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Where did the links go?

Yes, I have eliminated the links on the right side altogether. Not that they were doing anyone any good: It was pointed out to me several times that the link to the "Economists for Dean" blog was no longer active -- no kidding, my links to "Actuaries for Mondale-Ferraro" and "Anthropologists for Harkin"are expired also! (I linked to that blog originally because of the wise comments of the person known as "praktike," who now writes mostly at ChezNadezhda.) I was also reminded that my link to  Kevin Drum was at "calpundit," an identity he shed when he took charge of the Washington Monthly blog. I would have kept that for sentimental reasons, though, because I remember that when this blog jumped from several dozen readers into the hundreds and low thousands, the moment was marked with an email, which I think came from praktike,and which I recall word for word. It said, "I see calpundit has linked to you. Now you will start feeling the love."

I always assume that this is not anyone's first blog so my links don't matter. But that's not always the case, there are people who come here who don't know some of the other remarkable sources of informed opinion on the left side of the web. So I will soon rebuild the list, ideally with some links that are not obvious and, as DeLong would say, "subvert the dominant link hierarchy."

In the meantime, two links, neither to a blog, that I have bookmarked ecently:

-- Overheard in New York is what it is. If you enjoyed "Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies" in the Village Voice years ago, this is basically a dozen over-the-top Stan Macks a day. This site manages to satisfy about 70% of what I miss about living in New York, which is basically the lunacy of the place and the fact that for all the variety of languages and everything else,  no sentences include the phrases "paygo" or "chairman's mark."

and from Z-100 to NPR:

-- a few weeks ago I was in a used bookstore and seriously considered buying the four volumes+ index Dictionary of the History of Ideas. When I got back to my office, I thought I would check whether the price was right, and found that the entire 1973 edition is online. It's  not  up to date, and a very expensive new edition is available that promises to be more "global and gender inclusive."  The 1973 edition, though, is sort of an encapsuation of the pre-postmodern , Dead White Male vision of intellectual history, and fascinating within those constraints.It's a little bizarre to call it a dictionary, though, the definition of topics being  very arbitrary. "Analogy of the Body Politic," for example, is a very interesting entry, but how would you know that was what  you were looking for?  --  Searching by author is particularly rewarding -- look for Isaiah Berlin, Herbert Butterfield, Kenneth Arrow, Jaroslav Pelikan, etc.

And please feel free to harass me if I don't get a new blogroll and reading list up by mid-April. Thanks.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 31, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

New Article in The American Prospect

My latest American Prospect piece is online now. This is my latest take on the "Death of Environmentalism" essay that I wrote about here a few months ago, more specifically on its relevance to non-environmentalists.

And for a funny story that combines the Reapers (as the "Death of Environmentalism authors are called) with another of my favorite targets, the overhyping of "framing" guru George Lakoff, see this amusing account from Amanda Griscom Little.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 30, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Every Congress Needs a Motto

Forget "E Pluribus Unum." The quote below happens to refer to the House vote on the Schiavo case, but I propose that the Class of '04 adopt it with pride as their motto:

"It definitely would have gone down differently had it actually been considered," a senior aide to a moderate Republican senator said.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 26, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Schiavo, Roe, and Federalism

Everything related to the Terri Schiavo case is covered by the Decembrist's first rule: If I don't have something interesting to say, that hasn't been said several times by others, leave it alone. And generally I don't just quote from other people. But this post from the American Constitution Society blog seemed worth noting:

If Roe Falls, Would the "Culture of Life" Trump Federalism Yet Again? by Sarah C. von der Lippe

Republicans acknowledged that the intervention was a departure from their usual support for states' rights. But they said their views about the sanctity life trumped their views about federalism. ("Congress Steps In on Schiavo Case, Lawmakers to Pass Bill to Resume Feeding, Allow Court Review", By Mike Allen and Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post Staff Writers, Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page A01)

