Right-wing media figures have responded to immigration reform by invoking the oft-repeated conservative argument that legalizing immigrants will enlarge the "welfare state." In fact, the announced immigration reform proposal would prevent newly legalized immigrants from receiving federal benefits for an extended period of time; moreover, immigrants in general are less likely to receive welfare benefits.
Conservative media have denigrated solar energy by denying its sustainability, ignoring its successes, and arguing the U.S. should simply cede the solar market to China. Yet this booming industry has made great strides, and with the right policies can become a major source of our power.
The right-wing media are claiming that the "liberal agenda" President Obama outlined in his second inaugural address is out of the mainstream, even though polling has shown that the majority of Americans agree with Obama's stances on marriage equality, sustainable energy, and other issues.
Karl Rove selectively chose unemployment statistics to portray President Obama's jobs record as a failure. However, unemployment has declined from its peak during the most recent recession and millions of jobs have been created since the recession's ended.
In the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Rove claimed that the unemployment rate is higher today than when the president first took office:
As President Obama prepares to be sworn in a second time, it's a good moment to consider the state of the union during his era.
As of his first inaugural, 134.379 million Americans were working and unemployment was 7.3%. Four years later, 134.021 million are working and unemployment is 7.8%.
But in his December 1, 2011, Journal op-ed, Rove wrote used a different unemployment rate for the beginning of Obama's term:
For another, Mr. Obama lacks the record on jobs of either Mr. Truman or Mr. Roosevelt. Unemployment was at 7.8% when Mr. Obama took office. It's 9% today and is forecast to remain there through 2012.
Rove is applying the December 2008 unemployment rate of 7.3 percent -- a month when Obama was not president -- to Obama's economic record in his January 16 post to make it appear that Obama's jobs record is a failure, while using the January 2009 unemployment rate of 7.8 percent to mark the start of Obama's economic record in his December 2011 post.
But the unemployment rate has declined from its height during the recession, and millions of jobs have been added in the private sector since the end of the recession.
Media coverage of the debt ceiling frequently claims that raising the limit without simultaneous spending cuts would give President Obama a "blank check," repeating a pattern of promoting this false narrative -- or failing to correct it -- that occurred during the unprecedented brinkmanship of 2011. The phrase implies that the debt ceiling governs additional spending desired by the White House, when in fact it is a restriction on the executive branch's ability to borrow money to pay for spending measures already enacted by Congress.
Media outlets cherry-picked facts from a recent Health and Human Services report on the Head Start education program to promote the myth that the program is a failure. However, neither the HHS report nor other studies confirm those claims, and reports actually show the program has had a positive impact both early on and later in students' lives.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed ignored important factors affecting the rate of participation in the American workforce to blame its decline on government programs. The op-ed by economist Richard Vedder left out the fact that the baby boomer generation is beginning to retire in large numbers, a shift that contributes to the decline in workforce participation.
Vedder's op-ed blamed government programs that assist the unemployed and people with disabilities for the declining labor-force participation rate, alleging that fewer people are working "due mainly to a variety of public policies that have reduced the incentives to be employed." Though Vedder lists food stamps, extended unemployment benefits, and Social Security disability payments as the primary factors driving down participation in the workforce, these programs actually have a proven stimulative effect on the economy.
Vedder wrote that "if the government provides food, then the imperative to work is severely reduced." In reality, food stamps have been repeatedly shown to stimulate growth. Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi told Congress in 2008 that food stamps were "the most effective way to prime the economy's pump." Zandi estimated every $1 spent on food stamp payments boosts gross domestic product by $1.73. Food stamp spending is also projected to fall significantly in the coming years, according to data compiled by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
Vedder then claimed that extended unemployment benefits amount to "pay[ing] people to stay at home," though multiple studies find that unemployment benefits are stimulative, providing needed demand in the economy when growth is slow. The Congressional Budget Office in January 2010 recommended extending unemployment benefits to stimulate the economy:
Additionally, the Social Security disability payments that Vedder attacks are difficult to obtain. As Media Matters has documented, the Social Security Administration denies over half of the disability claims it receives. Moreover, the average disabled worker receiving those benefits gets less than $14,000 per year, well below the poverty line.
