Tag Archives: Robert Costa

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise…

Poster from the ACLU

Chris Strohm at The Atlantic:

Deserting and embarrassing their GOP House leadership, 26 Republicans–including several members of the Tea Party Caucus–bolted Tuesday night to join Democrats in a surprise rejection of a centerpiece of Bush-era powers to fight terrorism that curbed American civil liberties.

The House Republican leaders had expected an easy victory in their efforts to reauthorize three expiring powers under the PATRIOT Act–among them, allowing ”roving wiretaps” and searches of people’s medical, banking, and library records. It is likely the GOP will succeed in a later vote, but Tuesday night’s rebuff sent a strong message.

By a 277-148 margin, the bill fell just shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the House under suspension of the rules, representing somewhat of an embarrassment for House Republicans on a matter of national security. Republicans were accusing Democrats, many of whom had supported the extension of the provisions in the 111th Congress, of hypocrisy.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

“Believe me, House leadership was caught off guard,” says one Republican committee aide. “They really thought that they had everybody contained. They knew there would be a few defections, but they did not expect this group to try and out–Tea Party one another. The Ron Paul influence, especially on civil liberties, is stronger than you think.”

Monday’s vote was proffered under a suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority. Other House GOP aides tell NRO that the extension will likely brought up again via “regular orders” in the coming weeks; this requires a simple majority, and they expect it to pass.

The White House, one aide points out, will now be forced to work with Congress, especially with three provisions set to expire on February 28. The House GOP would like to extend the provisions until December 8; Senate Democrats and the White House would prefer extending the provisions through 2013, in order to take it off of the table for the election.

With the clock ticking, Republicans believe they can set the stakes, regardless of how they stumbled on the initial vote. On Monday, an aide close to the process notes, many Democrats who are supportive of a one-year extension voted against it, in order to stand with those who would like to see the provisions extended through 2013. So while Republicans will be whipping hard, to be sure, Democrats, too, he predicts, will be having their own internal debate about a short-term extension.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

The three amendments voted on last night have been extensively modified over the years and now include significant new safeguards, including substantial court oversight. They include:

Roving Surveillance Authority: Roving wiretaps have been used routinely by domestic law enforcement in standard criminal cases since the mid-1980s. However, national security agents did not have this garden-variety investigative tool until the passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001. Section 206 of the PATRIOT Act allows law enforcement, after approval from the FISA court, to track a suspect as he moves from cell phone to cell phone. The government must first prove that there is “probable cause” to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power. It further requires continuous monitoring by the FISA court and substantial reporting requirements to that Court by the government.

Business Record Orders: Domestic law enforcement, working with local prosecutors, routinely rely on business records through the course of their investigations, oftentimes through the use of a subpoena. However, national security agents did not have the same authority to acquire similar evidence prior to the passage of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. This provision allows law enforcement, with approval from the FISA court, to require disclosure of documents and other records from businesses and other institutions (third parties) without a suspect’s knowledge. The third-party recipients of 215 orders can even appeal any order to the FISA court.

The Lone Wolf Provision: Section 6001 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act allows law enforcement to track non-U.S. citizens acting alone to commit acts of terrorism that are not connected to an organized terrorist group or other foreign power. While the FBI has confirmed that this section has never actually been used, it needs to be available if the situation arises where a lone individual may seek to do harm to the United States.

At least 36 known terrorist plots have been foiled since 9/11. The United States continues to face a serious threat of terrorism. National security investigators continue to need the above authorities to track down terror leads and dismantle plots before the public is any danger. Opponents of these provisions have produced little evidence of any PATRIOT Act misuse. All of the provisions above are subject to routine oversight by both the FISA court and Congress, and no single provision of the PATRIOT Act has ever been found unconstitutional. Congress should not let the sunset provisions expire and should instead seek permanent authorization.

David Weigel:

So did the Tea Party movement beat reauthorization? Here’s a list of the 26 Republicans who voted no. In italics — the eight members who were elected in 2010 in the Tea Party wave.

Justin Amash
Roscoe Bartlett
Rob Bishop
Paul Broun
John Campbell
John Duncan
Mike Fitzpatrick*
Chris Gibson
Tom Graves
Dean Heller
Randy Hultgren
Tim Johnson
Walter Jones
Jack Kingston
Raul Labrador
Connie Mack
Kenny Marchant
Tom McClintock
Ron Paul
Denny Rehberg
Phil Roe
Dana Rohrabacher
Bobby Schilling
David Schweikert
Rob Woodall

Don Young

Many of the big Tea Party names, like Michele Bachmann, Kristi Noem, and Allen West, voted to pass the authorization. I break this out because there’ll be a temptation to say “the Tea Party and its isolationist elements beat the reauthorization,” and that’s not quite it.

Glenn Greenwald:

But what happened last night highlights the potential to subvert the two-party stranglehold on these issues — through a left-right alliance that opposes the Washington insiders who rule both parties.  So confident was the House GOP leadership in commanding bipartisan support that they put the Patriot Act extension up for a vote using a fast-track procedure that prohibits debate and amendments and, in return, requires 2/3 approval.  But 26 of the most conservative Republicans — including several of the newly elected “Tea Party” members — joined the majority of Democratic House members in voting against the extension, and it thus fell 7 votes short.  These conservative members opposed extension on the ground that more time was needed to understand whether added safeguards and oversight are needed.

The significance of this event shouldn’t be overstated.  The proposed Patriot Act extension still commanded support from a significant majority of the House (277-148), and will easily pass once the GOP leadership brings up the bill for a vote again in a few weeks using the standard procedure that requires only majority approval.  The vast majority of GOP members, including the leading Tea Party representatives, voted for it.  The Senate will easily pass it.  And the scope of the disagreement even among the Democrats opposing it is very narrow; even most of the “no” votes favor extending these provisions, albeit with the types of tepid safeguards proposed by Leahy.  So in one sense, what happened last night — as is true for most political “victories” — was purely symbolic.  The White House will get what it wants.

But while it shouldn’t be overstated, there is a real significance here that also shouldn’t be overlooked.  Rachel Maddow last night pointed out that there is a split on the Right — at least a rhetorical one — between what she called “authoritarian conservatives” and “libertarian conservatives.”  At some point, the dogmatic emphasis on limited state power, not trusting the Federal Government, and individual liberties — all staples of right-wing political propaganda, especially Tea Party sloganeering — has to conflict with things like oversight-free federal domestic surveillance, limitless government detention powers, and impenetrable secrecy (to say nothing of exploiting state power to advance culture war aims).   Not even our political culture can sustain contradictions as egregious as (a) reading reverently from the Constitution and venerating limits on federal power, and then (b) voting to vest the Federal Government with extraordinary powers of oversight-free surveillance aimed at the American people.

Adam Serwer at Greg Sargent’s place:

Sadly, the revolt probably won’t last, as there are more than the 218 votes needed to pass reauthorization under normal procedures. What’s uncertain is whether the reauthorization will contain mild oversight provisions, and when the provisions will actually sunset. As Cato’s Julian Sanchez notes, there are two Democratic Senate versions that reauthorize these provisions for three years, but the Republican House version sunsets them until December 2011, while the Republican Senate proposal makes them permanent. Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy’s  version of the bill would reign in Section 215 orders and provide some key oversight over the use of the widely abused National Security Letters, but those modest reforms were too much for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), so she introduced an alternate bill without them.

The Republican House version places reauthorization right in the middle of presidential primary season, while the Democratic versions kick the can down the road three years. That means that we might be looking forward to the Republican candidates’ positions on the Patriot Act becoming an issue, which may lead to some irresponsible grandstanding about the necessity of passing the Patriot Act without any meaningful oversight. Remember “double Guantanamo?”

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John Boehner Has Something To Say

Paul Kane at WaPo:

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) called Tuesday for the mass firing of the Obama administration’s economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House adviser Larry Summers, arguing that November’s midterm elections are shaping up as a referendum on sustained unemployment across the nation and saying the “writing is on the wall.”