This piece of reporting highlights a terribly important bit of legal hypocrisy on the part of right-wing conservatives. Everytime they call for appointment of judges to the Supreme Court who will overrule or undermine Roe v. Wade, they assert that the matter should be left to the states. They assert that even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it won't eliminate abortion in the states in which the duly elected state representatives do not take steps to outlaw the practice. But the Schiavo case reveals the true priorities of the right: they are happy to abandon the principles of federalism if the issue is related to questions of "life." But if they are willing to cast aside federalism in the Schiavo case, won't they be willing to do the same in the context of abortion? And if they are, won't that inevitably lead to attempts to pass federal legislation banning abortion? The actions of conservatives in the context of the Terri Schiavo case should give us pause as Bush nominates new justices to the Supreme Court -- especially, given conservatives' admitted goal of denying women's constitutional right to privacy and reproductive choice.

Good question.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 25, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Miss America Conservatives

In comments on my post "Independence on the Cheap," dsquared says I'm being unfair to Senator Gordon Smith, whose position in favor of unpaid-for tax cuts but against Medicaid cuts I called "cheap, untenable and dishonest."

you've got Gordon Smith wrong. I don't agree with him on tax cuts, but what he did opposing the administration's Medicaid cuts took courage. If you think that he was getting a free ride or having it easy on bucking his party on something as big as opposing drastic budget-driven Medicaid cuts, I think you are being unfairly harsh. Smith, a cousin of the Udalls has tended to be progressive on issues around health care since he's been in the Senate. ...

I think he's become even more passionate about these issues since one of his sons, Garrett, committed suicide due to a combination of mental health
issues and learning disabilities. Smith has said that for him, pursuing positive changes in health care policy gives his son's memory meaning...I do not think it is fair to question his sincerity about standing up for health care.

I don't question Smith's sincerity in supporting Medicaid, and I may have been a little unfair to the four Senators in portraying their choice as morally worse than most Republicans who voted for tax cuts and also against Medicaid. How can a vote combination that matches half of my preferences be worse than one that matches neither of my preferences? (I think it can be, but I'll hold that point.) I stand by my view that voting only for the restoration of funding to a single program, while giving in to the gutting of revenue for these same programs in the future, is at least not much better than the main Republican position, and does not deserve special praise. This raises two points that I've wanted to bring up for a while:

First, I'm sorry, but I am tired of the attribution of "courage" to Republican Senators for voting for politically popular and sound provisions. If the Secretary of the Treasury or HHS comes out against Bush's Medicaid cuts, that might take some courage -- they might lose their jobs, and have to take some $300,000/year lobbying gig. (In other words, even they aren't exactly Sir Thomas More.) Gordon Smith works for the people of Oregon. His job is to represent them, and to represent his view of the national interest. Voting against the preferences of an unpopular president, in a blue state, and in defense of a good and popular program, simply doesn't deserve to be called "courage." I never thought it showed courage for Democrats like Lautenberg to vote against tax increases in Clinton's 1993 budget. Likewise, it shows no particular courage for Smith to oppose his party's president in a symbolic vote for Medicaid. It's called doing your job. In this case, taken in combination with his other votes, I think it's even less than that.

It might take a little bit of courage, though, to stand up and point out that maintaining the services and protections that we expect from government is going to require TAXES, now and in the future. But we elect Senators for a six-year term exactly in the expectation that they can show just that kind of courage, which Smith showed none of.

Second, I'm tired of giving quasi-conservatives credit for what I call Miss America compassion (I'll explain in a minute). Smith's son's suicide led him to support more funding for suicide prevention and for mental health care generally. Great -- my life has been affected by suicide also, so I'm all for that. Similarly, Senator Pete Domenici's daughter's mental illness made him an advocate for mandating equitable treatment of mental and physical well-being in health insurance, a cause in which he was joined by Paul Wellstone. Again, I'm all for it, and I have no doubt that Domenici was at least as personally sincere and driven about it as Wellstone, and watching the two of them pair up on this cause and learn to work together was a good example for the potential of democratic institutions to create understanding.