One of the most glaring omissions in Vedder's op-ed, however, is his failure to mention that a significant reason for the decline in the labor force participation rate is the aging and retiring population. Though the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago wrote that "just under half" of the decline in workforce participation "can be traced to long-running demographic patterns," Vedder chose not to include it.
The CBPP came to a similar conclusion that labor force participation was significantly impacted by baby boomers beginning to retire:
Our findings support the conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and analysts at the Federal Reserve banks of Chicago and Kansas City, who find that an aging population accounts for an important piece of the recent drop in labor force participation. Those experts generally conclude that about half of the drop in labor force participation since 2007 (the start of the economic downturn), and about a third of the drop since 2000 (when the rate hit its all-time high), stems from an aging population.
The Wall Street Journal ignored Republican legislative priorities to claim that President Obama demonized his opponents by saying they are suspicious of Social Security, helping kids in poverty get enough to eat, or providing government funding for medical research. In fact, the Republican budget guru, Rep. Paul Ryan has made proposals to gut Social Security, programs to help feed low-income children, and medical research funding. And the Journal has endorsed many of these proposals.
During a January 14 press conference, President Obama said:
[House Republicans] have a particular vision about what government should and should not do. So they are suspicious about government's commitments, for example, to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat, or whether we should be spending money on medical research. So they've got a particular view of what government should do and should be.
A Wall Street Journal editorial responded to that passage by accusing Obama of "attributing to his political opponents only base motives and beliefs they don't come close to holding." The paper dared Obama to "identify by name those who want to repeal Social Security, steal food from orphans and cancel science funding." But it's not hard to find a Republican who advocates the cuts Obama named. One has to look no further than Ryan, the Chairman of the House Budget Committee and the Republicans' 2012 vice presidential nominee.
In 2010, Paul Ryan released a budget proposal that would have partially privatized Social Security by diverting "large sums from Social Security to private accounts," which would "leave the program facing insolvency in about 30 years," according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Ryan proposed even more drastic cuts to Social Security in 2004 when he sought to divert half of the funds for Social Security into private accounts.
Ryan has also authored budget proposals that would result in large cuts from programs that primarily serve low- and moderate-income taxpayers including food stamps. Ryan's 2012 budget, which the Wall Street Journal supported, plan called for $134 billion in cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) benefits. A March 2012 analysis of the plan from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities detailed where the cuts in Ryan's plan would come from:
The documents also show $166 billion in mandatory cuts in the education, training, employment, and social services portion of the budget (function 500), which, based on the discussion in the Ryan budget documents, would likely come mainly from the mandatory portion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students.
The report included this chart:
Paul Ryan's budget would have almost certainly resulted in huge cuts to medical research. Ryan's 2012 proposal included cuts to all non-defense discretionary spending, which includes grant funding for medical and scientific research, that would have reduced spending from 12.5 percent of GDP to a paltry 3.75 percent by 2050, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Reducing the level of spending by that much would essentially mean doing away with all but the most basic functions of government, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
Since, as CBO notes, "spending for defense alone has not been lower than 3 percent of GDP in any year [since World War II]" and Ryan seeks a high level of defense spending -- he increases defense funding by $228 billion over the next ten years above the pre-sequestration baseline -- the rest of government would largely have to disappear. That includes everything from veterans' programs to medical and scientific research, highways, education, nearly all programs for low-income families and individuals other than Medicaid, national parks, border patrols, protection of food safety and the water supply, law enforcement, and the like.
As President Obama gears up for a reinauguration that, right up to Election Day, conservatives truly believed would never happen, the right is trying to figure out what went wrong and what can be done to set things right. A schism has emerged between those who think Republicans and conservatives simply need to tweak their messaging (a majority of Republicans believe this) versus those who think the party needs to update its policies (a majority of all Americans agree on this point). Both these factions get find their voice in separate columns from prominent conservatives today.
