In the USA...
December 08, 2012 04:30 PMObama: Republican House Blocking Middle-Class Tax Cuts
By Diane Sweet
President Barack Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday urged House Republicans to extend the middle class income tax cuts for 98% of Americans and 97% of small businesses without delay, and made clear that a balanced approach to deficit reduction means that they -- and we all know this means John Boehner -- must agree to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay higher tax rates.
The Democratic-controlled Senate has approved the measure, but Obama said House Republicans have "put forward an unbalanced plan that actually lowers rates for the wealthiest Americans." Obama supports a plan to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000.
"Now, Congress can avoid all this by passing a law that prevents a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody’s income. That means 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses wouldn’t see their income taxes go up by a single dime. Even the wealthiest Americans would get a tax cut on the first $250,000 of their income. And families everywhere would enjoy some peace of mind."
"The Senate has already done their part. Now we’re just waiting for Republicans in the House to do the same thing. But so far, they’ve put forward an unbalanced plan that actually lowers rates for the wealthiest Americans. If we want to protect the middle class, then the math just doesn’t work."
While Mr. Speaker mulls this all over, he might want to keep in mind that a new poll released Friday revealed that 48 percent of Americans trust Obama to come up with solutions to current economic problems, compared to just 32 percent who trust congressional Republicans to do the same. So come January, if that majority of Americans see their taxes raised, they certainly won't forget it the next time they head to the polls.
"We can and should do more than just extend middle class tax cuts. I stand ready to work with Republicans on a plan that spurs economic growth, creates jobs and reduces our deficit – a plan that gives both sides some of what they want. I’m willing to find ways to bring down the cost of health care without hurting seniors and other Americans who depend on it. And I’m willing to make more entitlement spending cuts on top of the $1 trillion dollars in cuts I signed into law last year."
Mr. President, I really wish you would stop giving away benefits for the people who need them the most. The Republican congress would just as soon hit you over the head with the silver tray that you're trying to hand over those entitlement cuts on.
"But if we’re serious about reducing our deficit while still investing in things like education and research that are important to growing our economy – and if we’re serious about protecting middle-class families – then we’re also going to have to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay higher tax rates. That’s one principle I won’t compromise on."
Here's the problem, the GOP does not care about anyone but America's wealthy few, -- we all know this -- isn't it time everyone let John Boehner know what they think of his obstruction? If you haven't contacted him yet, light up his phones on Monday morning.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=2ztuKikAkvs
09 December 2012 - 03H58 In game of fiscal chicken, top Republican in hot seat
AFP - With room for maneuver slipping away, top US Republican John Boehner is in a bind over how to avoid going over the fiscal cliff: embrace higher taxes and earn conservatives' ire, or scupper a deal and incur Americans' wrath.
Another option, one that few non-partisans see as very viable, is for President Barack Obama to cave in and agree to Republican demands not to raise taxes, even for the wealthiest Americans.
A likelier resolution is a compromise with the White House that avoids the early January shock of automatic spending cuts coupled with tax hikes on nearly all Americans, while laying out enough deficit reduction that eases concern about the country's financial well-being.
In the game of political chicken to see whether Democrats or Republicans blink first, perhaps the trickiest role of all rests with Speaker of the House Boehner, who along with Obama is the principal in the negotiations.
Boehner's guidance of the Republican position in coming days and weeks could signal much about party direction in the wake of an election that saw flagbearer Mitt Romney -- who advocated slashing tax rates across the board -- defeated by Obama.
"To say Boehner is between a rock and a hard place is minimizing the problem he faces," Boston University professor and longtime political consultant Tobe Berkovitz told AFP.
"Boehner is trying to keep public opinion about Republicans from totally cratering, and at the same time keep the Tea Party hardcore conservatives from totally abandoning the party."
Conservative Republican Trent Franks agrees that "our speaker is in an enormously difficult position."
"And I think he's doing the best he can," the congressman told National Public Radio. "That doesn't mean that what he finally arrives at will be something that I can support or it won't. You know, I don't know."
Few people other than Boehner and Obama know the true state of negotiations in what appears as a well-choreographed campaign to thrash out a last-minute deal.
Discussions appear to have stalled, though, and Boehner has accused Obama of having "wasted another week" by not pushing talks forward.
This weekend Boehner "will be waiting for the White House to respond to our serious offer about averting the fiscal cliff," his spokesman Michael Steel told AFP.
Obama has proposed $1.6 trillion in new taxes over the next decade from higher rates on the wealthiest two percent of Americans.
Republicans countered with a plan for $800 billion in tax revenue raised by closing loopholes and ending some deductions. Both plans were rejected.
A Democratic official said Saturday that "nothing has changed since yesterday."
Polls show most Americans want to see taxes rise on the wealthy.