But what has always bothered me about such examples is that their compassion seems so narrowly and literally focused on the specific misfortune that their family encountered. Having a child who suffers from mental illness would indeed make one particularly passionate about funding for mental health, sure. But shouldn't it also lead to a deeper understanding that there are a lot of families, in all kinds of situations beyond their control, who need help from government? Shouldn't having a son whose illness leads to suicide open your eyes to something more than a belief that we need more money for suicide help-lines? Shouldn't it call into question the entire winners-win/losers-lose ideology of the current Republican Party? Shouldn't it also lead to an understanding that if we want to live in a society that provides a robust system of public support for those who need help -- whether for mental illness or any of the other misfortunes that life hands out at random -- we will need a government with adequate institutions and revenues to provide those things?

And that's what I mean by "Miss America Compassion." These Senators are like Miss America contestants, each with a "platform": Mr. Ohio: "Adoption Assistance." Mr. Oregon: "Suicide Prevention." Mr. Minnesota: "Community Development." Mr. New Mexico: "Mental Health Parity." Mr. Pennsylvania: "Missing children" The platform is meant to show them as thoughtful, deep and independent-minded, but after the "platform segment" they return to play their obedient part in a degrading exercise that makes this country crueler and government less supportive.

And, of course, as with Miss America contestants' "platforms," there are a few approved topics and many more that simply couldn't be considered. It's not too likely that you'll see Miss Alabama adopt "Income inequality" as her platform or Miss Colorado, "Corporate tax evasion." Nor is a Senator likely to have a family experience with lack of health insurance, or personal bankruptcy, or Food Stamps.

I respect and admire the way in which their family's personal experiences have helped change some of these conservatives' view of certain issues. That's certainly better than the large number who let nothing shake their ideology. But I just think it's too easy to collect the prize for Independence and Courage, and that these conservative Republicans should be pushed much harder to move on to the next level of understanding.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (20) | TrackBack

You know you've been in Washington too long...

when your 3-year-old interrupts at the dinner table and complains,

"I don't know anything about PAYGO!"

The sad thing is, we've only been here for six months!

After dinner we watched C-SPAN2 for a little while, and she declared that she
thinks Senator Conrad should be "King of All the Senators." So the lesson in democracy is not quite complete.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 18, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Independence on the Cheap

E.J. Dionne today takes up some of the issues that I've been writing about here, particularly the Republican effort to completely divorce tax cuts from their consequences in deficits, spending cuts, and future tax increases. He adds some information I wasn't aware of, about the different dates when the budget resolution calls for the tax cuts and spending cuts to come forward, so that by the time the spending cuts are considered in the House, the tax cuts will be a done deal. It's a typically great column, but I have one small quibble:

Dionne writes,

Quietly, sober Republicans are challenging these budgets in bits and pieces. Smith's Medicaid proposal is one sign. Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota has taken on the president's cuts in the Community Development Block Grant program. Five brave Senate Republicans -- George Voinovich, John McCain, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Lincoln Chafee -- bucked their party on Wednesday to vote for budget rules that would have required any new tax cuts to be paid for with savings elsewhere in the budget. The measure fell just one vote short.

I think he's giving Coleman and Smith credit they absolutely don't deserve here. Yes, they voted against Medicaid cuts, but they also -- along with Specter and DeWine -- voted to continue the practice of passing tax cuts without offsetting spending cuts. These tax cuts will result in spending cuts some day, and the cuts will be massive. A vote for tax cuts is a vote for Medicaid cuts, and Medicare cuts, and education cuts, and environment cuts. No politician should be allowed to pretend otherwise.

You can't give credit for "sobriety" in "bits and pieces." Here are the four combination of votes that were possible on the two amendments, Feingold-Chafee on PAYGO and Smith's to reverse the Medicaid cuts:

1. For PAYGO, and against Medicaid cuts. The position of all the Democrats, as well as the three New England Republicans. (Snowe, Collins, Chafee.) That's a vote in favor of no more tax cuts, and for a government that continues to provide a basic safety net. It's obviously not a rollback of past cuts, but it's something.