Boehner said President Obama‘s team lacks “real-world, hands-on experience” in creating jobs that are needed for a full economic recovery. The Republican lawmaker cited reports that some senior aides complained of “exhaustion,” including the recently departed budget chief Peter Orszag.

“President Obama should ask for – and accept – the resignations of the remaining members of his economic team, starting with Secretary Geithner and Larry Summers, the head of the National Economic Council,” Boehner said in the morning speech to business leaders at the City Club of Cleveland. The mass dismissal, he added, would be “no substitute for a referendum on the president’s job-killing agenda. That question will be put before the American people in due time. But we do not have the luxury of waiting months for the president to pick scapegoats for his failing ‘stimulus’ policies.”

Vice President Biden lashed back at Boehner, called his “so-called” economic plan nothing but a list of what Republicans are against and devoid of innovative new ideas that can help move the country forward.

In a sarcastic tone, Biden thanked Boehner for the suggestion that the president fire his top economic advisers.

“Very constructive advice and we thank the leader for that,” Biden said.

Andrew Malcolm at Los Angeles Times:

But then Boehner’s communications staff springs the trap. Having drawn their DNC opponents into helping to publicize the Republican speech, just before he speaks and in time for the morning news shows they leak the fairly dramatic news that the GOP leader’s remarks will call for the mass firing of Obama’s entire economic time for, in effect, engineering the prolonged period of unemployment. Which gets the debate back onto the economy where the GOP wants it.)

Everyone involved and watching knows it’s a pedestrian game. Which is a large part of the reason that only 19% of Americans say they approve of the job the Democratic Congress is doing. Among Republicans that approval rate is only 5%. Even among Democrats, however, congressional approval stands at only 38%, down from 55% one year ago.

Such predictable sparring is what the parties do, though. Why? Because despite what voters tell pollsters, it works. Americans in recent elections have re-elected about 80% of incumbent senators and 90% of House representatives.

We’ll see come the night of Nov. 2 if 2010’s voters remain as hypocritical as they’re so quick to say pols are. Or if this era of fear and frustration spurs a real change in ballot box retribution — and, thus, perhaps even an end to predictable pathetic prebuttals.

Doug Mataconis:

Boehner’s call for mass firings makes for good sound bite material, but it surely doesn’t accomplish anything substantive. After all, Boehner knows that even if Obama fired his entire economic staff today, they’d be replaced by people who largely agree with the Geithner/Summers ideas. Certainly, Obama isn’t going to be appointing free-market conservatives to run his economic policy.

Moreover, Boehner’s demand inevitably brings up the question of who you bring in to replace them and, as Slate’s David Weigel noted this morning on Twitter the traditional GOP practice of looking to the business and financial community for such people hasn’t exactly worked out well in the past:

I like the suggestion of putting a “business leader” in charge. Like, err, Paul O’Neill, John Snow, or Hank Paulsen!

All of whom, of course, didn’t see the 2008 economic crisis coming, or at least didn’t do anything to try to stop it if they did.

Ed Morrissey:

In fact, Boehner may have given Obama the best political advice he could get.  Firing the team that failed to deliver the growth Obama promised would at least show that Obama understands that his policies aren’t working.  If he waits until the day after the midterms, it’s not going to do him or his party much good.

Michelle Malkin

Pete Davis:

This morning, in Cleveland, OH, House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) slammed President Obama’s economic policies and called for the resignation of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers.  Here’s the video, and here are his prepared remarks.   He railed against “job-killing tax hikes,” stimulus spending that “has gotten us nowhere,” and “government run amok.”   Boehner is right on about ending economic uncertainty, particularly about future tax rates and unsupportable levels of future public debt.   However, he sounded as if all of our problems began when President Obama was sworn in as president on January 20, 2009.  Our current suffering mostly arose from the Iraq War, Medicare Part D, and the very lax regulatory environment that allowed the financial crisis and the Gulf oil spill to occur, all courtesy of President George W. Bush and the Republicans.  In my opinion, Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke are all to be commended for their Herculean efforts to keep us from falling into a Depression.  Today, the Congressional Budget Office estimated how much worse off we would have been without the stimulus bill.   Mr. Boehner also forgot the mention that his tax and spending policies would make the rich a lot richer and the rest of us worse off.   The main advantage of being in the minority is that you get to blame the majority for everything that is wrong in the world.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

Rep. John Boehner in a speech today: “When Congress returns, we should force Washington to cut non-defense discretionary spending to 2008 levels – before the ‘stimulus’ was put into place. This would show Washington is ready to get serious about bringing down the deficits that threaten our economy.”

Rep. John Boehner’s spokesperson in January when President Obama proposed freezing non-defense discretionary spending in 2010 for three years, which would have brought it in line with 2008 levels:

“Given Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending binge, this is like announcing you’re going on a diet after winning a pie-eating contest.”

Robert Costa at The Corner:

There is a lot of buzz around Rep. John Boehner’s policy speech and Democrats — from Vice President Biden to little-known operatives — have scurried to slam it. Bush-bashing veterans, on the lookout for a new GOP demon, are hoping to make Boehner a campaign issue. Yet as Jake Sherman of Politico notes, that strategy seems to be a bit flat, “despite Democratic efforts.”

As Boehner basked in the spotlight today, even he acknowledged that November has little to do with him. “Eighty or 90 percent of this election is going to be about them,” the House minority leader told reporters. “But that 10 or 20 percent of the election that’s about us, my goal has been, for 20 months, is to maximize that portion of the election that’s about us.”

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Break Out The Pocket Constitutions: Robert Byrd 1917-2010

Josh Green at The Atlantic:

In his later years, Sen. Robert Byrd, who died this morning, was often viewed–not without some justification–as a self-important windbag who embodied all that was wrong with the fusty and sclerotic institution that he served and worshiped. His 2005 memoir was, to be blunt, absolutely terrible and thoroughly unilluminating–quite a feat given the book’s length of 832 pages. I mentioned in an earlier post that Byrd was the subject of an Atlantic Monthly cover story in 1975 titled “The Man Who Runs The Senate.” The piece, by Sanford J. Ungar, captures Byrd at the peak of his career. He was gearing up to run to for president in 1976. He did not become president, of course, and went on (and on and on) to have an influential career in the Senate. But he was never again thought of as “presidential material.” The Atlantic piece captures the Robert Byrd currently being memorialized as a powerful force, historic figure, etc. You can read it here.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

For a decade, Robert Byrd enrolled in night law-school classes, first as a congressman, and then as a senator. Finally, in 1963, he received his law degree, cum laude, from American University. President Kennedy, his “old colleague,” was there to congratulate him, as AU’s commencement speaker.

[…]

According to the Washington Post, Senator Byrd was the only member of Congress to put himself through law school while in office. R.I.P.

David Boaz at Cato:

Senator Robert C. Byrd, who died today at age 92, had a long and varied career. Unlike most senators, Senator Byrd remembered that the Constitution delegates the power to make law and the power to make war to Congress, not the president. He often held up the Cato Institute’s pocket edition of the Constitution as he made that vital point in Senate debate. I have several emails from colleagues over the years reading “Senator Byrd is waving the Cato Constitution on the Senate floor right now.” Alas, if he really took the Constitution seriously, he would have realized that the limited powers it gives the federal government wouldn’t include many of the New Deal and Great Society programs that opened up whole new vistas for pork in West Virginia.

[…]

To purchase copies of the Cato pocket edition of the Constitution, which also includes the Declaration of Independence and an introduction by Roger Pilon, click here.

Let us hope that some other senator takes up Senator Byrd’s vigilance about the powers of Congress and the imperial presidency.

Nick Gillespie at Reason:

The cheap shot against Byrd is that he was back in the day an Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan and writing letters as late as 1946 that “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia and in every state in the nation.” I consider it a cheap shot because he did apologize for and disown his participation in the group. Better late than never, I suppose, even if it does make you wonder about all those politicians of his generation, even ones from the Deep South, who never felt a need to recruit for the KKK and never prattled on about “white niggers” like some back-country Norman Mailer.