With Obama winning re-election on November 6, and his Democrats gaining seats in both the House and Senate, Republicans concede privately -- and some publicly -- that the Democrats have the upper hand.
"President Obama pretty well holds all the cards in this negotiation," Republican Senator Ron Johnson told Fox News.
"If he wants to have tax increases or tax rates go up, I don't see how Republicans can stop him."
Public trust is not in Boehner's favor. A Washington Post/Pew poll this week showed 53 percent of Americans would blame Republicans should the economy dive off the cliff; 27 percent would blame Democrats.
In his weekly address Saturday, Obama said he was willing to find ways to reduce health costs and make more entitlement spending cuts, but as for asking "the wealthiest Americans to pay higher tax rates -- that's one principle I won't compromise on."
Potential future Republican leaders like Senator Marco Rubio are unlikely to want to bend to White House will.
Rubio, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, gave the Republican response to Obama's address -- and said "tax increases will not solve our $16 trillion debt."
Boehner has said that, too, but his position is tenuous. On Friday he left open the possibility for compromise on a tax rate rise.
In past negotiations, such as last December's battle over extending the payroll tax holiday, some Republicans felt Boehner gave away too much.
Hashtags on Twitter -- #boehnermustgo, #fireboehner -- have recently left little doubt that some Republicans are fed up with his handling of the talks.
With conservatives demanding unity on taxes, Boehner faces the prospect of revolt from his right flank should he agree to a deal that would raise high-end rates.
Berkovitz said Republicans face two options if they want to avoid the cliff: negotiate and compromise, or hold their noses and "give Obama what he wants. If it goes south, take the election victory in two years and maybe four years."
09 December 2012 - 08H12 Rocky road ahead for implementation of Obamacare
AFP - President Barack Obama may have defeated opponents of his landmark health care law in the courts and at the ballot box, but the sweeping reforms still face a rocky road ahead.
Advocates are concerned that the funding needed to help expand coverage to 30 million uninsured Americans could take a hit in budget negotiations as Obama battles his Republican rivals over the so-called fiscal cliff tax and austerity crisis.
The implementation process is also expected to get messy as responsibility passes to the governors and health departments of the nation's 50 states, many of which are led by Republicans who have stridently sought to repeal the measure widely dubbed "Obamacare."
Republicans say the reforms, signed into law in March 2010, will increase costs, cause insurance premiums to rise and hurt the quality of health care.
They have especially taken issue with a key underpinning of the overhaul, an "individual mandate" requiring almost every US citizen to take out health insurance or be subject to a fine beginning January 1, 2014.
States have until December 14 to decide whether they want to set up health care exchanges that form one of the backbones of the Affordable Care Act -- or if they want the federal government to handle the matter.
These exchanges are meant to help those who will be required to purchase health insurance to choose between available plans and obtain information about subsidies.
If run properly, the exchanges can help lower costs for everyone by spreading the insurance risk and reducing the number of uninsured who end up racking up unpaid bills at hospital emergency rooms.
They also help insurance companies recover the cost of new rules -- also set to kick in on January 1, 2014 -- that will prevent them from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, increasing rates due to gender or health status, or placing annual caps on coverage.
"A lot of the reason we succeeded in Massachusetts is because we ran ads during Red Sox games telling people you have to sign up for health insurance," said John Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who helped design Obamacare and was a key architect of the northeastern state's 2006 reforms.
"The overall level of moral support of the enterprise -- which is pushing people to sign up, not undercutting the vision of the law -- that's something I'm worried about."
Another key aspect of the law that will be left up to states is whether to expand government-funded Medicaid programs that provide insurance to low-income children, adults, seniors and people with disabilities.
While federal funding will cover nearly all of the cost of expansion in the initial years, state budgets remain strained by the sluggish economy and some governors may reject the funding for political purposes.
"The politics are still percolating," said Andrew Hyman, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a health care advocacy group.
Efforts to repeal the law collapsed when Republicans failed to defeat Obama or take control of the US Senate in the November 6 election.
While some legal challenges remain, the law's core principles were upheld by the Supreme Court in June.
However, congressional Republicans can still use oversight powers to try to complicate implementation while governors will have even more stalling power.
"To do this right requires an all-out, full bore engagement on the part of the governor, and without that I do worry about what the states will be able to accomplish," Hyman told AFP.
"The road ahead is going to be difficult, but the great thing is we're making important strides and people who have been hurt in the past because of our broken system are going to be significantly better off when the law goes into full effect."
The Obama administration is quick to point out that millions of people have already been helped by aspects of the law that have already taken effect.
Children can no longer be denied coverage on their parent's plans due to pre-existing conditions.
Insurance companies can no longer place lifetime caps on coverage or withdraw coverage because of a simple mistake on their application form.
Some 3.1 million people got coverage after new rules required insurance companies to let them stay on their parent's plans until the age of 26, instead of losing coverage after they graduated from high school or college.
Seniors are getting reimbursed for some of their drug costs while insurance companies can no longer charge cost-sharing 'co-pays' for many preventative health care services.
Meanwhile, insurance companies have to justify significant rate hikes and must send out rebate checks if they spend more than 20 percent of their funds on administrative costs.
December 8, 2012New Taxes to Take Effect to Fund Health Care Law
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — For more than a year, politicians have been fighting over whether to raise taxes on high-income people. They rarely mention that affluent Americans will soon be hit with new taxes adopted as part of the 2010 health care law.
The new levies, which take effect in January, include an increase in the payroll tax on wages and a tax on investment income, including interest, dividends and capital gains. The Obama administration proposed rules to enforce both last week.
Affluent people are much more likely than low-income people to have health insurance, and now they will, in effect, help pay for coverage for many lower-income families. Among the most affluent fifth of households, those affected will see tax increases averaging $6,000 next year, economists estimate.
To help finance Medicare, employees and employers each now pay a hospital insurance tax equal to 1.45 percent on all wages. Starting in January, the health care law will require workers to pay an additional tax equal to 0.9 percent of any wages over $200,000 for single taxpayers and $250,000 for married couples filing jointly.
The new taxes on wages and investment income are expected to raise $318 billion over 10 years, or about half of all the new revenue collected under the health care law.
Ruth M. Wimer, a tax lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery, said the taxes came with “a shockingly inequitable marriage penalty.” If a single man and a single woman each earn $200,000, she said, neither would owe any additional Medicare payroll tax. But, she said, if they are married, they would owe $1,350. The extra tax is 0.9 percent of their earnings over the $250,000 threshold.
Since the creation of Social Security in the 1930s, payroll taxes have been levied on the wages of each worker as an individual. The new Medicare payroll is different. It will be imposed on the combined earnings of a married couple.
Employers are required to withhold Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes from wages paid to employees. But employers do not necessarily know how much a worker’s spouse earns and may not withhold enough to cover a couple’s Medicare tax liability. Indeed, the new rules say employers may disregard a spouse’s earnings in calculating how much to withhold.
Workers may thus owe more than the amounts withheld by their employers and may have to make up the difference when they file tax returns in April 2014. If they expect to owe additional tax, the government says, they should make estimated tax payments, starting in April 2013, or ask their employers to increase the amount withheld from each paycheck.
In the Affordable Care Act, the new tax on investment income is called an “unearned income Medicare contribution.” However, the law does not provide for the money to be deposited in a specific trust fund. It is added to the government’s general tax revenues and can be used for education, law enforcement, farm subsidies or other purposes.
Donald B. Marron Jr., the director of the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, said the burden of this tax would be borne by the most affluent taxpayers, with about 85 percent of the revenue coming from 1 percent of taxpayers. By contrast, the biggest potential beneficiaries of the law include people with modest incomes who will receive Medicaid coverage or federal subsidies to buy private insurance.
Wealthy people and their tax advisers are already looking for ways to minimize the impact of the investment tax — for example, by selling stocks and bonds this year to avoid the higher tax rates in 2013.
The new 3.8 percent tax applies to the net investment income of certain high-income taxpayers, those with modified adjusted gross incomes above $200,000 for single taxpayers and $250,000 for couples filing jointly.
David J. Kautter, the director of the Kogod Tax Center at American University, offered this example. In 2013, John earns $160,000, and his wife, Jane, earns $200,000. They have some investments, earn $5,000 in dividends and sell some long-held stock for a gain of $40,000, so their investment income is $45,000. They owe 3.8 percent of that amount, or $1,710, in the new investment tax. And they owe $990 in additional payroll tax.
The new tax on unearned income would come on top of other tax increases that might occur automatically next year if President Obama and Congress cannot reach an agreement in talks on the federal deficit and debt. If Congress does nothing, the tax rate on long-term capital gains, now 15 percent, will rise to 20 percent in January. Dividends will be treated as ordinary income and taxed at a maximum rate of 39.6 percent, up from the current 15 percent rate for most dividends.
Under another provision of the health care law, consumers may find it more difficult to obtain a tax break for medical expenses.
Taxpayers now can take an itemized deduction for unreimbursed medical expenses, to the extent that they exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. The health care law will increase the threshold for most taxpayers to 10 percent next year. The increase is delayed to 2017 for people 65 and older.
In addition, workers face a new $2,500 limit on the amount they can contribute to flexible spending accounts used to pay medical expenses. Such accounts can benefit workers by allowing them to pay out-of-pocket expenses with pretax money.
Taken together, this provision and the change in the medical expense deduction are expected to raise more than $40 billion of revenue over 10 years.
December 8, 2012Arithmetic on Taxes Shows Top Rate Is Just a Starting Point
By JACKIE CALMES
WASHINGTON — Despite hints in recent days that President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner might compromise on the tax rate to be paid by top earners, a host of other knotty tax questions could still derail a deal to avert a fiscal crisis in January.
The math shows why. Even if Republicans were to agree to Mr. Obama’s core demand — that the top marginal income rates return to the Clinton-era levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent after Dec. 31, rather than stay at the Bush-era rates of 33 percent and 35 percent — the additional revenue would be only about a quarter of the $1.6 trillion that Mr. Obama wants to collect over 10 years. That would be about half of the $800 billion that Republicans have said they would be willing to raise.
That calculation alone suggests the scope of the other major tax issues to be negotiated beyond tax rates. And that is why many people in both parties remain unsure that a deal will come together before Jan. 1. Without agreement, more than $500 billion in automatic tax increases on all Americans and cuts in domestic and military programs will take hold, which could cause a recession if left in place for months, economists say.
“The question is making sure that we hit a revenue target that’s required for a truly balanced deficit-reduction plan,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee. “And when the president and all of us say this is a question of math, we mean it. It’s very hard to make the numbers work without the top rates going back to the full Clinton-era levels.”
The top tax rates are taking center stage right now because Mr. Obama believes he won a mandate after campaigning relentlessly on the idea of extending Mr. Bush’s tax cuts only for households with annual income below $250,000. But the two parties also have ideological differences on taxes affecting savings, investment and inheritance, which have flared in battles going back to the Reagan years. To get a deal in the coming weeks, those differences must be addressed at least in broad terms, even if the details are left to a battle over revamping the tax code next year.
The argument over rates is far from settled. Although the two sides seem close enough on the percentages for easy compromise, principle and politics loom large: Republicans oppose raising rates as a matter of ideology, saying that it kills jobs, and the president insists that he will not keep the Bush-era rates on income above roughly $250,000 after two campaigns in which he vowed to return them to the levels of the Clinton years.
“Just to be clear, I’m not going to sign any package that somehow prevents the top rate from going up for folks at the top 2 percent,” he said Thursday.
In recent days, comments from some Republicans, including Mr. Boehner, their chief negotiator, have hinted that the party — recognizing its weak hand — might be moving toward a concession on tax rates. Seldom mentioned is that Mr. Obama’s revenue total also reflects four other changes from Bush-era tax cuts: higher tax rates on investment income from capital gains and dividends, and the restoration of two other Clinton-era provisions limiting deductions and tax exemptions for affluent individuals.
Together those changes would raise $407.4 billion over a decade — nearly as much as the president’s proposal on higher rates, which would raise $441.6 billion by 2023, for a total of $849 billion. Another $119 billion would come from higher estate taxes, opposed by Republicans and some Democrats.
And both the president and Republicans are committed to raising hundreds of billions of dollars by overhauling the tax code to further limit or end the tax breaks that high-income taxpayers can claim, though they differ in how to do that.
Republicans want to raise all $800 billion from overhauling the tax code, erasing tax breaks for high-income households and using the new revenues both to reduce deficits and to lower everyone’s tax rates. But they have not proposed how to do that, and the president insists it cannot be done without hitting middle-income taxpayers.
Mr. Obama has proposed to keep existing tax breaks but to limit the rate of those breaks for people in higher tax brackets to 28 percent, which would raise $584 billion in a decade. He has proposed variations of that proposal for four years, only to be ignored by both parties because of opposition from charitable groups, the housing industry, insurers and others to curbing deductions for charitable giving, mortgage insurance and other purposes.
Yet both parties seem poised to confront that opposition because they want a budget deal to commit Congress and the White House to overhaul the tax code next year. That is another reason Mr. Obama wants to have the top rates as high as possible: The lower the rates now, the harder it would be to raise revenues next year in overhauling the code.
Some Republicans inside and outside of Congress agree. “Actually, I would rather see the rates go up than do it the other way because it gives us greater chance to reform the tax code and broaden the base in the future,” Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, said last week.
Roughly splitting the difference on the top rates — settling at 35 percent and 37 percent — would collect nearly $200 billion over 10 years, under half the amount that would be raised if the rates reverted to Clinton-era levels, according to data from Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, research groups that advocate for a progressive tax code.
In the years of debate over the Bush tax cuts, which predates Mr. Obama’s first election, $800 billion has been the rough estimate for how much revenue could be raised in the first decade by ending them for the highest-income 2 percent of taxpayers. But most attention focused on the top rates, which account for half of the revenue equation.
The remainder would come from the other four tax changes for Americans with the highest income, two raising taxes on investment income from capital gains and dividends and two restoring restrictions on the itemized deductions and exemptions claimed by high earners.
Under Mr. Obama’s plan, the tax rates for long-term capital gains and dividends, now 15 percent, would revert to 20 percent for capital gains and to 39.6 percent for dividends, the same as for ordinary income. Republicans oppose the increases, and Senate Democrats oppose the proposed tax on dividends; their bill would tax both dividends and capital gains at 20 percent.
People in both parties say that the four tax issues can be readily worked out. Mr. Obama is widely expected to give ground on the main sticking point, the dividends tax. Yet that would mean roughly $100 billion less in additional revenue over 10 years than his current proposal for the higher dividend tax.
Another dispute is over estate and gift taxes. Here again Democrats are divided within as well as against Republicans, and big money is at stake — $118.8 billion through 2022 under Mr. Obama’s plan, or $143.3 billion counting assorted other adjustments.
Currently, a two-year-old bipartisan compromise holds that inheritances are taxed at 35 percent, with an exemption of $5 million for each spouse. On Jan. 1 that will revert to a 55 percent tax beyond the first $1 million of inheritance. Mr. Obama is seeking a middle-ground 45 percent rate beyond $3.5 million, but some Democrats from states with large farms and ranches favor lower estate taxes.
All of these tax issues await some agreement on the core issue of marginal rates. And a final accord on taxes rests on separate questions of spending being settled — Republicans will not give further on raising revenues until they know what Democrats will agree to by way of long-term reductions in spending for Medicare and other fast-growing entitlement benefit programs.
*********How a Fiscal Impasse, in 1990, Was Broken
Dec 9, 2012
WASHINGTON — Back when leaders led, followers followed and the news media made less noise, the commanding figures of American government retreated to Andrews Air Force Base to forge a bipartisan budget compromise.
That 11-day summit meeting failed — despite the threat of deep automatic spending cuts, and despite the top Republican’s acknowledgment that taxes had to go up.
A smaller group of negotiators later struck a deal inside the Capitol. That failed, too — defeated on the House floor by a coalition of liberal and conservative rebels.
History now recalls those events in the fall of 1990, and the agreement Congress eventually enacted, as the opening chapter of Washington’s long, successful climb out of the deficit hole of the 1980s. And they offer a perspective on the current stalemate between a White House and a Congress struggling to repeat that achievement.
“There is a flow to these things,” said William Hoagland, who was a top Senate Republican aide during the earlier negotiations. The bigger the deal, the greater the turbulence.
“There always seems to be little cooperation for a long time,” said Robert Reischauer, a Democrat who led the Congressional Budget Office then. “And then things come together relatively rapidly.”
That does not mean President Obama, Speaker John A. Boehner and other main players will succeed in achieving a consensus to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. Neither Mr. Hoagland nor Mr. Reischauer voice much optimism.
But the 1990 experience provides a reminder that high-stakes budget negotiations can sometimes include high-velocity shifts from despair to deliverance. The prospect of an across-the-board increase in tax rates and automatic spending cuts, which could tip the economy back into recession, and a potential showdown over the debt limit next year provide powerful incentives for a breakthrough.
Similar forces helped propel the deal in 1990. The talks began in spring as annual budget deficits, which had topped $200 billion before declining during the latter part of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, rose over that mark again under President George Bush.
A group of foreign central bankers visiting Washington warned Mr. Bush that he needed to strike a deal with the Democrats who controlled both houses of Congress. Without one, an earlier budget-reduction law was about to trigger automatic cuts even deeper than the so-called sequester looming now.
But the Republican president, long before Grover Norquist became famous, was hamstrung by his own unequivocal no-new-taxes pledge. Once Mr. Bush abandoned it — embracing higher revenues, though not higher rates, just as Mr. Boehner has — negotiations quickened.
Yet at the time the pace felt glacial. After talks in a Senate office building failed, participants moved to Andrews to escape the media spotlight.
Eventually, a smaller group of just eight negotiators, meeting in Speaker Thomas S. Foley’s office, produced a $500 billion deficit reduction package that included $134 billion in taxes and substantial cuts in Medicare. Then Republican conservatives, led by Representative Newt Gingrich, joined liberal Democrats in blowing it up.
After a six-month slog, the White House, offering fewer spending cuts and more tax increases, won over enough Democrats to enact it. “The final agreement was reached largely out of exhaustion and convenience,” former Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, said at a recent panel discussion.
By some measures, this White House and Congress ought to be able to move faster. Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner began their postelection discussions having gone through all the labor of their near-miss “grand bargain” talks last year.
The president’s chief of staff, Jacob J. Lew, has experience in fiscal negotiations, including the 1983 deal between Speaker Tip O’Neill and President Reagan on Social Security and the 1997 budget-balancing agreement between President Bill Clinton and Republicans.
But those eras were different. The two major parties were more ideologically disparate and less polarized. That extended from legislative leaders through the ranks of their staffs, which could quietly explore potential solutions with higher levels of trust and discretion.
“It allowed you to test things without risk” that premature publicity would quash them, said Sheila Burke, then the chief of staff for the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole.
As unwelcome as news coverage could be, it was a whisper compared with the nonstop 21st-century din on television and online. The talks took place as Mr. Bush prepared for war with Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait, substantially diverting public attention, whereas today the fiscal talks dominate the news.
The result: talks today combine louder public posturing with less-productive staff work behind the scenes.
“We’re facing a much tougher and more difficult challenge than we had in 1990,” Mr. Foley said at the panel discussion.
The Republican Party’s anti-tax wing is stronger now. No one has forgotten that President Bush lost his 1992 re-election bid after breaking his no-tax pledge.
Even two values that all parties should be able to agree on — transparency and accountability — represent new obstacles.
Staff members and interest groups alike have ready access to sophisticated analyses of tax and spending changes, which they can use to instantly mobilize opposition.
And memories of this fall’s campaign are still fresh. Though independent observers say a deal requires both Medicare cuts and higher taxes, Mr. Obama and Democrats ran as Medicare’s protectors, Republicans as unflinching foes of tax increases.
“The more details you have, the harder it is to reach agreement,” Mr. Reischauer said. And “we’ve just been through an election in which the members promised not to do what they have to do.”
December 8, 2012Clinton’s Countless Choices Hinge on One: 2016
By JODI KANTOR
You’re one of the most famous women on earth, and you’re jobless for the first time in decades. You’d like to make money, but you don’t want to rule out running for president. So what do you do all day?
Right now, aides and friends say, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plan looks like this: exit the State Department shortly after Inauguration Day and then seclude herself to rest and reflect on what she wants to do for the next few years. Those who have invited her for 2013 engagements have been told not to even ask again until April or May.
She and her husband would like to buy a house in the Hamptons or upstate New York, several friends said, and Mrs. Clinton will finally have more time for everyday activities like exercise (last summer, between world crises, she was squeezing in 6 a.m. sessions at a pool with a trainer).
She is likely to use her husband’s foundation as at least a temporary perch, several former aides said, and she has been considering a new book — not a painful examination of her failed 2008 presidential bid, as she once proposed, but a more upbeat look at her time as secretary of state.
For the moment, Mrs. Clinton may appear to be a figure of nearly limitless possibility, and her name has come up for prestigious jobs: president of Yale University, head of George Soros’s foundation. But being Hillary Clinton is never a simple matter, and her next few years are less a blank check than an equation with multiple variables. Her status is singular but complicated: half an ex-presidential partnership, a woman at the peak of her influence who will soon find herself without portfolio, and an instant presidential front-runner (a title that did not work out well last time).
Mrs. Clinton may find that her freedom comes with one huge constraint. The more serious she is about 2016, the less she can do — no frank, seen-it-all memoir; no clients, commissions or controversial positions that could prove problematic. She will be under heavy scrutiny even by Clinton standards, discovering what it means to be a supposedly private citizen in the age of Twitter. With the election four years away — a political eon — she will have to tend and protect her popularity, and she may find herself in a cushy kind of limbo, unable to make many decisions about her life until she makes the big one about another White House try.
“If you’re thinking about running for president, does that affect everything else?” asked former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York, who once agonized over the same choice and whose son Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo may find his own prospects shaped by what Mrs. Clinton decides. “Yes. Once you make your decision, everything clears up.”
Still, Mrs. Clinton faces some immediate choices, which nearly two dozen current and former aides, friends and donors described:
¶ Should she team up with her husband again?
Last summer, Bill Clinton expressed doubt about whether his wife would join forces with him at the foundation that bears his name. “She has to decide what’s best for her,” he said in an interview. “It might be better for her and she might have a bigger impact if she has a separate operation.”
The question is a fraught one. The climactic moment of Mrs. Clinton’s career came in 2000, when after years of supporting her husband’s campaigns and jobs, she struck out as a solo artist. Would rejoining his team be a step backward? Many aides said no. “She’s revered and admired as her own person,” said Lissa Muscatine, her longtime adviser.
Still, some former aides said it was difficult to imagine Mrs. Clinton comfortable at the foundation in its current form. It is organized entirely around the former president, the endowment is small, and even supporters acknowledge that it lacks the organization of, say, the Gates Foundation. The group has made strides lately, with a new director of fund-raising and more involvement from Chelsea Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton could do a trial run there, “testing the structure,” as one former aide put it. That way, she would have a home for the longtime advisers who are expected to stay with her. And by joining her husband’s operation, she could save the considerable time, money and effort it would take to start her own — which might be disbanded anyway if she runs in 2016.
¶ Should she do what she wants or what makes the most political sense?
Of all the issues Mrs. Clinton has worked on over the years, the one nearest her heart is improving the status of women and children around the world. As the first lady of Arkansas, she brought Dr. Muhammad Yunus, later a Nobel Peace Prize winner, to set up a microlending program there. She turned her tenure as secretary of state into a sustained argument that women’s welfare is central to security and economic stability, championing projects like milk cooperatives in Malawi and support networks for self-employed women in India. Now her desire is to be “a professional advocate,” as her daughter put it to a reporter.
Ann Lewis, a longtime adviser, echoed that. “In the last four years, she has seen firsthand the difference she can make for women and girls,” she said.
But even if Mrs. Clinton returns full time to her activist feminist roots, it is not yet clear exactly where she would begin: the topic is diffuse by its very nature. Nor is a campaign for, say, safer cookstoves in China the obvious way to win over voters in Iowa — and her work could touch on issues, including reproductive health, that could prove sensitive.
But former aides say that Mrs. Clinton drew a lesson from her 2008 run: she believes that the country approves of her, and of female candidates in general, when they appear to be serving others rather than seeking power out of personal ambition. By that logic, Mrs. Clinton’s interest in helping poor women around the world would not hurt her politically in 2016 and might add to her current politician-above-politics luster.
Her former aides also agree that she was too cautious in the early months of her last campaign and hurt herself by hiding her real passions. Regardless of whether she runs, telling Mrs. Clinton not to focus on women would be like “telling Al Gore not to talk about the environment,” said Paul Begala, a longtime adviser to Mr. Clinton. (Mr. Gore did not always emphasize his knowledge on the subject in 2000, which later looked unwise.)
¶ What is the most dignified way for her to make money?
Being a Clinton is expensive, and when the former secretary leaves office, she’ll want a staff and the ability to travel on private planes, friends say. The Clintons — who already own costly homes in Washington and Chappaqua, N.Y. — love renting in the Hamptons in the summer, according to friends, and buying their own home there could easily run well into the seven figures. Though friends say Mrs. Clinton could easily make a lot of money at a law firm, advising foreign countries on geopolitical risk, or at an investment bank or a private equity firm, none of those pursuits would be likely to wear well in a presidential campaign.
Instead, Mrs. Clinton is expected to take on lucrative speaking engagements — maybe even joint speeches with her husband, which could command record prices — and write one or more books. After she lost in 2008, she was on the cusp of signing with her old publishing house, Simon & Schuster, for a book about her failed bid, for slightly less than the $8 million advance she earned for her 2003 memoir, “Living History,” according to someone involved in the negotiations. In meetings to discuss the book, that person recalled, she was quite critical of Mr. Obama. But then he drafted her for his Cabinet — and it is unclear if she will ever share her true feelings about that race.
¶ How should she navigate the nonstop speculation about 2016?
For her last presidential run, Mrs. Clinton declared her candidacy nearly two years before Election Day — but the timing did not feel right to her, because it made the race endless, say former aides who hint she would wait much longer if she made a bid again.
The enormously disciplined Mrs. Clinton has stuck to the same story in public and private: She’s not running. That is what she told Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and an old friend, when she and her family dined with him recently, according to Mr. Wiesel. Others close to her emphasize that no one knows otherwise, not even Mrs. Clinton herself. “Be very wary of those pretending to bear actual knowledge,” said Philippe Reines, her State Department spokesman.
Bill Clinton, however, sometimes cannot keep himself from verbally gaming out another campaign for her, said a friend who recently spent time with him. “Every indication is that he would really want her to run,” the friend said.
The speculation is not without its advantages. If Mrs. Clinton is not running, she is a widely respected figure whose chief accomplishments are mostly behind her; if she may be running, she glows with White House and historic potential. “Nobody interacts with Hillary Clinton like she’s fading off into the sunset,” Mr. Reines said.
Michael Barbaro and Amy Chozick contributed reporting.
December 7, 2012Dinosaurs and Denial
By CHARLES M. BLOW
Finally, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida — a Tea Party darling and possible 2016 presidential candidate — admits that dinosaurs and humans didn’t co-exist.
Last month, when GQ asked Rubio “how old do you think the Earth is?” he stammered through an answer.
“I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says. I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians.” He continued, “Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.”
This week, in an interview with Politico, he attempted to mop up that mess.
He said, “There is no scientific debate on the age of the Earth. I mean, it’s established pretty definitively. It’s at least 4.5 billion years old.”
But then he hedged: “I just think in America we should have the freedom to teach our children whatever it is we believe. And that means teaching them science. They have to know the science, but also parents have the right to teach them the theology and to reconcile those two things.”
Why the hedge? Because he is in a party of creationists. According to a June Gallup report, most Republicans (58 percent) believed that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Most Democrats and independents did not agree.
This anti-intellectualism is antediluvian. No wonder a 2009 Pew Research Center report found that only 6 percent of scientists identified as Republican and 9 percent identified as conservative.
Furthermore, a 2005 study found that just 11 percent of college professors identified as Republican and 15 percent identified as conservative. Some argue that this simply represents a liberal bias in academia. But just as strong a case could be made that people who absorb facts easily don’t suffer fools gladly.
Last month, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said on CNN:
“We need to stop being the dumb party. We need to offer smart, conservative, intelligent ideas and policies.”
This is exactly the kind of turn the Republicans need to take, but Jindal’s rhetoric doesn’t completely line up with his record. As The Scotsman of Edinburgh reported in June, “Pupils attending privately run Christian schools in the southern state of Louisiana will learn from textbooks next year, which claim Scotland’s most famous mythological beast is a living creature.” That mythological beast would be the Loch Ness monster.
The Scotsman continued: “Thousands of children are to receive publicly funded vouchers enabling them to attend the schools — which follow a strict fundamentalist curriculum. The Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) programme teaches controversial religious beliefs, aimed at disproving evolution and proving creationism. Youngsters will be told that if it can be proved that dinosaurs walked the Earth at the same time as man, then Darwinism is fatally flawed.”
This is all because of a law that Jindal signed. Thankfully, last week a state judge ruled that the voucher program is unconstitutional. But Louisiana isn’t the only red state where creationism has state support.
Kentucky has a Creationist Museum that warns visitors to “be prepared to experience history in a completely unprecedented way,” according to its Web site. It continues: “Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden. Children play and dinosaurs roam near Eden’s Rivers.” Unprecedented is certainly one word for it.
Now the museum group is planning to build a creationist theme park, with $43 million in state tax incentives. It should be noted that Mitt Romney won Kentucky by 23 points last month. President Obama won only four of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
And the beginning of the world isn’t the only point of denial. So is the potential end of it. A March Gallup poll found that Republicans were much less likely than Democrats or independents to say that they worried about global warming. Only 16 percent of Republicans said that they worried a great deal about it, while 42 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents did.
This as the National Climatic Data Center reported that “the January-November period was the warmest first 11 months of any year on record for the contiguous United States, and for the entire year, 2012 will most likely surpass the current record (1998, 54.3°F) as the warmest year for the nation.”
Surely some of this is because of party isolationism and extremism and what David Frum, the conservative columnist, called the “conservative entertainment complex.” But there is also willful ignorance at play in some quarters, and Republicans mustn’t simply brush it aside. They must beat it back.
If the Republicans don’t want to see their party go the way of the dinosaurs, they have to step out of the past.
December 8, 2012‘Famous’ Wolf Is Killed Outside Yellowstone
By NATE SCHWEBER
Yellowstone National Park’s best-known wolf, beloved by many tourists and valued by scientists who tracked its movements, was shot and killed on Thursday outside the park’s boundaries, Wyoming wildlife officials reported.
The wolf, known as 832F to researchers, was the alpha female of the park’s highly visible Lamar Canyon pack and had become so well known that some wildlife watchers referred to her as a “rock star.” The animal had been a tourist favorite for most of the past six years.
The wolf was fitted with a $4,000 collar with GPS tracking technology, which is being returned, said Daniel Stahler, a project director for Yellowstone’s wolf program. Based on data from the wolf’s collar, researchers knew that her pack rarely ventured outside the park, and then only for brief periods, Dr. Stahler said.
This year’s hunting season in the northern Rockies has been especially controversial because of the high numbers of popular wolves and wolves fitted with research collars that have been killed just outside Yellowstone in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Wolf hunts, sanctioned by recent federal and state rules applying to the northern Rockies, have been fiercely debated in the region. The wolf population has rebounded since they were reintroduced in the mid-1990s to counter their extirpation a few years earlier.
Many ranchers and hunters say the wolf hunts are a reasonable way to reduce attacks on livestock and protect big game populations.
This fall, the first wolf hunts in decades were authorized in Wyoming. The wolf killed last week was the eighth collared by researchers that was shot this year after leaving the park’s boundary.
The deaths have dismayed scientists who track wolves to study their habits, population spread and threats to their survival. Still, some found 832F’s death to be particularly disheartening.
“She is the most famous wolf in the world,” said Jimmy Jones, a wildlife photographer who lives in Los Angeles and whose portrait of 832F appears in the current issue of the magazine American Scientist.
Wildlife advocates say that the wolf populations are not large enough to withstand state-sanctioned harvests and that the animals attract tourist money. Yellowstone’s scenic Lamar Valley has been one of the most reliable places to view wolves in the northern Rockies, and it attracts scores of visitors every year.