2. For PAYGO, and for Medicaid cuts. An honest smaller-government conservative position. A Senator who casts this pair of votes may be for tax cuts or not, but at least acknowledges that tax cuts require spending cuts. Number of "honest smaller-government conservatives": Two. McCain and Voinovich.

3. Against PAYGO, and for Medicaid cuts. The position of most Republicans. Sort of half-dishonest; a vote for future tax cuts divorced from their consequences, but at least an acknowledgement that the current path is unsustainable without spending cuts. (Or tax increases. Or both.)

4. Against PAYGO, and against Medicaid cuts. A cheap, untenable, dishonest and disgraceful position. It's a position in favor of further tax cuts divorced from their consequences, and a pretense that one can continue to cut taxes and still get credit for being against Medicaid cuts or CDBG cuts. This is the position of Coleman, Smith, Specter, and DeWine. It's the very opposite of "sober."

I heard Eugene Steuerle of the Urban Institute a few months ago describe the Republican policy of tax cuts without immediate spending cuts, and in some cases increases, as "double Santa Claus." The position of Coleman, Smith, Specter and DeWine could be described as "triple Santa Claus." Once again, Senators: Tax Cuts are Medicaid cuts. There's no way around that.

As the Bush-DeLay scam begins to break down, there will be a lot of Republicans from blue or purple states like these four who will be looking to get credit for "independence." It is very important that they not get that credit as cheaply as these four.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 18, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Some follow-ups

1. The PAYGO amendment was defeated on a 50-50 vote last night. All Democrats voted for it, along with Republicans Chafee, Collins, Snowe, McCain, and Voinovich. If House and Senate Republicans can reach agreement on a budget resolution, they will now be free to push through further tax cuts without honestly describing the spending cuts or other tax increases that will be their consequence.

Opposing the amendment, Trent Lott argued that, "The problem is not tax cuts. The problem is we can't control our insatiable appetite for spending." Which is fair enough as a statement of preference for small government, but if that's the case, why not be willing to specify the spending he's willing to cut in exchange for tax cuts? You know the reason, but it's an outrage nonetheless.

The Senate today voted 52-48 to remove Medicaid cuts from the budget resolution, which makes it much less likely that they will reach an agreement with the House. But Senators Coleman, DeWine, Smith and Specter are now on record as voting for tax cuts that aren't paid for, and also against any specific cuts. That's an untenable and dishonest position.

2. Some people seemed to think I was being critical of Senator Baucus for his "Live Or Let Die" statement on tax policy. I was not. I was merely sympathizing with the difficulty of the poor legislative staffer or speechwriter who has to try to make that statement interesting -- or perhaps the Senator himself. I've been there. Sometimes it works, sometimes, not so much. But I can't get that damn song out of my head. -- duh-duh-duh/duh-duh-duh/DUH-DUH!

As Matt Singer writes in Left in the West, "Lately, Montana?s Senior Senator has been on a roll. He voted against Clear Skies, helping bottle it up in committee. He?s been leading the charge on Social Security, for which a lot of us here in Montana are grateful...He?s still a centrist, but he?s becoming an unapologetic defender of his beliefs."

That's very true, and a welcome development. I was amazed, and impressed a few months ago to learn that Baucus had hired as the Finance Committee's principal staffer on welfare issues someone who had been director of grassroots activist poor-people's group in Montana and a board member of the Western States Center, one of my favorite progressive organizations, and who had testified before the committee about her own experiences as a young mother who depended on welfare after escaping a violent marriage. Back when I worked on welfare issues on the Finance Committee, there was definitely no one with that kind of background working for any of the Senators, and it would have had a significant effect on the debate in 1996 if there was someone with either the activist background or who knew something about welfare other than what they learned at the JFK School. It's a small thing, but it said a lot to me that Baucus would look for someone with that background.

3. You read it here second -- Wolfowitz and the World Bank, two weeks ago:

Hey Europe, just kidding!