But it’s Byrd’s status as the Babe Ruth of pork-barrel spending and taxpayer-funded narcissism that is his real legacy and the one we should never forget or forgive. Here lies a man who pushed his home state to build a statue of him in defiance of a rule that such honorees be dead for 50 years.

John Walker at Firedoglake:

Robert Byrd was in the Senate in 1975 when the number of votes needed for cloture was dropped from 67 to 60. Two years later, in an attempt to circumvent cloture, Senators Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH) and James Abourezk (D-SD) performed a post-cloture filibuster (PDF). They did this by offering a slew of amendments without debate, forcing a roll-call vote for each. Now elevated to Senate Majority Leader, Byrd decided he’d had enough, and he created a plan to destroy the possibility of a post-cloture filibuster by changing Senate precedent. With the help of then-Vice President Walter Mondale, Byrd raised a point of order to require the chair to rule all post-cloture dilatory amendments out of order. When Metzenbaum and Abourezk lost their appeal of the chair’s ruling, Byrd used the new precedent to rule all of their amendments out of order. With this he created the precedent that a bill, after securing the needed cloture vote, could not be stopped.

Just one year later, Byrd set in motion another plan to change how the Senate was run to get around a filibuster, this time of a nominee. Byrd was afraid that the nominee would face a double filibuster: the motion to proceed to executive session and then the motion to proceed to the first nominee. So when the moment came, Byrd offered a motion to proceed to executive session to consider the first nominee. This was declared a violation of Senate precedent, but Byrd won a simple majority appeal of the ruling by a 54-38 vote and in effect changed how the Senate operated.

Similarly, in 1979, Byrd faced the possibility of a filibuster of several of his proposed rule changes at the beginning of a new Congress. He stated clearly that he believed in the right of a simple majority of Senators to change the rules as Congress began its session. The threat, while never executed, helped Byrd enact many changes to Senate rules.

What’s the relevance of these instances? They show that the Senate’s rules and precedents are not fixed in stone since the birth of the Republic. They are modified and changed, often in a blunt manner, by the majority of members who serve in the chamber. Even Byrd, the man who was seen as the great defender of Senate tradition, did not hesitate to use a simple majority vote to change the rules and precedents so the chamber could do its actual work of governing. Byrd defended the rules of the Senate, but he rewrote, exploited and officially ignored those rules when it fit his needs.

Ezra Klein:

Instead, I want to talk about the Senate that Byrd leaves behind. Byrd was, famously, a master of the body’s arcane rules. He wrote a four-volume history of the institution. At a recent lecture on the history of the Senate, the speaker said that there were only ever two people in the room who knew what was going on: The parliamentarian and Robert Byrd.

This was a skill born of necessity. Byrd didn’t have the back-slapping bonhomie that sped the rise of most of the body’s famed members. “Dour and aloof,” writes Holley, “a socially awkward outsider in the clubby confines of the Senate, Mr. Byrd relied not on personality but on dogged attention to detail to succeed on Capitol Hill.” That attention to detail eventually got him elected party whip, and then majority leader. Sen. Howard Baker, who led the Republicans when Byrd led the Democrats, once told me that he cut a deal with Byrd on his first day in office. If you never use the rules to surprise me, he told Byrd, I’ll never use them to surprise you. Byrd thought it over till the afternoon. Then he agreed.

The deal held. That was the nature of the Senate in Byrd’s day: It was thick with rules that could be used to tie the institution in knots, but those rules were governed by norms that were used to keep the institution functioning. It was this tradition that led Byrd to write a letter opposing filibuster reform earlier this year. “If the Senate rules are being abused,” he wrote, “it does not necessarily follow that the solution is to change the rules. Senators are obliged to exercise their best judgment when invoking their right to extended debate.” In other words, the Senate needed to reestablish its norms, not change its rules.

But the situation is too far gone for all that. The Senate is now a place of blanket holds and routine filibusters and anonymous obstruction and party-line votes. The thing about norms is that once broken, they’re generally dead forever. Republicans tell the story of Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch explaining to their colleagues that judicial filibusters simply weren’t done, only to see Democrats filibuster Miguel Estrada. Now Republicans filibuster judicial nominees constantly. Conversely, Democrats tell the story of George W. Bush using the budget reconciliation process to pass tax cuts — the first time the mechanism had ever been used to increase the deficit. That left them cold to Republican cries that the process was limited in design and couldn’t be used to finish health-care reform.

Nate Silver:

UPDATE: 11:50 AM. I’m now hearing from a well-placed source that the Secretary of State’s office is very likely to interpret the law as requiring a special election in 2012, rather than in November, because the candidate filing period for this year has already passed and because there is a court precedent on the books which supported this interpretation.

If this scenario comes to transpire, there would actually be both a special election and a general election on the ballot in November 2012 — although the winner of the special election would only serve during the lame duck period between the elections and when the new Congress convened in January, 2013.

The West Virginia Secretary of State will hold a press conference at 4:30 today at which an official decision is announced.

ORIGINAL STORY: 9:16 AM. I just got off the phone with Jake Glance, the Public Affairs and Communications officer for West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant.

Glance told me that no decision has been made yet on when a special election would be held to replace Robert Byrd, who passed away early this morning. Various interpretations of the law might require the special election to be held this November — or not until November, 2012, when Byrd’s term was set to expire anyway.

“There are a lot of sections on state code that apply to this kind of thing and we’re examining each one of them and we’ll be making an announcement soon,” Glance told me. “We just need to make sure that what we say fits this specific situation.”

Glance added that it had been a difficult day at the office. “It’s really difficult to imagine this state without Robert Byrd,” he said. “Everything has his name on it out of appreciation for what he did.”

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J.D. Hayworth Goes The Cher Route

Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo:

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), who is currently challenging Sen. John McCain in the Republican primary on a right-wing platform, had an interesting job for a time in 2007: Appearing as an infomercial pitchman — for a company telling people that they can get free grant money from the federal government.

In 2007, shortly after Hayworth lost his re-election battle in 2006, Hayworth appeared in a half-hour informercial for the National Grants Conferences, a program set up by a company called Proven Methods Seminars, which advertises itself as running seminars in which people can find out how to get grant money from the federal government — which the infomercial’s on-screen text pitched as being “FREE MONEY” in quotes.

“Well I don’t want to shock anybody’s sensibilities, but I have to use a four-letter word: Real. This is real,” Hayworth said in the infomercial. “The money is out there, the opportunities are out there. And by the way, it’s not something where it’s the government’s money — it’s really your money. You surrendered it in the form of taxation. Now’s the time to take advantage of a situation where the government can invest in you. And in turn, you’ll have a chance to build a business, or make a better life for yourself — and in so doing, you’ll help improve the country.”

It should be noted that the company’s conferences and business practices have received an F rating from the Better Business Bureau, and in 2007 it was the target of a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, signed by 32 state attorneys general.

Hayworth campaign spokesman Mark Sanders claimed to TPMDC that the McCain campaign has been shopping the video around to local media, and dismissed it as an attack from a rival. Sanders also pointed out that the company’s founder, Michael Milin, has donated money over the years to John McCain’s campaigns.

David Weigel:

Hayworth’s campaign explains to Nowicki that his involvement with the group started and ended in 2007 — a hint at just how bad this looks for a small government challenger to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He’s seen in the video adding credibility to the enterprise, framing it as a way to take power back from a rapacious federal government.

“This is something you should take advantage of,” says Hayworth. “Why leave it to the big boys on Wall Street or even the business owners on Main Street? Bring it to your street, to your home. Come to one of the National Grants Conferences.”

