than offset the tax revenue lost. That's why, as President Bush boasted, "tax cuts pay for themselves" and why, as former Arizona Senator John Kyl lectured, "you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans."
That's the word from Paul Ryan (R-WI), the current House Budget Committee Chairman almost certain to take over the gavel of the Ways and Means Committee in January. As the failed 2012 GOP vice presidential nominee promised the Wall Street group, the Financial Services Roundtable, "I'd like to improve our scorekeeping so it better reflects reality." By "improve our scorekeeping," Ryan means forcing the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to change the way it forecasts (or "scores") the impact of tax and budget legislation. And by "better reflects reality," Paul Ryan means rigging the outcome so GOP tax-cutting bills don't appear to hemorrhage the red ink they inevitably must. As The Hill reported:
Ryan said if Republicans take control of the Senate, they will be able to calculate the price tag of legislation differently. Republicans have long pushed for the Congressional Budget Office to use "dynamic scoring" when calculating the costs of legislation. Currently, the CBO scores legislation using static scoring, which does not take into account how behavioral changes brought on by legislation could in turn alter how much a particular provision costs.
But Ryan and Republicans argue that adopting a new scoring method would make it easier to adopt revenue-neutral policies, and also paint a more accurate picture. If the GOP controlled Congress, they could change the calculation methods employed by the CBO.
"The scorekeeping we use is not correct," he said.
"Not correct," that is, in the preventing observers from erupting in laughter every time Paul Ryan proposes to balance the budget while delivering a massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy.
For four years, Ryan has offered some variant of his "Path to Prosperity" budget providing almost $5 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years with just two rates of 10 and 25 percent, slashing corporate taxes, repealing Obamacare and gutting social spending. Each and every time 95 percent of Congressional Republicans voted for it. Yet each every time, reality intervenes. Far from producing a balanced budget within a decade, Ryan's budgets always produce almost $6 trillion in new debt. That's because the self-proclaimed "courageous" Mr. Ryan is too cowardly to identify a single tax break he'd close, breaks that now cost the United States Treasury about $1.3 trillion a year. Would he end the home mortgage deduction? The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)? The carried interest exemption? The deduction for state and local taxes? His "base-broadening" depends on ending about $6 trillion in loopholes in 10 years, yet as this 2012 statement typically shows, Paul Ryan never will answer the question:
"That's what the Ways & Means Committee is supposed to do. That's not the job of the Budget Committee," Ryan said on Fox News Sunday. "What we're saying is, we want to do this in the light of day, not in some backroom deal. We want to have hearings in the Ways & Means Committee that Chairman Dave Camp has already started that work, to say what tax benefits should go."
As it turns out, this year Dave Camp finished his work on tax reform. And predictably, Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner declared it dead on arrival. They aborted Camp's much-hyped plan for the same reason Ryan always kept secret his list of tax breaks to kill: the changes are wildly unpopular.
So, for Republicans the only alternative to the horrible math and even worse politics of tax reform is to change math itself. That process is already underway. In the 2014 version of his "Path to Prosperity," Chairman Ryan baked in $175 billion of magical revenue gains from the steep tax cuts he proposed by labelling them "Macroeconomic Fiscal Impacts." And as Jamelle Bouie recalled:
Dynamic scoring is key to the supply-side case. With the right assumptions, a dynamic score can make tax cuts the free lunch of public policy. For example, in his 2012 Path to Prosperity, Ryan said that his tax cuts and budgetary policies would create "nearly 1 million new private-sector jobs," bring the unemployment rate down to "4 percent by 2015," and increase "real GDP by $1.5 trillion over the decade." The proof? A dynamic score calculated by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.
Ryan is not alone. In 2014, the House by a 224 to 182 vote passed the "Pro-Growth Budgeting Act," that would require dynamic scoring of major legislation before it comes up for a vote. And in 2013, several Democrats joined their Senate GOP colleagues in passing an amendment by Rob Portman (R-OH) requiring the CBO score tax reform using, as the Wall Street Journal rejoiced, "a dynamic model [that] would predict a large revenue windfall from the overall increase in investment and economic efficiency."
As James Valvo, policy director at Americans for Prosperity put it, "This is something that remains important to us."