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 17, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Baucus. Max Baucus

Some people seem to think tax policy is boring. Well, here's proof that nothing is boring if you make it hip and relevant to the young people with some references to popular song lyrics and cool movies:

For Immediate Release Contact: Melissa Mueller/Wendy Carey
Wednesday, March 16, 2005 202-224-4515

Statement of U.S. Senator Max Baucus
U.S. Senate Finance Committee Hearing: "Expiring Tax Provisions: Live or Let Die"

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) Today, U.S. Senator Max Baucus, Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, issued the following statement for the Senate Finance Committee Hearing entitled, "Expiring Tax Provisions: Live or Let Die."

"This hearing is aptly titled, 'Expiring Tax Provisions: Live or Let Die.' Back in the early 70's, there was a popular song by a similar name. That song spoke about the 'ever-changing world in which we're living' and said that 'when you've got a job to do, you got to do it well.' That's a good description of why we're here today - to consider what to do about several temporary tax provisions that are about to run out, some of which have been renewed many times over, and even allowed to expire on occasion.
This leaves America's taxpayers in an 'ever-changing world' of uncertain tax laws that make it difficult for them to plan and make decisions about their future. Congress needs to do its job, and not wait until the last minute when these laws are ready to expire and then simply re-extend them. We should decide if they should be made permanent or not; whether they live or let die.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 16, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack


There's a lot going on on Capitol Hill this week: the beginnings of an ugly-looking highway bill, the wrap-up of the ugly bankruptcy bill, the sudden possibility that the very ugly Mr. DeLay's reign of bribery and intimidation may be numbered, the Bolton nomination, the last gasp of Social Security.

One vote in the Senate will be of profound importance, however: On Wednesday, Senators Chafee and Feingold are expected to offer an amendment to the budget resolution restoring the "Pay-as-you-go" rules, known as PAYGO, which will require Congress to pay for any further tax cuts with offsetting tax increases or spending cuts. The budget resolution as passed by the Senate Budget Committee lasts week instructs the Senate Finance Committee to come back with tax cuts totaling $70 billion, which will add to the deficit.

If the PAYGO rules, which were rejected on a party-line vote in the Budget Committee, pass, those tax cuts will either have to be paid for, or they will be subject to a "point of order" in the Senate which will require 60 votes.

More likely, if the PAYGO amendment passes in the Senate, it will not pass in the House, and the two houses will not be able to agree on a budget resolution, which is not the end of the world. It happened last year. Without a budget resolution, though, there can't be a budget reconciliation bill. The effect is the same as having a budget resolution with PAYGO in it: Any further tax cuts will have to be subject to full debate in the Senate, and can't be rammed through with 50 votes.

Few things are more arcane than congressional PAYGO rules. And yet, little is more important, especially right now. A few weeks ago, in writing about Goldwater, I noted that the genius of Rove and his followers was that they had figured out how to separate the ideological conservatism that Americans liked from the operational conservatism -- the real cuts in government -- that Americans did not. PAYGO rules are a way of forcing those two back together. If Republicans are serious about cutting taxes and making government smaller, they must be willing to come forward simultaneously with the cuts they are willing to make and bear the consequences. Or, if they do not want to make cuts but still want to cut taxes for the top 0.2% of the population, they must be willing to say whose taxes they are willing to raise to pay for those cuts.

If you're still reading this, there's more on the PAYGO rules at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities site, and on the use of reconciliation to push through tax cuts here.

Like the bankruptcy bill, this is one of those things that most Senators assume no one pays attention to. A little bit of attention might make a real difference. It's probably the single most important vote in the budget process, because it sets a limit to just how much nefarious, dishonest tax-cutting is possible. So call your Senators and encourage them to vote with Feingold and Chafee on the PAYGO rules.

I also noted from Steve Clemons that the key votes on John Bolton's nomination to the U.N. happen to be Feingold and Chafee. So it might be worth a call to those two offices also. Tell the receptionist, "I want to thank Senator Chafee/Feingold for his leadership on honesty in our budget. And I'd also like to urge him to oppose John Bolton." Mix a little love in with the pressure -- it's a time-honored strategy.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on March 15, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack