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Friday Talking Points [162] -- Budget Standoff Continues

This whole government shutdown walk-to-the-brink-and-stare-into-the-abyss thing is nothing more than the warmup for the next budgetary battles -- which will be.
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The American media lost interest in the war in Libya faster than they've ever done so before, not to even mention the eerie radioactive glow emanating from the milk aisle back home in West Coast grocery stores. Instead, they have been going bonkers all week over the prospect of a government shutdown situation. Will a deal be reached? Will the government shutdown? Will the media enjoy the living heck out of the whole thing? Yes! They will! And why shouldn't they? Their comfortable salaries, after all, are in no way dependent upon the Small Business Administration being open to help them with loans.

Sigh. What's depressing about the whole thing, to me at least, is how the entire knock-down-drag-out fight is merely the preliminary round. This whole government shutdown walk-to-the-brink-and-stare-into-the-abyss thing is nothing more than the warmup for the next budgetary battles -- which will be much bigger. The entire initial fight is about staking out ground for the next two fights -- raising the debt ceiling, and the 2012 budget. Nobody involved -- not the Tea Party Republicans, not President Obama, not John Boehner, not Harry Reid -- really cares all that much about how this particular round ends up. They're all stuck thinking: "If I give in now, they'll want more later" -- and they're all entirely correct.

But this is going to be a marathon, and not a sprint. Much to the media's glee, no doubt.

Because there's going to be plenty of time to hash the whole thing out later, and because anything written about it now is going to be stale after midnight tonight (no matter which way it goes), and most importantly because we here at this column are dedicated to fixing our mistakes (when we make them and realize it), today's introduction to the talking points is going to be entirely self-referential. Take that, mainstream media! Heh.

Two weeks ago in this space, we ran a contest to come up with a better name for the war in Libya than what the Pentagon had managed ("Operation Odyssey Dawn"). One week ago in this space, we plumb forgot to pick the winners and announce them (oops!). Which brings us to this week, and to the winners of our "Name That War!" contest (woo hoo!). All of our winners will receive absolutely nothing, other than the usual bragging rights in the comments section. Our entries came from various different sources, so click on the links to see the original commentary.

Many people picked up on the acronym aspect, including a few entries who tried to use the original "OOD" acronym. But before we get to the winners, we have to highlight the funniest comment the contest generated. It is slightly "blue," so you should cover your children's eyes until you finish reading the next paragraph. All set? OK, here goes.

Commenter nessus at the Huffington Post wrote, in what wasn't exactly a contest entry, but still the funniest comment: "Look on the bright side; If it was a Republican war it would be called something like Operation Steely Throbbing Penis Of Doom." Heh. Since this was not a true entry, though, we have deemed it ineligible for awards (even if it was the most amusing overall).

Commenter standard also at The Huffington Post, came up with several twisted acronym-inspired war names, and deserves an Honorable Mention for "Longest Acronym Attempt" with his entry:

"Armed Retributory Might Against Gadaffi (European Defense Departments Overcommitted Now)."

Also from Huffington Post, commenter bernusdellus deserves an Honorable Mention for "Funniest Acronym" for his or her entry:

"Freedom Uniting [the] Broader Arab Region"

Commenter nypoet22 over at posted one entry that was hilarious, but he wins our overall Runner-Up prize for this entry -- which was the absolute best acronym suggestion in the whole contest, because it sums a lot about this war up very nicely:

"Operation Independent Libya"

But our overall winner for the "Name That War" contest came from a commenter over at Democratic Underground. Commenter geckosfeet came up with what our judges felt was the best overall entry, even if it wasn't acronym-inspired. It has a certain amount of irony, and can be read in either positive or negative ways, depending on your own position on the war. So, without further ado... drumroll please... the entry from geckosfeet which won the Grand Prize is:

"The Nobel Peace Prize War"

Thanks to everyone for playing, no matter what site you posted your entry on!

With that out of the way, let's get on to our usual weekly awards, and then attempt to write some talking points that will retain relevancy past midnight.

Wisconsin just had an election for a seat on their state Supreme Court. This was the first election (in a string of what could be many) after the governor got his anti-Union bill through, and the winner of this election may tilt the balance when the case is heard. Early returns showed a miniscule lead for the Democratic challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg, but now a county clerk has announced a whole bunch of "forgotten" votes for the Republican, so how this turns out is anyone's guess. But whether Kloppenburg emerges victorious or not, Wisconsin Democrats deserve an Honorable Mention for such a strong showing. The Republican was expected (before the Union fight blew up) to skate to victory, and Kloppenburg was given no chance at all of winning. Multiple counties where state legislative recall efforts are progressing voted Democratic, a switch from the governor's recent election. All of this bodes well for the future, and the Unions and the Democrats in Wisconsin who are making it all happen deserve some recognition for their efforts.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, or "DWS" (as I like to call her), was named this week by President Obama to chair the Democratic National Committee. I wrote earlier this week why I thought this was such a great choice, but she at least deserves an Honorable Mention here today.

But the real winner of our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award is none other than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. All week long, Reid was quite obviously the person responsible for "drawing a line in the sand" in the budget negotiations. Reid's television appearances have (as usual) been about as exciting as watching paint dry, no matter what he's saying (the man gives "monotone" new meaning, to put it mildly). But, behind the scenes, Reid is the one saying "No" to outrageous Republican demands. Barack Obama got involved personally in the negotiations this week, but he largely staked out the position that he was the "only adult in the room" trying to restrain those partisan, bickering children. Obama did issue a veto threat or two this week (a rarity, for him), but throughout the week Reid has obviously been the one fighting for Democratic principles on the ideological "riders" that Republicans are insisting upon. I'd feel a lot less certain of Planned Parenthood's continued funding if Reid weren't around, in other words.