Side note: Matthew Lesko, whose exclamation mark-covered suits have made him the most recognizable figure in the free-money-from-the-government trade, is a libertarian who’s mocked his own practice in a Reason.tv video making fun of the stimulus.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

Mark Sanders, J. D. Hayworth’s spokesman, tells National Review Online that Hayworth “has no reason to regret” the ad he made for the National Grants Conference:

Just after his ’06 re-election bid ended in defeat, Hayworth appeared in a video for the National Grants Conference, a program promising to teach viewers how to secure government grants. Hayworth is introduced as a former member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

“It’s not free money. It’s your money. It’s money you’ve already surrendered to the government in terms of taxation, but the government has the chance — and you have the chance — to make an investment in yourself,” Hayworth says of the grants. “It’s something you should take advantage of.”

“The way this started was through his former colleague in the House, J. C. Watts. He had done an infomercial for them and said J. D. should, too. So, based on his friend’s recommendation, he did the ad,” Sanders says. “Nothing ever came of it until last week, when John McCain’s people started a whisper campaign. What the McCain team has not told is that McCain himself took a $9,400 contribution from Michael Milin, the head of theNational Grants Conference, in 2008.” Sanders adds that Hayworth “does not remember” how much he made for the ad and that he has “no opinion” on its content.

Philip Klein at American Spectator:

I understand why many Arizona Republicans would want to dump John McCain for a more conservative Senator, but I’ve never understood those who argue that J.D. Hayworth is the conservative who should replace McCain. Hayworth, after all, was a top recipent of donations linked to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and was a reliable vote for President Bush’s big government agenda.

The weakness of Hayworth’s claim to be a small government conservative was brought into sharper focus with the release of this 2007 infomercial that Hayworth recorded for the National Grants Conference, which offers seminars on how to people can get free money from government through grants.

[…]

Even more disturbingly, Hayworth invokes Ronald Reagan to justify it and argues that people deserve all of this government largesse because it’s really their money. This takes a completely collectivist view of taxes and doesn’t take into account how much any given individual actual pays to the federal government.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

How long until the McCain campaign photoshops Hayworth’s head on Matthew Lesko’s body?

More importantly, how does Hayworth survive this?

Allah Pundit:

He’ll dip a few points in the polls and almost certainly lose to McCain in August, but reports of his political death are, I suspect, greatly exaggerated. As for the fact that the self-styled tea-party candidate is caught on camera here encouraging federal handouts, I don’t see that as fatal either. Remember, according to that NYT poll of tea partiers back in April, 62 percent think the benefits of social security and Medicare outweigh the costs. They may hate government handouts in the abstract, and they may bristle at the prospect of diverting more taxpayer money to failing corporations in the form of bailouts, but when it comes to the working joe getting a little out of the system he’s been paying into his whole life, they seem reasonably serene. Exit question: On a scale from one to 10, how much damage is done here?

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“Are You Ready For Some Futbol?!?”

TNR’s world cup blog

Jonathan Last:

It’s happening again.

The most puzzling part of anti-American soccer obsession is that it’s not like Americans don’t like the game of soccer. We all play it at the youth level and–for the most part–have a good time. It’s just that we graduate up to other sports and don’t have much of an appetite for soccer played at the elite level.

And what’s wrong with that? Our interest level in soccer is the mirror image of our interest level in football, which, comparatively few people play at the youth level, but which has great popularity at the professional level.

But the thing is, you never hear football–or baseball, or ultimate frisbee, or tennis, or cycling, or hockey, or curling–or any other kind of fans railing against people who don’t share their passion as if there’s something morally and politically wrong with them. Why is it that soccer fans care so much about what American’s don’t care about?

We’ll never know.

Will at The League:

But despite the thoroughly artificial media blitz surrounding the World Cup and the obnoxious social signaling that goes into American soccer fandom, I’m really looking forward to the tournament. So I thought I’d take a stab at explaining how soccer differs from American sports and why I find its distinctiveness so enjoyable.

Lumping team sports together is a chancy business, but I think there is one important commonality between football, baseball and, to a lesser extent, basketball that distinguishes them from soccer. All three American sports are characterized by short, action-packed intervals followed or preceded by pauses – an inbounds pass that leads to an easy dunk; a pitch that results in a strike that ends an inning; an end-zone reception immediately following a thirty second pause. This is not to say there aren’t fluid sequences in American sports – witness fast-break basketball or baseball’s hallowed triple play. But American teams usually see action in short, frenetic bursts instead of the slower build-up of a good soccer match.

To an outsider, the notion that a two hour football game only consists of 11 minutes of televised action must seem absurd. At its best, however, the pauses accentuate tension and allow for more elaborate plays, more back-and-forth adjustments between the teams’ respective coaches, and a level of athletic execution that would be impossible in a less controlled, faster-paced environment. For the most part, this is a trade-off I can accept. To take another example from American sports, good pitching duels include plenty of pregnant pauses. I don’t think this detracts from the action so much as it heightens the tension of athletic competition.

Soccer has fewer pauses, fewer substitutions, and no timeouts. As a consequence, the manager (coach) has very little opportunity to pause or direct in-game play. Soccer also tends to be more spontaneous, more dynamic, and less scripted. While physical contact or bad execution will sometimes slow the game down to an unbearable pace, the rules of soccer allow for a level of fluidity that would be impossible in an American context (transition-oriented basketball is the only exception I can think of, but that’s  still broken up by frequent timeouts, inbound passes, and the tempo of the opposing team). The build-up to the first Dutch goal in the 1974 World Cup final is a classic example of soccer’s distinctive style – despite a slow start, the Dutch control the ball for over a minute before Johan Cruyf streaks through the defense to draw a penalty kick.

Maybe the contrast between the short, frenetic play of American athletes and the fluid build-up of a European soccer match offers some insight into our respective cultural psyches. But I suspect a more fluid style of play already appeals to American sports audiences. Fast-paced, transition-oriented basketball was the calling card of Magic Johnson and the Showtime-era Lakers. A quarterback-directed hurry-up offense is often the most exciting part of a football match. So if you like fast-paced team competition, give soccer a try. But if the World Cup isn’t your thing, I won’t hold it against you.

Daniel Gross at Slate:

Being a soccer fan at World Cup time in America is a little like being Jewish in December in a small town in the Midwest. You sense that something big is going on around you, but you’re not really a part of it. And the thing you’re celebrating and enjoying is either ignored or misunderstood by your friends, peers, and neighbors. It can be a lonely time. But the World Cup is much bigger than Christmas. After all, only a couple of billion people in the world celebrate Christmas; the World Cup is likely to garner the attention of a much larger audience. Yet in the world’s largest and most important sports competition, the American team, and the American audience, is a marginal, bit player. And for those of us who love the game of soccer and the World Cup, and for the few of us who followed the ups and downs of Landon Donovan’s career, these next couple weeks are likely to be bittersweet.

[…]

Oh, sure, you can find other enthusiasts. A few Slate colleagues pass around YouTube links to the latest sick goal. Urban hipsters are obliged to show some interest in the game, the same way they do in CSAs, and facial hair (for men) and yoga (for women). On the Internet, there’s the high-brow crew over at the New Republic, (which features an ad for a book from Cornell University press on Spartak Moscow), the fine blogs No Short Corners and Yanks Abroad, and a rising volume of press coverage. But there’s nothing like the volume and sophistication of stuff our frères at Slate.fr are doing. If you want to follow the game, wince with every missed shot, and question coach Bob Bradley’s personnel choices, you’ll have to venture into the fever swamps of BigSoccer.com. There you will find some people who live and die with status updates of defender Oguchi Onyewu’s knee. But they’re only avatars.