Important, with good reason. After all, to one degree or another, pretty much every major Republican tax cut scheme from Reagan in 1980, Dole in 1996 and Bush in 2000 to Mitt Romney in 2012 and Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" budget have claimed that the hemorrhage of revenue for the U.S. Treasury from their gargantuan tax cut windfalls for the gilded-class would be offset by bigger collections from a supposedly surging economy. Without resorting to the sleight of hand that is dynamic scoring, these GOP budgets invariably produce red ink as far as the eye can see. That's why House Republicans last proposed H.R. 3582 (the "Pro-Growth Budgeting Act") to require that the CBO estimates also use dynamic scoring to incorporate "supply-side assumptions about the growth-generating magic of tax cuts into official budget estimates, enabling conservatives to evade the deficit-boosting implications (and various congressional barriers that come along with them) of their pet proposals for reducing the tax burden of 'job creators.'"
Most analysts have encouraged the Congressional Budget Office and other forecasters to steer clear of dynamic scoring for two very compelling reasons. First, there's no consensus on how to model it, making the process ripe for manipulation and political chicanery. As former deputy assistant director for tax policy at the Congressional Budget Office and current fellow at the Tax Policy Center Roberton Williams warned:
"We really don't understand the science well enough to do it right. The assumption built into the model determines, in large part, what comes out of the model. There's going to be conflict unless there's some agreement on what ought to go in."
But it's not just that "there's a great deal of uncertainty" about "the right way to model things," as TPC's Donald Marron put it. There's also the matter of the historical record: for over 30 years, bogus conservative claims about the revenue-increasing effects of tax cuts have been proven cataclysmically wrong.
Starting, it turns out, with Ronald Reagan. As most analysts predicted, Reagan's massive $749 billion supply-side tax cuts in 1981 quickly produced even more massive annual budget deficits. Combined with his rapid increase in defense spending, Reagan delivered not the balanced budgets he promised, but record-setting debt. Even his OMB alchemist David Stockman could not obscure the disaster with his famous "rosy scenarios."
Forced to raise taxes eleven times to avert financial catastrophe, the Gipper nonetheless presided over a tripling of the American national debt to nearly $3 trillion. By the time he left office in 1989, Ronald Reagan more than equaled the entire debt burden produced by the previous 200 years of American history. It's no wonder that, three decades after he concluded "the supply-siders have gone too far," former Arthur Laffer acolyte and Reagan budget chief David Stockman lamented:
"[The] debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party's embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don't matter if they result from tax cuts."
When George W. Bush and Dick Cheney ambled in the White House in January 2001, they weren't shy about making that same point. As Vice President Dick Cheney famously declared in 2002, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." (Not, that is, unless a Democrat is in the White House.)
Inheriting a federal budget in the black and CBO forecast for a $5.6 trillion surplus over 10 years, President George W. Bush quickly set about dismantling the progress made under Bill Clinton. In 2001, Bush signed a $1.4 trillion tax cut, followed by another $550 billion round in 2003, the first war-time tax cut in modern American history. (It is more than a little ironic that Paul Ryan at the time called the tax cuts "too small" because he believed the estimated surplus Bush would later eviscerate would be even larger than predicted.) In keeping with Republican orthodoxy that "tax cuts pay for themselves," President Bush confidently proclaimed:
"You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase."
As it turned out, not so much.
Federal revenue did not return to its pre-Bush tax cut level until 2006. As a share of American GDP, tax revenues peaked in 2000; that is, before the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003.
Analyses in 2010 by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded, the Bush tax cuts accounted for half of the deficits during his tenure, and if made permanent, over the next decade would cost the U.S. Treasury more than Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, TARP and the stimulus--combined. By the time he shuffled out of the Oval Office in January 2009, President Bush bequeathed a $3.5 trillion budget and a $1.2 trillion annual deficit to his successor, Barack Obama.
It's worth noting that current conservative economic propagandist and former McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin couldn't make the dynamic scoring alchemy work for the Bush administration, either:
In 2003, Doug Holtz-Eakin was appointed by Republicans to lead the CBO during the Bush years, and he came under intense pressure to use more dynamic analyses. But studies he commissioned found that dynamic scoring was devilishly complicated and wouldn't lead to drastically different estimates. As he explained in a 2011 hearing before the House Ways and Means Committee, "it is unlikely to change the bottom line very much over the budget window."
Despite the bitter experience of the Bush years, Mitt Romney made the same GOP shell game part of his tax plan in 2012. As Ezra Klein suggested in "The Dynamic Dodge in Romney's Budget," Mitt's scheme once again resurrected David Stockman's "magic asterisk":
As a matter of theory, stronger economic growth could make Romney's plan work...if Romney really could double or triple the pace of economic growth, it would be much easier to make his numbers add up...
The technical term for the secret sauce that Romney is using in his budget projections is "dynamic scoring." The idea is that tax cuts make the economy grow faster. They make people work harder. They persuade rich people to stop hiding money away. And thus they don't cost as much as a "static analysis" -- one that didn't take into account all these effects -- would suggest.
As it turns out, Romney's 20 percent tax cut plan was basically the same one Bob Dole ran on - and lost on - in 1996. And the architect of that debacle, former Reagan Treasury official Bruce Bartlett, has long since recanted his support for the "dynamic scoring" at the heart of virtually every Republican tax plan. As Bartlett put it in 2012
As the budget deficit increasingly inhibits Republicans' tax-cutting, they are planning ahead for tax cuts that they will insist are costless because they will so massively increase growth. But for that approach to work, the C.B.O. and the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress's official budget and tax estimators, need to be forced to play along...
My concern is that the Republican effort is just a smokescreen to incorporate phony-baloney factors into revenue estimates to justify unlimited tax cutting...In other words, it is an issue of credibility. Republicans don't really care about accurate revenue estimates; they just want them to show that tax cuts pay for themselves, so they can pass more of them without constraint.
Constraints, that is, like the facts, the truth and the unchangeable principles of basic math. That's why Paul Ryan wants to rename the new math he and his GOP friends demand the Congressional Budget Office use:
"He also noted that he prefers the term 'reality-based scoring' over 'dynamic scoring.'"
You almost can't blame Republicans for trying to redefine "reality." After all, it has a well-known liberal bias.
Over the past year, roughly 68,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the Mexican border into the United States. That now-slowing surge prompted a backlash against Democratic plans to implement immigration reform, whether by legislation or executive action. Now, Republicans including New Hampshire candidate Scott Brown are warning that these undocumented immigrants might be carrying Ebola. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who led a Tea Party effort in Congress to block federal funding to manage the crisis, declared "we cannot solve the crisis at the border without stopping President Obama's amnesty."
But for one group of migrants, Ted Cruz and most of his GOP allies are only too happy to provide amnesty and a path to citizenship. And as it turns out, the number of Cubans pouring into the United States by sea and land is rapidly increasing.
As the New York Times reported this week, some 25,000 Cubans including 24 year-old Leonardo Heredia arrived in the U.S. without travel visas in the past year:
He, like many others, is also an unexpected throwback to a time that experts thought had long passed: the era when Cubans boarded homemade vessels built from old car parts and inner tubes, hoping for calm seas and favorable winds. As the number of Cubans attempting the voyage nearly doubled in the past two years, the number of vessels unfit for the dangerous 90-mile crossing also climbed.
Not since the rafter crisis of 1994 has the United States received so many Cuban migrants. The increase highlights the consequences of a United States immigration policy that gives preferential treatment to Cubans and recent reforms on the island that loosened travel restrictions, and it puts a harsh spotlight on the growing frustration of a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.
The U.S. embargo of Cuba and the 1966 Cuba Adjustment Act--two anachronisms of American foreign policy--are once again having the effect of producing a new wave of Cubans fleeing to the United States. As Peter Weber explained in The Week:
Since 1966, Cuban immigrants have had special protections and paths to citizenship under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Cuban nationals don't have to enter the U.S. at a designated port of entry. There are no quotas limiting the number who can immigrate here. And under a 1995 adjustment to the policy called "wet feet, dry feet," all Cubans who make it to shore are eligible for legal U.S. residency after one year, and eventually citizenship. In other words: amnesty.
But these are not political refugees seeking asylum from the Castro regime and its Soviet paymasters, but better economic opportunities here. And more and more, the Cubans are not arriving, like Elian Gonzales, escorted by Peggy Noonan's magical "dolphins who surrounded him like a contingent of angels." Instead, they are entering in Texas, crossing the same Mexican border Republicans would close off to Central American children.
Mr. La O became one of the more than 22,500 Cubans who arrived in the United States by land last fiscal year -- most of them in Texas. That is nearly double the number who did so in 2012.
Some of those migrants flew to Mexico and then requested entry at the Texas border. Relaxed travel rules in Cuba now allow people to exit the country more freely, a change that experts say plays a part in the surge in Southwest border arrivals. Other people, like Mr. La O, made the first leg of the journey by sea to Central America or Mexico.
It's with good reason that Weber concluded, "there is one big exception to the Tea Party's opposition to 'amnesty': Cuba."
Which is why it's long past time for the United States to overhaul its policies towards immigration and Cuba that only serve to produce such absurd and tragic outcomes. There aren't Soviet missiles, advisors or troops in Cuba; there aren't Cuban troops in Angola. While Vladimir Putin may boast of reopening Russian spying facilities in the Island, Cuba presents no threat to the United States. As the past two presidential elections have shown, the old irredentist Cuban communities in Florida can no longer have a stranglehold over the state's politics. And with 11 million undocumented immigrants--85 percent of them in America for over five years--stuck in legal limbo here, it's to end that two-word "get out of jail free" card" automatically accepted in Florida and Texas: "I'm Cuban."
Here are two pieces of friendly advice for Mitt Romney. If you really are going to run for President yet again, you better follow the examples of Hillary Clinton and your own father by releasing a lot more than two years of tax returns. And if you want to have any hope of shedding that indelible image of being an out-of-touch, gilded-class opportunist, for the love of God figure out where you really live and vote. After all, your confusion about your state of residence nearly derailed your 2002 run for Governor of Massachusetts and made a mockery of your 2012 claim to have left Bain Capital in 1999.
In 2009, Mitt and wife Ann Romney sold two of their four multi-million dollar homes in a move his top campaign aide Eric Fehrnstrom described as "down-sizing and simplifying." In 2010 and 2012, Mitt voted in Belmont, Massachusetts, where he lived in a town house after previously using his son Tagg's basement as his home address on his voter registration form. But as the Salt Lake Tribune reported last month, the Romneys have apparently decided to upsize once again and call Utah home, building a 5,900 square foot home in Holladay in addition to the $8.9 million mansion they purchased in Deer Valley last year. Last week, the Trib explained, his game of musical mansions confused Romney himself:
It turns out Romney, who is moving to Utah as a full-time resident, strolled into a driver license office in late August to obtain his Utah license and filled out paperwork to register to vote at his under-construction home in Holladay, a suburb of Salt Lake City. But, apparently because of outdated information in the agency's database, the pre-printed form listed Romney's former Park City address on Rising Star Lane and with no party affiliation. Romney signed it.
The move flummoxed state elections officials and Romney aides, when The Salt Lake Tribune inquired why the two-time presidential candidate was registering as an unaffiliated voter with his listed residence at a home he sold five years ago. As they explained it, some star-struck clerks and Romney's inattentiveness may have combined to cause the problem.
Now, providing false information on a voter registration form is a misdemeanor offense in Utah. But in 2002, documents showing Park City, Utah as his primary residence nearly ended Mitt Romney's run for Massachusetts Governor before it began.
That issue resurfaced during the 2012 presidential campaign because it undermined Team Romney's pretense that their man left Bain Capital in 1999 and so was not involved in or benefitting from deals that left thousands jobless and while Mitt millions. But largely overlooked in the discussion of his departure date as Bain Capital CEO is why Mitt Romney used to claim he was only on leave between 1999 and 2002. If Romney really permanently left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, he might have been ineligible to run for Governor of Massachusetts.
As the Boston Globe noted in its story, "financial disclosure documents Romney filed in Massachusetts show that he was paid as a Bain Capital executive while he directed the Olympics." But it is the last sentence in the article which may be the most important:
In Romney's 2002 race for governor, he testified before the state Ballot Law Commission that his separation from Bain in 1999 had been a "leave of absence" and not a final departure.
And why was Mitt Romney testifying before the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission? Because, it turns out, for three years he paid property taxes to Utah while claiming his $3.8 million Park City mansion was his "primary residence." And unless he could convince the Commission that was a mistake and that his tony Belmont estate was still home, Bain Capital CEO Romney would never have become Governor Romney.
Mitt Romney the former Salt Lake City Olympics chief now running for Massachusetts governor paid property taxes on a Utah home as his "primary residence" between 1999 and 2001 and received a $54,600 tax discount as a result.
The distinction which Utah officials said was made in error fueled the debate about whether Romney meets Massachusetts' residential requirements to be governor. The state Constitution requires a candidate to live in Massachusetts for seven years prior to election.
At the center of the case were Massachusetts tax returns Romney filed while in Utah. Romney filed in 1999 as a part-year Massachusetts resident and in 2000 as a nonresident.
Romney changed those returns to Massachusetts resident in April, after deciding to run for governor, saying his longtime tax advisers at Pricewaterhouse Coopers had made a mistake.
For his part, Romney answered the question "Where have I been the last three years?" by claiming "It was serving the people of our country in a responsibility I was given." Besides, the AP reported, "the [Utah] home was in his wife Ann's name and she paid the tax bills." On June 25, 2002, the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission consisting of three Republicans, one Democrat and one independent rejected a Democratic challenge to Romney's eligibility and concluded that Romney "was credible in all respects regarding the fact that (he) intended Massachusetts to be his domicile from 1971 to the present."
Romney's credibility may have been helped by his claims that between 1999 and 2001 he was on "a leave of absence" from Boston-based Bain Capital. That would square with reporting from David Corn of Mother Jones, who explained last week that:
In 1999, Bain and Romney both described his departure from Bain not as a resignation and far from absolute. The Boston Herald on February 12, 1999 reported, "Romney said he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions." And a Bain press release issued on July 19, 1999, noted that Romney was "currently on a part-time leave of absence"--and quoted Romney speaking for Bain Capital.
But if that was true (and it wasn't), then Mitt Romney should have never have become Governor of Massachusetts. Mercifully, he didn't become the President of the United States. And whether or not Romney can honestly tell the American people where he lived when, God willing he never will.
Dick Cheney is the herpes of American politics: he never goes away and periodically resurfaces only to subject the nation to painful and embarrassing flare-ups. So it is with his latest irritating tirade about a supposedly underfunded U.S. military unready to fight. His latest rant that "we have four combat-ready brigades out of 40 in the U.S. Army" is both false and familiar. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he and George W. Bush used the same fraud to devastating effect against Al Gore.
As the Fiscal Times reported, Cheney used an early September appearance at the American Enterprise Institute to decry "decried the reduction in U.S. military spending in recent years, noting that only 10 percent of the U.S. Army's brigades are combat ready." On September 24th, he regurgitated that talking point for Sean Hannity:
"The threat is increasing and our capacity to deal with it is decreasing because of what's happened to the U.S. military, the massive reductions in the budget, [and] the fact that we've got four combat ready brigades out of 40 in the U.S. Army."
As Politifact explained, Cheney's claim is "Mostly False." While the actual number is seven Army brigades out of 38, for the U.S. military the term "combat-ready" has a very specific meaning. It doesn't just exclude units that have not completed regular training, but those that have already been deployed. Under that definition, U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan or stationed in South Korea are not combat ready. (And by that measure, the overstretched U.S. Army fighting President Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would have had zero combat ready brigades in 2004 and 2008.)
But if Cheney's claim is utter bullshit now, it was extremely effective bullshit against Al Gore in 2000. "For eight years, Clinton and Gore have extended our military commitments while depleting our military power," vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney told the 2000 Republican National Convention. "Rarely has so much been demanded of our armed forces, and so little given to them in return...And I can promise them now, help is on the way." But it was then-Governor George W. Bush who the next day made an even more damning indictment:
"We have seen a steady erosion of American power and an unsteady exercise of American influence. Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called on by the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir.'"
As Joshua Micah Marshall documented four days later on August 7, 2000, Governor Bush's claims were patently false, as Bush knew well. Those two divisions had their status temporarily downgraded for the obvious reason that they were already on duty in the Balkans:
Bush took all this a step further when he told the convention audience that two divisions were currently "not ready for duty." As a factual matter, the statement is false, as the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, was at pains to point out the following day...
...But the reason those two divisions had their readiness downgraded was not because they were unfit for duty or lacked equipment. It was because portions of each division were on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia and Kosovo. The military's definition of readiness has to do with a particular division's ability to go into combat immediately in the hypothetical case of two major theater conflicts breaking out simultaneously. The commanders doubted their ability to quickly extricate their troops from their positions in the Balkans.
Confronted by CNN, Bush refused to own up to his deception and instead pointed a suspicious finger at the military itself:
"If the Army, in fact, changes its tune from that report...then they need to let the country know. I am amazed that they would put out a statement right after our convention. I'm curious why it took them this long to say they were combat-ready after a report last November said they weren't."
George W. Bush, in a much- publicized speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars last month, bemoaned a "military in decline." At the Republican National Convention, Gulf war hero Norman Schwarzkopf derided the Pentagon as enfeebled. The Armed Services are in a "downward spiral" (Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott), "neglected" (Senator John McCain), in "bad" shape (Representative Curt Weldon), and "could not fight and win against Iraq today" (Representative Duncan Hunter). Bush advisers routinely describe the American military as a "hollow force."
Unfortunately for Al Gore, the truth was not combat ready in November 2000. That's no doubt why Mitt Romney tried to repeat Bush's scam during his 2012 race against Barack Obama. Despite the fact that core U.S. defense spending (that is, all expenditures outside of Iraq and Afghanistan war funding) had risen during every year of the Obama administration. Romney nevertheless announced, "I will reverse President Obama's massive defense cuts." Then during the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, Romney penned an op-ed to charge:
"The United States [is] on a path to a hollow military."
"You mention the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."
But with Election Day coming in less than a month, that means it's once again time for the GOP to redeploy its tried and untrue "not ready for duty" sound bite. To put it another way, it's time for another Cheney outbreak.