Jim DeMint, fresh off his resignation from the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation, plants his flag firmly in the "messaging" camp in a Washington Post op-ed. Meanwhile, Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal that Republicans in Congress should raid the Democratic policy chest like seafaring privateers: "Really: It's pirate time."
Both columns, though, demonstrate that the lessons of 2012 have been ill-learned, and the intractability of the problems facing conservatives.
Let's start with DeMint and his missive in support of message tweaks. Here's what DeMint saw in 2012:
Unfortunately, welfare reform and missile defense have something in common beyond Heritage's intellectual paternity. They both have been gutted by President Obama. Always faint-hearted about missile defense, the president in his first year dismantled our programs in Poland and the Czech Republic. He disabled welfare reform last year, when he took away the work requirements that were at the heart of that law's success.
How could the president get away with hobbling two successful programs with barely a peep from the media or backlash from the millions of Americans whose lives are made better and more secure by these initiatives? That's a question and a challenge I take very personally.
DeMint's solution is to do "research" to make sure going forward conservative messaging on topics like missile defense and welfare is more effective. Of course, anyone who paid even casual attention to the 2012 race knows that Mitt Romney's attacked Obama relentlessly-- and falsely -- for "gutting welfare reform," and those attacks were covered extensively by the political press. The problem with the attack (which originated with Heritage) was that it was over-the-top and wrong, and undermined by the fact that Republican governors were embracing the welfare policies Romney was attacking.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed redefined the meaning of government default and downplayed its consequences to argue that Republicans might want to refuse to raise the debt ceiling in order to drastically cut federal spending.
In a Journal op-ed, David Rivkin and Lee Casey, two former Republican Justice Department officials, argued that the Constitution prevents the government from defaulting on the interest it owes on its debt, so a failure to raise the debt ceiling may actually achieve conservatives' goal of cutting government spending without causing default. In fact, even if the federal government continued to pay its interest payments after hitting the debt ceiling, it would default on other obligations with catastrophic effects for the U.S. economy.
Rivkin and Casey wrote:
Contrary to White House claims, Congress's refusal to permit new borrowing by raising the debt ceiling limit will not trigger a default on America's outstanding public debt, with calamitous consequences for our credit rating and the world's financial system. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment provides that "the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned"; this prevents Congress from repudiating the federal government's lawfully incurred debts.
This means that a failure to raise the debt ceiling--to prevent new borrowing--does not and cannot put America's current creditors at risk. So long as this government exists, and barring a further constitutional amendment, those creditors must be paid.
Once these false arguments are cleared away, the real issue in the debt-ceiling debate becomes clear: the proper level of federal spending. Should Congress fail to increase the debt ceiling as much as the president wants, the effective result would be major government spending cuts, with payments on public debt excluded.
This is tough medicine and not to be administered lightly. If Republicans are serious about winning this debate, they must strive to convince the American people that such spending cuts are necessary.
However, a Treasury Department memo explained that even if the government paid interest on the debt, this "would merely be default by another name" because it would have to stop paying its other obligations. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) found in a February 2011 report that if the government hit the debt ceiling, it would have to stop all military spending and cut nearly 70 percent of money paid to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and other programs.
Financial markets may well treat such a default exactly as they would treat a default on interest payments. According to a January 4 CRS report, if the government prioritized its debt obligations over its other obligations, "it is not clear whether financial markets would find this distinction to be significant" when deciding on whether or not to buy Treasury securities. CRS also stated: "Even if the government continued paying interest, it is not clear whether creditors would retain or lose faith in the government's willingness to pay its obligations."
Such a default would do significant harm to the U.S. economy. The Treasury Department stated that a default on obligations would cause a massive financial crisis with "catastrophic economic consequences" including the potential loss of "millions of American jobs." Similarly, during the 2011 debt ceiling fight, Moody Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi warned of the economic ramifications of a possible default, writing that "financial markets would unravel and the U.S. and global economy would enter another severe recession."
Deep federal spending cuts such as the ones that would be required from failing to raise the debt ceiling would be incredibly harmful to the economy as well. As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman explained, deep spending cuts have "a depressing effect on weak economies" and the adverse effect of such cuts "is much stronger than previously believed." Krugman added that Republicans' demands for deep spending cuts as part of the debt ceiling confrontation "would drive us back into recession."
President Obama's forthcoming nomination of White House chief of staff Jack Lew for Treasury Secretary is not sitting well with the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The Journal, in an editorial headlined "Team of Liberal Loyalists," criticizes Obama's selection of a "loyalist" for Treasury who will "advance and implement his agenda," rather than a figure who will "offer independent advice."
President Obama is expected to name Jack Lew as his Treasury secretary on Thursday, continuing his cabinet's second-term makeover in his own image. He is assembling a team of personal and ideological loyalists whose job will be less to offer independent advice than to advance and implement his agenda for a larger, more redistributionist government.
What a difference an administration can make. Back in late 2004, as the newly reelected President Bush was mulling Cabinet replacements for his second term, the Journal editorial board weighed in on potential Treasury secretaries. Looking back at his first term, they praised Bush for dumping Paul O'Neill (because he "didn't agree with the President's agenda") and replacing him with John Snow, who "has been loyal and has served honorably."
More than Defense or State, and certainly more than Homeland Security, if there's a single Cabinet post that could ruin President Bush's second term, our choice would be Treasury. So we hope the White House is doing more thinking about the position than it has exhibited so far.
Mr. Bush's first choice, Paul O'Neill, was an unguided missile who didn't agree with the President's agenda and had to be fired. Second choice John Snow has been loyal and has served honorably, though no one we know would describe him as another Andrew Mellon, or even a Robert Rubin, in terms of his clout both inside and outside the Administration. If there was any doubt about this, the nasty recent leak from someone in the White House that Mr. Snow would only be around for a few more months hardly enhanced his stature. Whether he's leaving or staying, the Secretary deserved better treatment.
The Journal did want to see a Bush Treasury Secretary with "the stature to fight the White House tendency to make economic choices for short-term political reasons," but what sort of independent, agenda-free non-loyalist did they have in mind for the position? Donald Rumsfeld. They even wrote favorably of Andrew Card who, like Lew, was chief of staff and ran "a disciplined White House." (They also worried that Card "would be perceived as the choice of the weak-dollar lobby.")
As a bonus let's take a look at Wall Street Journal editorial board member Bret Stephens' November 29, 2004, column on the role of the Cabinet. Per Stephens, the Cabinet is there to be stuffed with loyalists and used as an instrument to enact the president's agenda:
This brings us back to the current administration. George W. Bush is accused of burying cabinet government for good with his appointments of close confidantes Rice, Alberto Gonzales and Margaret Spellings. Nonsense. Contrary to Andrew Sullivan, a cabinet is not something a president governs with; and contrary to Andrew Jackson, it is not something a president governs around. Ideally, a cabinet is what a president governs through. Now that Mr. Bush has moved his own people into the cabinet, he may at last be able to do just that.
The Wall Street Journal discounted and distorted potential Treasury secretary nominee Jack Lew's record, ignoring the economic success he helped foster, in order to claim that Lew is unqualified to be Treasury secretary.
A Journal editorial claimed that Lew did not possess "credibility in the business or financial worlds" and will not make the administration "hospitable to business and private economic growth."
The Journal acknowledged that Lew has twice served as the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB), once under President Clinton and once under President Obama, but discounted that experience. However, as OMB director, Lew was responsible for overseeing the administration's budget proposals and ensuring that the economic impact of any proposed federal regulations was properly assessed. And during Lew's first tenure in that job the federal government saw budget surpluses totaling over $300 billion.
Furthermore, during his time with the Obama administration as OMB director and chief of staff, Lew was part of the team that helped pull the United States out of recession and facilitated steady economic growth.
The Journal also claimed that when he was in the Clinton administration, Lew "was viewed by Republicans as a reasonable liberal they could do business with" but as an Obama administration official, Lew "has been the President's most partisan and implacable negotiator." But this assessment may reflect how the Republican Party has changed rather than any change by Lew.
Experts contend that it is Republican legislators who have dramatically increased the partisanship in Washington. Congressional experts Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in a Washington Post op-ed and related report concluded that "the Republicans are the problem" when it comes to gridlock and extremism in Washington.
As Republican objections to President Obama's Cabinet picks continue to pile up in the new year, we're watching a strange collision of two favorite media trends inside the Beltway, both of which bolster Republicans.
The first is that Obama hasn't done enough to change the tone in Washington, D.C.; that he hasn't torn down the capitol's stark partisan divide. The second is that, the radical obstructionism Obama faces while trying to change the tone is no big deal. That the monumental obstacles Republicans construct, like opposing Obama's Cabinet picks, represents politics as usual and everybody does it.
It's not and they don't.
In fact, the Hagel story, in which Obama made an effort to change the tone in Washington, D.C. by including a Republican in his Cabinet, only to have the goodwill gesture trampled by Republicans, perfectly captures the skewed way the news media depict modern day politics. And the way journalists who beseech Obama to change the tone give him no credit when he tries.
Instead, we're told Obama is courting controversy, he's picking a fight, because he's doing what newly elected presidents have done for centuries in this country, he's selecting respected, well-qualified individuals whom he trusts to serve in his Cabinet. Writing for Bloomberg, Francis Wilkinson suggested that by nominating a Republican, Obama had intensified the Beltway's "polarization."
If this seems unusual, that's because it is. What's also unusual is that the Beltway press mostly refuses to acknowledge the strange obstructionist ways being adopted by the GOP as these dogged cabinet fights continue to roll out.
As New York's Jonathan Chait noted this week:
The basic assumption is no longer that the president needs only to appoint people who are broadly qualified and not wildly more radical than himself. It's that the cabinet represents a kind of middle ground between the president and the opposing party.
Chait's right. Republicans and their extended right-media attack machine led by Bill Kristol have successfully changed the rules for Cabinet nominees. And the Beltway press has let it happen without an ounce of pushback and, more importantly, without informing news consumers that a radical shift has taken place.
Echoing their analysis from 2011, conservative media outlets have advised Republicans against raising the debt ceiling. The commitment to this narrative shows that the economic realities of the past debt ceiling debacle are being completely ignored by the right-wing media.
In a column for the The Wall Street Journal, Holman Jenkins claimed that unemployment insurance and Social Security disability payments encourage recipients to "leav[e] it to someone else to be productive," a claim that economic research and data prove incorrect.
According to Jenkins, "our massive expansion of unemployment and disability subsidies over the past four years" is discouraging the people who would otherwise build the technologies that "will save us from the Soylent Green solution to an aging society."
Conservatives arguing that these benefits make people lazy is nothing new, but their claims are still incorrect and unsupported by data. With disability payments, the argument is laughable on its face; people collect disability because they are unable to work. It is the disability, not the payments for it, that prevents these people from contributing to the labor supply. Social Security Administration data show the average disabled worker in the program receives less than $14,000 per year, $9,000 below the poverty line and an unlikely incentive for the malingerers Jenkins is looking to scapegoat. And as Media Matters has noted, the eligibility criteria for disability benefits programs are stringent, and the upward trend in the number of disability recipients dates to a Reagan-era liberalization of the program.
Jenkins is on similarly untenable ground when it comes to unemployment insurance. Conservatives frequently cite economist Larry Katz to argue that unemployment insurance begets unemployment -- but Katz himself has said that his work isn't applicable in today's economy. Other research also indicates that UI spending doesn't substantially increase unemployment. Meanwhile, the stimulative effect of unemployment insurance on the economy is well established. And since the Department of Labor data show the average UI recipient gets just $300 per week, before taxes, conservatives making this claim are saying that many Americans would rather live on less than $16,000 a year than work a shovel-- or in Jenkins' case, than build a robot.
Finally, if Jenkins is concerned about the amount of labor Americans are willing to supply, he need not be. Based on a monthly survey known as JOLTS -- the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the ratio of unemployed persons per job opening. The latest report found 3.3 unemployed Americans for every open job as of October. Even prior to the recession (shown with gray shading in BLS's chart below) the ratio was above 1.