Following the U.S. national team in the World Cup is a somewhat solitary endeavor in part because the scheduling doesn’t lend itself to social or family watching. Unlike the Olympics, the World Cup is not scheduled or televised according to U.S. preferences—the last time the quadrennial tournament was staged in the Western hemisphere was 1994. To watch the United States’ opening game in the 2002 World Cup, I had to go to the Irish pub across from my New York apartment at 4 a.m. This year the schedule is only slightly better: this Saturday against England at 2:30 p.m. ET, Friday, June 18, against Slovenia at 10 a.m. ET, then Wednesday, June 23, at 10 a.m. ET, against Algeria. Yes, pubs and sports bars will be showing the games. But how many people will leave work, or take the day off, or skip the Little League game or pool party, to sit indoors and watch a soccer match? My guess is that when the U.S. plays England, the bars in New York and Los Angeles will be like Condé Nast in the 1990s—overrun with Brits.

I won’t be there. On Saturday afternoon, I’ll be at a family gathering, one at which I’m confident nobody will be checking scores or talking about the potentially epic matchup with England. I’ll have to tape it and watch it later, most likely alone. At least I’m confident none of my close friends or family members will call, e-mail, or text me with scores or updates, and that I can safely listen to the radio without the result intruding. On the other hand, I might have to shut off my Twitter feed. I follow a few foreigners.

Matthew Philbin at Newsbusters:

Time magazine is leading the “Ole’s” for soccer this year, putting the World Cup on its cover and dedicating 10 articles to the sport in its June 14 issue.

One of those articles proclaimed in the headline, “Yes, Soccer Is America’s Game.” Author Bill Saporito argued that “soccer has become a big and growing sport.”

“What’s changed is that this sport and this World Cup matter to Americans,” Saporito asserted. “These fans have already made the transition from soccer pioneers to soccer-literate and are gradually heading down the road to soccer-passionate.”

Soccer is even in the White House, Saporito pointed out. President George W. Bush was a former co-owner of a baseball team. And although President Obama played basketball, his daughters play little league soccer, and current White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs played soccer in high school and college.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on June 3, host Joe Scarborough noted the importance of the World Cup to other countries, but explained that Americans just don’t understand “what a huge sport this is.” Still, he said hopefully, “It is a growing sport in America as well, isn’t it?”

Growing, but not “huge” by any standard. The final game of the 2006 World Cup drew 16.9 million viewers in the United States. While that number may seem respectable, it pales in comparison with the 106 million viewers that tuned in to watch the 2010 Super Bowl. The final 2009 World Series game drew 22.3 million viewers, and 48.1 million tuned in to watch Duke beat Butler in the 2010 NCAA men’s college basketball championship.

A look at game attendance figures is instructive, as well. According to Major League Soccer’s MLS Daily, as of June 7, 2010, the highest drawing pro soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, averaged 36,146 attendees over seven home games. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners baseball team has averaged 25,314 over 32 home games.

The Mariners are dead last in the American League West division, and 24th in the league in batting average, 30th in home runs, 27th in RBIs and 25th in number of hits. In short, they’re horrible. With a record of 4-5-3, the Sounders aren’t very good either, but they play in a very liberal city, are currently benefiting from World Cup year interest in their sport, and they play a schedule that allows far fewer opportunities for fans to attend.

Another number is Hollywood box office. John Horn of The Los Angeles Times contemplated on June 6 about Hollywood’s lack of a mainstream movie about soccer. In “Why is There No Great Hollywood Soccer Movie?” Horn pointed out that each sport has its own hit movie except soccer.

Robert Costa at The Corner:

When it comes to soccer, I’ll quote Churchill: America, it seems, still has “sublime disinterestedness.”

Michael Agovino at The Atlantic:

During this World Cup, I know there will be kids like me from the Bronx—a soccer wasteland in 1980s; a wasteland period, to some—watching this strange new game and devouring it. Where is Valladolid? Vigo? Bilbao? Cameroon? El Salvador? Algeria? Why does Algeria wear green, Italy blue? Why is it Glasgow Celtic and not the Celtics? Where’s this team Flamengo? Or Corinthians? Why is that skinny man with the beard named Socrates?

They’ll be some curious 14-year-old or 12-year-old or 10-year-old (kids seem so much smarter these days) and maybe they’ll start by bugging their parents for a Kaizer Chiefs jersey. Then, better still, they’ll get the atlas off the shelf, or more likely online, and trace their finger on the computer screen and look for Polokwane and Bloemfontein and Tshwane. Maybe it will take them to the photography of David Goldblatt or to the music of Abdullah Ibrahim (no room for him at the concert last night I suppose), or of the late Lion of Soweto himself, Mahlathini. (Don’t laugh, my first encounter with Joan Miro and Antoni Tapies were from 1982 World Cup posters.) Maybe they’ll learn that the “word,” long ago, was “Johannesburg!”

And they’ll ask questions—why is this stadium named for Peter Mokaba, that one for Moses Mabhida, and who is Nelson Mandela? And they’ll learn and they’ll be obsessed for life.

And that makes me do one thing: smile. Now, may the games begin.

UPDATE: Dave Zirin at NPR

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Daniel Drezner

UPDATE #3: Stefan Fatsis at Slate

Jonathan Chait at TNR

UPDATE #4: Marc Thiessen at Enterprise Blog

Matt Yglesias on Thiessen

UPDATE $5: Bryan Curtis and Eve Fairbanks at Bloggingheads

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Filed under Sports

The Day After The Primaries And We’re In The Bathroom

Ben Smith at Politico:

A senior White House official just called me with a very pointed message for the administration’s sometime allies in organized labor, who invested heavily in beating Blanche Lincoln, Obama’s candidate, in Arkansas.

“Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,” the official said. “If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

Lincoln relied heavily both on Obama’s endorsement, which she advertised relentlessly on radio and in the mail, and on the backing of former President Bill Clinton, who backed her to the hilt.

Lincoln foe Bill Halter had the unstinting support of the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFSCME and other major unions. And labor officials Tuesday evening were already working to spin the narrow loss of their candidate, Bill Halter, as a moral victory, but the cost in money and in the goodwill of the White House may be a steep price to pay for a near miss.

Marc Ambinder:

Did President Obama agree with the senior White House officials who expressed significant frustration to Ben Smith and me about labor’s $10 million decision to try and beat Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. Here’s what Robert Gibbs said in today’s briefing.  See the bolded portion. Seems the answer is: kinda of, yes.

Robert, back to Arkansas for just a second.  A senior White House official called reporters last night and said after the results were known, “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet in a pointless exercise.” Is it the official word from the White House on the results of the Arkansas primary?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t think that the President would necessarily agree with that characterization made by somebody here.  I think we would certainly agree that we are likely to have very close elections in very many places throughout the country in November.  And while the President might not have agreed with the exact characterization, I think that whether or not that money might have been better spent in the fall on closer elections between somebody — between people who cared about an agenda that benefited working families and those that didn’t, that money might come in more handy then.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Big Labor cost Lincoln a lot of time and money, but it also facilitated the message that she’s an independent advocate of Arkansas’ interest in Congress. It allowed her to portray herself as a foe of special interests. It elicited Bill Clinton’s message speaking at a rally for Lincoln that Lincoln used in her television advertisements: “This is about using you and manipulating your votes.” He ought to know.

An Obama administration honcho — I would guess Rahm Emanuel — called Ben Smith last night to make this pointed observation: “Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members’ money down the toilet on a pointless exercise,” the honcho said. “If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November.”

Whatever the merits of the first part of the observation, I doubt that money is going to be much of a problem for Democrats in November. And the hefty gentleman featured in the Times photograph remains available for deployment elsewhere.

AFL-CIO spokesman Eddie Vale responded to the Obama administration honcho’s statement with the observation that “labor isn’t an arm of the Democratic Party.” It may not be the arm; it’s more like the fist.

Michael Barone at The Washington Examiner:

Blanche Lincoln’s (narrow) victory leaves the unions’ strategy in ruins. They can’t credibly threaten any Democratic incumbent who opposes card check with political defeat. Some, in states less anti-union than Arkansas, might be vulnerable to a challenge like Halter’s; but others won’t. And in some states or districts there won’t be an opportunistic challenger like Halter willing to go along with the strategy and well enough established to be a serious primary challenger. Give the unions credit for daring, and for putting their money (or the money of their members) on the line. They’re playing for high stakes—for the ability to plunder the private sector for dues money as they have successfully plundered the public sector (i.e., taxpayers) for dues money in states with strong public employee unions like New York, New Jersey and California. They just came up a little bit short.

Obviously this is a case of a divergence of interest between the unions (which want to deter any Democrat from opposing card check) and the Obama administration political strategists (who want to maximize the number of Democrats elected no matter what their position on substantive issues). Which brings to mind the old saying about honor among thieves. When you’re trying, in different ways, to plunder a once productive private sector economy, you won’t always agree on how to do so. As you watch the videotape of Blanche Lincoln’s rather shrewd victory speech, you might want to keep that in mind.

I simply refuse to see how it was a bad decision to support Halter. Lincoln is just a horrible candidate who is most likely going to lose in November anyway, was notoriously and openly hostile to just about everything important to the Democratic base, and the netroots were able to find a good solid candidate to attempt to primary her. If ever there was a case to primary someone, this was it- there was quite literally nothing to lose and everything to gain.

And Halter came very, very close to beating her. I just fail to see why anyone should be embarrassed, or feel foolish or demoralized. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you always lose if you never try. Rather than mocking the attempt or getting some schadenfreude because people you don’t like on the internet feel bad today, you should get off your ass and make sure this sort of action, primarying bad politicians, becomes more rather than less common.

Justin Elliott at Talking Points Memo:

Nevada GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle earlier in her career spoke out strongly against fluoride, the substance known alternately for improving dental health and as a Communist plot to undermine Western democracy.

Angle, the tea party favorite who is taking on Sen. Harry Reid, tends to be skeptical of government programs, and her opposition to fluoridation of municipal water supplies back in the late 1990s is no exception.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in April 1999 that the state assembly, of which Angle was a member, voted 26-16 for a bill that required fluoridation in two counties including the cities of Reno and Las Vegas. Angle was a strong opponent of the measure. The paper reported (via Nexis):

Before the vote, Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, R-Reno, sought to postpone the vote so she could add an amendment to block fluoridation in Washoe County. The Washoe County Commission in 1992 rejected fluoridation, and Angle said the Legislature should not approve fluoridation in her county without a vote of its people.

David Gibson at Mother Jones:

She may have never advocated bartering for health care with chickens, as her opponent Sue Lowden did, but Angle already has some issues. Beyond embracing the Tea Party, she’s also reached out to the Oath Keepers, the fringe patriot group whose core membership of cops and soldiers are gearing up to resist the Obama administration’s anticipated slide toward outright tyranny.

Back in April, Angle told TPM‘s Evan McMorris-Santoro that she was a member of the Oath Keepers. This Monday, Angle’s husband Ted told TPM‘s McMorris-Santoro and Justin Elliott that “We support what the organization stands for” and that he and his wife “desire” to join it. Oath Keeper founder Steward Rhodes said that candidate Angle had paid a visit to the group’s Southern Nevada chapter last fall.

For the full scoop on the Oath Keepers and what they stand for, check out the in-depth investigation MoJo published about them this spring. In it, Justine Sharrock profiles Pvt. 1st Class Lee Pray, a young soldier who joined the group to prepare for the day when he might have to turn against his commander-in-chief to resist martial law and the mass detention of American citizens. Pray told Sharrock that he’d been recruiting buddies, running drills, and stashing weapons—just in case. Like all Oath Keepers, he’s sworn to disobey any orders he considers unconstiutional or illegal.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

This is a prime pick-up opportunity for the GOP. The incumbent, Harry Reid, is wildly unpopular in the state, and his defeat would be a prized pelt for the Republicans. Almost any warm body could beat him in a walk. But Angle appears to be a genuine lunatic:

* Inflammatory rhetoric: In an interview last month with the Reno Gazette-Journal, Angle had this to say about gun laws: “What is a little bit disconcerting and concerning is the inability for sporting goods stores to keep ammunition in stock,” she told the newspaper. “That tells me the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are so distrustful of their government? They’re afraid they’ll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways. That’s why I look at this as almost an imperative. If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?”

* Abolishing wide swaths of the federal government: Angle believes the U.S. Education Department should be abolished, as she explains on her campaign Web site: “Sharron Angle believes that the Federal Department of Education should be eliminated. The Department of Education is unconstitutional and should not be involved in education, at any level.” Angle went further in an interview with a Nevada online publication, writing that she favored the termination of the Energy Department, the EPA and much of the IRS tax code; complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

How crazy is Angle? Glenn Beck — Glenn Beck! — warned against her. She is at least somewhat tied to the militia movement. Moreover, she has undergone little scrutiny, and it’s a good bet that more will produce of further radical views. Her nomination is just a staggering failure of the party establishment.

David Weigel:

The response of conservatives who helped push Angle to victory? Bring it on.

“You could characterize the mood around here as one big yawn,” said Mike Connolly, spokesman for the Club for Growth, which spent more than $400,000 on TV ads for Angle. “We know Sharron Angle pretty well. A lot of folks around here have worked with her. We’ve endorsed her in the past. This tactic is neither new nor surprising.”

Asked about a 1999 article in which Angle criticized water flouridation, something Democrats are passing around today to define the candidate as a kook out of “Dr. Strangelove,” Connolly expressed only a little surprise.

“I hadn’t heard the flouride thing before,” he said, “but this is what they have, this is what their campaign is going to be — digging around in things she’s said and taking them out of context. And the polls haven’t moved for Harry Reid. He’s been a dead man walking, politically, for months.”

Sal Russo, whose Tea Party Express endorsed Angle when no one was taking her campaign seriously, compared Reid’s strategy to the strategy Gov. Pat Brown (D-Ca.) used against Ronald Reagan in 1966, when the actor was making his first bid for office.

“Brown helped Reagan behind the scenes by spreading around damaging information about George Christopher, the mayor of San Francisco, who Brown thought was going to a bigger threat in the general election,” Russo said. “He learned that you should be careful what you wish for.”

Russo said that TPE knew that Angle’s record and statements would be combed over by Reid, because “Reid can’t win if the election’s about him.” But he argued that the blah nature of the first attacks on Angle proved that Democrats weren’t ready for her.

“They had multiple volumes of books on Sue Lowden and Danny Tarkanian,” said Russo. “They probably had a sheet of paper on Angle. That’s why you’re seeing stale stuff, because I don’t think they were ready for her.”

I’m hearing the same from other Republicans. The Reid assault on Angle was telegraphed weeks ago — Rand Paul primed the pump for reporters to look for “crazy” candidates, so if she avoids brand new gaffes this week, they’re not sweating it.

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

And as expected, I’ve had an exponentially larger number of e-mails from readers offering responses, by proxy, to the Nevadans who intimated they were leaning toward Reid — most of which can be summed “are you %@#$ing nuts???”

A few thoughts. One, the Reid-leaning NRO readers are quite obviously outspoken outliers — so we shouldn’t think there are too many of them. Two, it’s the morning after, and if they were rooting for Lowden or Tarkanian they’re obviously still a little disappointed and perhaps not thinking clearly. Three — and some people have asked me this — what’s so wrong with Sharron Angle? Well, Greg Sargent and Paul Kane lay out Harry Reid’s plans to paint Angle as somewhere between Rand Paul and Orly Taitz.

Look, I wish Sue Lowden had won. Why? Because Harry Reid was weak and she could have beaten him. Sharron Angle probably (probably) cannot. I’ve maintained that the biggest lesson from the Obamacare debacle in the Senate is that party affiliation matters, far more than actual ideology, in determining the fate of the Obama agenda. To those who say they’d rather have 40 Jim DeMints in the Senate than 50 Lindsey Grahams or 60 Susan Collinses, I say this: If you held everything else in the Obamacare debate constant and flipped the Ds to Rs next to the names of Landrieu, Specter, and Nelson — there wouldn’t be an Obamacare. Simple as that.

UPDATE: Bill Scher and Matt Lewis at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: On Angle’s appearance on Fox and Friends:

Steve Benen

David Weigel

UPDATE #3: More on Angle: Robert Costa at National Review

More Weigel

Greg Sargent

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Filed under Political Figures, Politics

There Was A Part Of That Health Care Bill That Didn’t Get Much Attention

Robert Costa at The Corner:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the U.S. secretary of education from 1991 to 1993, tells National Review Online that President Obama’s revamping of the federal student-loan program is “truly brazen” and the “most underreported big-Washington takeover in history.”

“As Americans find out what it really does, they’ll be really unhappy,” Alexander predicts. “The first really unhappy people will be the 19 million students who, after July 1, will have no choice but to go to federal call centers to get their student loans. They’ll become even unhappier when they find out that the government is charging 2.8 percent to borrow the money and 6.8 percent to lend it to the students, and spending the difference on the new health-care bill and other programs. In other words, the government will be overcharging 19 million students.” The overcharge is “significant,” Alexander adds, because “on a $25,000 student loan, which is an average loan, the amount the government will overcharge will average between $1,700 and $1,800.”

“Up to now, 15 out of 19 million student loans were private loans, backed by the government,” Alexander says. “Now we’re going to borrow half-a-trillion from China to pay for billions in new loans. Not only will this add to the debt, but in the middle of a recession, this will throw 31,000 Americans working at community banks and non-profit lenders out of work.”

Alexander, a former University of Tennessee president, says the effects of Obama’s policy could be felt for decades. “When I was education secretary, one of my major objections to turning it all over to the government was that I didn’t think the government could manage it,” he says. “This is going to be too big and too congested, and makes getting your student loan about as attractive as lining up to get your driver’s license in some states.”

“It changes the kind of country we live in more than it changes American education,” Alexander concludes. “The American system of higher education has become the best in the world because of choice and competition. Unlike K-12, we give money to students and let them choose among schools, having the choice of private lenders or government lenders. That’s been the case for 20 years. Having no choice, and the government running it all, looks more like a Soviet-style, European, and even Asian higher-education model where the government manages everything. In most of those countries, they’ve been falling over themselves to reject their state-controlled authoritarian universities, which are much worse than ours, and move toward the American model which emphasizes choice, competition, and peer-reviewed research. In that sense, we’re now stepping back from our choice-competition culture, which has given us not just some of the best universities in the world, but almost all of them.”

Donald Marron:

Opponents have denounced this change as a government takeover of the student loan market. That makes for a great soundbite, but overlooks one key fact: the federal government took over this part of the student loan business a long time ago.

In a private lending market, you would expect lenders to make decisions about whom to lend to and what interest rates to charge. And in return, you would expect those lenders to bear the risks of borrowers defaulting. None of that happens in the market for guaranteed student loans. Instead, the federal government establishes who can qualify for these loans, what interest rates they will pay, and what interest rates the lenders will receive. And the government guarantees the lenders against almost all default risks.

In short, the government already controls all of the most important aspects of this part of the student loan business. The legislation just takes this a step further and cuts back on the role of private firms in the origination of these loans.

That step raises some interesting questions about the costs of the current system (see this post), possible benefits of the current system (some colleges and universities appear to prefer working with private lenders), and the potential budget savings of cutting out the middle man (which appear to be large but somewhat overstated in official budget analyses).

But it hardly constitutes a government takeover.

Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner:

While nationalizing student loans may seem irrelevant to “reforming” health care, there is something fitting in pairing the two undertakings in one bill — it’s almost a foreshadowing. Student lenders have long fed at the federal trough, pocketing so many subsidies that Democrats were justified in asking why there needed to be a private sector in that industry at all.

This weekend, it’s the drug companies, hospitals, doctors, and insurers who are latching more firmly at Leviathan’s teat. How long before Congress decides to knock out the profit-taking middleman, and institute a single-payer system or even a national health system?

When we get wherever this “reform” is taking us — when our deficits are ballooning and health care is scarcer — we may remember the games, gimmicks, and scams used to pass it into law, and maybe conclude that evil means yield evil ends.

This is less a case for allowing student leaders to feed at the federal trough than it is a case against the structure of the health reform legislation, and the tight regulation of insurers that it entails.

Jacob Levy:

Notice that banks would be free to continue to make student loans. And they’re not having their existing assets taken. All they’re losing is the ability to make publicly subsidized student loans in the future. A comparison with Soviet nationalization is just nuts. And it’s not even what Alexander said.

Anyway, the headline-post gap wasn’t what first struck me about this. Neither was the surrender of National Review to being the microphone handed to current Republican office-holders. Rather, it was this:

Back in the days of the Savings and Loan crisis, and again in the days of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, we saw lots of commentary from the right that the problems couldn’t be blamed on the free market. After all, in both cases massive moral hazard had been created by federal guarantees underwriting the debts, eliminating market discipline. Pains were taken to piously distinguish the free market from corporatism and corporate welfare (a distinction I take very seriously, I might add).

In the last two weeks, I haven’t seen any Republican official or Republican-leaning intellectual make the slightest reference to the problems with a system in which private lenders make risk-free profits by lending on the back of a federal guarantee. The indictment of corporate welfare has been nowhere to be found. The view that there’s something distinctively unproblematic about private lenders with public guarantees has been completely lost. And the (misleading) headline, the reference to a Soviet-style takeover, crystallized this for me. Since there’s been no crisis in student lending, no collapse of the system, the status quo ante has been naturalized; there are people on the right who think that the subsidized revenue streams to which lenders had become accustomed were a kind of property that has now been seized. The ex post commentaries on FSLIC and Franny and Freddie have been forgotten.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

The old system consisted of guaranteed loans — the government would pay private banks to lend money to students for tuition, and guarantee their losses if the students defaulted. The system was naturally rife with corruption — lenders bribing college administrators to guarantee a chunk of the can’t-lose business — and shoddy customer service. President Clinton in 1993 introduced direct lending, where the government just lends money directly to students without a middleman. Direct lending made only partial headway, because the private banks were very persistent in their efforts to lobby or bribe colleges to maintain their business. Obama replaced all the guaranteed loans with direct loans, saving the government $61 billion over the next decade.

This is the reform conservatives see as a reprise of the Bolshevik revolution. The amazing thing is, they can’t even come up with a halfway-convincing fright scenario for this government takeover.

[…]

The beneficiaries of corporate socialism tend to be highly effective at convincing the conservative movement that policies that benefit their bottom line dovetail with conservative ideology. One of the guaranteed lenders is based in Tennessee and contributes to Lamar Alexander. Like most members of Congress, Alexander faithfully represents home-state business interests. Which is to say, the viewpoint of the guaranteed lending industry becomes Lamar Alexander’s viewpoint. And Alexander then transmits his opinions to conservatives via a stenographic interview with National Review. Thus the viewpoint of the lenders becomes the viewpoint of conservatives.

Stephen Spruiell at National Review:

I’m late getting to this post by Jonathan Chait on student-loan reform and the right’s “intellectual corruption,” but that is only because I am an irregular reader of TNR. And Chait, evidently, is an irregular reader of National Review Online. If he had been interested in discovering our viewpoint on the bill, he might have consulted our editorial on the subject, in which we explicitly addressed his argument (a variation on that hardy perennial, “conservatives are corporate shills”):

When it comes to student loans, liberals may ask why conservatives would support subsidies and guarantees for banks. The answer is: We don’t. By increasing demand for higher education without increasing the supply, the subsidies have driven tuition skyward. And by muting incentives for banks to lend intelligently, government loan guarantees have encouraged many students, including many for whom college might not be a good fit, to take on massive amounts of debt that they can neither repay nor retire through bankruptcy. The solution to this problem is to scale back subsidies for traditional forms of higher education while encouraging low-cost alternatives. Instead, the Democrats’ education bill would massively increase the subsidies while hiding their true cost. If that is the alternative, we prefer the status quo.

These days, preferring the status quo to Obama’s grand schemes can get you labeled a lover of corporate welfare, but guess what, liberals: With regard to student loans, you created the status quo! What you call “corporate socialism” (liberal fascism?) was originally your idea. (It almost always is.) Shouldn’t you be glad that we’re finally coming around to your side, even though you’ve moved on to bigger and . . . well, to bigger things?

[…]

My reason for preferring the status quo had mostly to do with this phony accounting: The Democrats’ new spending on health care and Pell Grants will materialize, even if the “savings” intended to pay for it do not. But I never defended the status quo on its own terms as, for instance, something we should prefer to scaling back subsidies for traditional forms of higher ed.

Of course, arguing that college loans should not be subsidized by the government is considered pretty radical these days. Another point I made during the student-loan debate is that it has demonstrated the process by which a basically conservative citizenry can be made to accept a much larger federal government. Step one, subsidize an activity through the private sector, gradually getting the public to think of the subsidy as an entitlement. Step two, get the government more involved through the direct provision of the activity. Step three, denounce the old subsidy as corporate welfare en route to arguing that the government should be the sole provider. If anyone counters that the government should stop subsidizing the activity, call him a radical (and possibly racist) throwback. If anyone tries to defend the status quo, call him a corporate shill.

Chait’s post nicely illustrates my poin

More Spruiell:

Sallie Mae closes call center in Killeen, Texas, eliminating 500 jobs, in the wake of the Democrats’ student-loan “reform,” which was packaged with the health-care reconciliation bill.

Pass the bill to find out what’s in it.

Chait responds:

Well, yeah. When you cut back on a wasteful government subsidy, some of the beneficiaries of that waste will lose their jobs. Wasting tens of billions of dollars on loan subsidies in order to support call center jobs is a very, very inefficient way to boost employment. It’s funny to see conservatives turn into bleeding hearts when the victims are banks.

Spruiell responds:

I will repeat (for the five readers who still care about this topic) what I wrote in this post: 1) Chait, despite having written a great deal on the subject, still does not understand how the old system worked (he thinks the banks were allowed to reap windfall profits when their borrowing costs fell; they weren’t). 2) Conservative opposition to the Democrats’ student-loan “reform” was rooted in our understanding that federal subsidies for traditional forms of higher-ed are mostly captured by universities and also hurt students for whom college might not be a good fit by encouraging them to take on massive amounts of debt they may never be able to repay. The Democrats’ student-loan bill entrenched and expanded a system that conservatives hate. That’s why we opposed it.

Chait links to a post in which I noted the loss of 500 jobs at a Sallie Mae call center. He writes, “Well, yeah. When you cut back on a wasteful government subsidy, some of the beneficiaries of that waste will lose their jobs.” No kidding? Really? Because when I wrote that headline alluding to the whole “created or saved” mantra, I wasn’t at all taking a jab at the kind of people who wrote long paeans to government waste back when the idea was to borrow and inefficiently deploy $800 billion in the name of boosting employment — e.g. “… if President Obama’s economic stimulus fails to prevent a depression… it will be because he didn’t waste enough money.”

Sarcasm aside, the Democrats’ student-loan bill did not eliminate a wasteful government subsidy. It took money being used inefficiently and put it toward another inefficient use. Democrats overstated how much their reforms would save and then used the savings to expand subsidies for traditional forms of higher-ed. Conservatives opposed both the accounting trickery and the expansion of subsidies, thus we opposed the Democrats’ student-loan bill. This is really very easy to understand, but Chait has settled into a nice rhetorical groove on this subject and finds it useful to continue to misunderstand on purpose.

Barron Young Smith at TNR:

First off, in his recent post on the subject, Spruiell complains that Chait has mischaracterized his position. If he has, that’s because the position is terribly convoluted. On the philosophical level, Spruiell justifies supporting this policy he doesn’t support by posing as a tragic ambiguist: “When it comes to student loans, liberals may ask why conservatives would support subsidies and guarantees for banks. The answer is: We don’t. … [T]he Democrats’ education bill would massively increase the subsidies while hiding their true cost. If that is the alternative, we prefer the status quo.”* In a fallen world, where government has already extended its tentacles into the realm of providing financial support for kids who want a higher education, the least-bad option is to simply defend the existing arrangement. Ok, that’s certainly one way to think about it, although it makes Spruiell not so much truly conservative as merely reactionary. But then, in the course of defending this status quo, he has to justify the old program on its objective merits. Since there basically aren’t any, he proceeds to slice the salami very thin indeed.

Here’s how. On the policy level, Spriuell writes as if he objects to Chait’s perspective on student loans, but when you look more closely, he out-and-out admits that they’re on the same page about the uselessness of the bank subsidies, saying, “I never defended the status quo on its own terms.” In fact, the only substantive complaint that Spriuell decides to hang is hat on is cost: Obama’s student-loan plan expanded Pell grants at the same time that it cut bank subsidies, and Spruiell argued that the savings wouldn’t be big enough to cover the new spending. “My reason for preferring the status quo had mostly to do with phony accounting,” he writes. The problem is that (a) His complaints about phony accounting don’t make sense even on his own terms, since according to his own preferred estimates, rather than the ‘tainted’ original CBO score, he found that student-loan reform would STILL save $28 billion dollars more than the status quo; and (b) If he’s sincerely representing his position, then this isn’t a clash of philosophies—it’s simply an argument about budget numbers. Presumably, if this is Spruiell’s only complaint, he’d support a student-loan bill that promised to boost Pell grants only in proportion to whatever savings come from the bill, or didn’t boost them at all. Since Chait’s something of a deficit hawk, and his main complaint about the old student-loan system revolved around the stupidity of government waste, he would back such a bill as well (I just asked him). So what’s the big disagreement about?

Additionally, Spruiell takes Chait to task on two other wonky points which have little bearing on the fundamental soundness of student-loan reform, and gets his interpretation of them wrong. First, he complains about the way Chait used an example that came from Senator Lamar Alexander, who opposed student-loan reform: “[T]he government is charging 2.8 percent to borrow the money and 6.8 percent to lend it to the students, and spending the difference on the new health-care bill and other programs.” Chait wrote that, as long as we’re making loans, the difference between these rates is going to be spent one way or another, and this way it is funding the government, while under the old program it was pocketed by banks. “Not true,” Spruiell writes, and then explains that neither the government nor the banks are able to pocket that entire amount. Instead, under the old program, the banks are guaranteed a fixed percentage at all times on any student loans that they sell, but they have to remit money to the government when credit conditions cause their take to go beyond that percentage. Ok. But the point here is that banks are guaranteed a fixed percentage on any student loans that they make. That’s free money at near-zero risk. Spruiell makes it sound like this somehow disproves Chait’s point, but the two margins being described are the exact same thing: Additional money that the government gives to banks for their own uses, which would not be wasted after a switch to direct-lending.

Second, Spruiell plays up the fact that Jason Delisle, the budget expert at the New America Foundation, thinks the student-loan bill was originally scored in a way which hides hidden costs to the taxpayer. But when I contacted Delisle, he said this was a misinterpretation. Both programs contained the same ‘hidden costs,’ yet direct-lending was still vastly cheaper than the old program. “As far as hidden costs go, both programs have hidden costs. When Senator Gregg, supported by National Review, asked for a private market estimate of the costs of the two programs, and said that rules for estimating don’t take into account market’s value of risk, the score came back and it said, yeah, both programs cost a lot more than we thought, but there’s still a gigantic difference.” So student-loan reform is cheaper than the status quo was. Period.

Ultimately, though, I’m not sure why we’re still having this debate. Obama’s success in passing student-loan reform has put both TNR and National Review exactly where we’d each like to be: Spruiell no longer has to defend a messy public-private boondoggle, and his magazine is free to enjoy the philosophical purity of railing against a student-loan program that is purely government run. And us? Well, we’re happy because we won.

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