For showing a great deal of backbone this week, considering the enormous pressure he must be facing at this point to do otherwise, Harry Reid is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week. Keep fighting, Harry!

[Congratulate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

Democratic insider Mark Penn wrote a very silly column (without intending to) over at Huffington Post this week, which Salon then ripped a big hole in. But such frippery doesn't seem to sink to the level of even a (Dis-)Honorable Mention, in our humble opinion.

This week, we're going to hold off on awarding the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week, because we may have to award it later on tonight, depending on what happens in the budget fracas. If a deal is struck which is completely odious, then nothing which happened previously this week is going to count for much. Check back in the comments at my site later, to see whether we have handed out the MDDOTW award or not.

Volume 161 (4/8/11)

The funniest thing I've seen all week was over at the Washington Post, where they looked to the future and created a "Government Shutdown Blame Chart" which is worth a laugh, if you're sitting there obsessively checking the headlines tonight and don't have anything better to do.

If you do find yourself in the position of reading wonky articles late into the night, here's a much more serious one that is worth your while.

Or you can keep reading these talking points, which I have to admit were written with less than six hours until midnight on the East Coast, with no deal yet announced. As stated, these might be outdated by the time you read them, although we've tried to focus more on the bigger picture, with over half the talking points dedicated to the Paul Ryan 2012 Republican budget plan.

Caveats in place, let's get on with it.

Democrats willing to compromise, Republicans are not

This is a very strong argument to use, if the government shutdown actually takes place, and we move immediately into the "Finger-Pointing Blame Game" phase. Democrats have the best case to make on this, even if the Republicans (particularly the Tea Party Republicans) haven't figured this out yet.

"Congressional Democrats have offered numerous compromises in the budget negotiations. We split in half the number the Republicans were asking for, and then we even increased it a bit. During the entire negotiating process, the Republicans offered nothing by way of a compromise. The Republican Party should just go ahead and rename itself the Tea Party, because that is who is in charge, obviously. The American people want Congress to do their job, and with one party holding each house, that means compromise is inevitable if you want to get anything done. Democrats offered compromise after compromise, Republicans refused to even consider the idea. I think the American people want their government to function, but with the extreme wing of the Republican Party running the show, that is looking less and less likely."

Is this what you voted for?

Democrats also need to very clearly point out what the real issues are with the Republicans. It's not about the deficit. It's about ideology. Make this connection as often as you can.

"Republicans are holding the budget hostage not over what number the two parties can agree upon. If this were actually only about the budget and the deficit, we could have had a deal days ago. When Republicans ran for office last year, they made much out of the concept of Democrats using one bill to attach lots of partisan issues that couldn't pass on their own merit. They swore up and down they wouldn't do this, and would offer up only clean bills. But now, Republicans are holding up our nation's budget because of an extreme stance on abortion and because they want to gut the Environmental Protection Agency. Is this what the American public voted for last fall? Is this what you voted for, America? A 'my way or the highway' extremism? Republicans need to get rid of the riders on social hot-button issues, and work with Democrats to pass a reasonable budget compromise."

"At least we can still go broke"

Alan Grayson has his own wonderful take on the whole subject, which is worth reading in full. As a matter of fact, his whole article should have been our "talking points" this week, now that we think about it.

Seniors will pay more -- a LOT more -- with only vouchers

Moving along, Democrats need to take aim at the budget released by House Republican budget "guru" Paul Ryan. This budget is simply stunning in the breadth of targets it presents to Democrats. Really, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. All Democrats have to do is point out the reality of Ryan's plan to the voting public. Over and over again. The first, biggest, best issue is the cuts to Medicare, of course. But I've noticed that Democrats haven't been doing a very good job of framing this. I've seen Democrats talk about "increasing the risk borne by seniors" and other such obtuse phrasing. Don't be coy, guys and gals. Put it into one-syllable words. Like "pay," for instance. And use the word "voucher" as often as you can, because it really gets under Ryan's skin (for some reason).

"Under the Ryan voucher plan for Medicare, seniors will pay more for medical coverage. They'll actually pay a lot more money. It's going to cost seniors dollars they do not have to get worse coverage than they would under Medicare. Instead of guaranteeing them lifetime medical care with far less hassle and far less cost, Republicans want to hand them a set voucher amount and say 'Good luck!' while seniors are forced to deal with private medical insurance for the rest of their lives. And they'll have to pay for the privilege of getting worse coverage -- they'll have to pay a LOT more. Democrats need to stand firm against Ryan's plan to privatize Medicare."

Republicans want to slash medical care for the disabled and poor

I'd lean strongly on the "disabled" part of this, personally. It's an easier case to make to the public.

"Republicans are also slashing funding for medical care for America's disabled population and the safety net for the poor. They're actually proposing that it no longer be a right for the disabled to get medical care in this country, as well. Republicans tried to terrify America with the specter of 'death panels' last year, and they incredibly tried to present themselves as the savior of Medicaid and Medicare. That was then, this is now. Republicans don't even want to bother with 'death panels' it seems -- they're willing to just tell millions of the most vulnerable Americans all at once that their best option will now be to crawl off into the woods and die. Because that is exactly what will happen under the Republican 'block grants' which allow states to kick anyone off the Medicaid rolls they feel like."

The American people want to tax millionaires

This cannot be stressed enough. A poll which presented Americans with a list of dozens of possible options to solve the federal budget problems showed -- with crystal clarity -- how out of touch Republicans are. So point it out, every chance you get!

"I'm astonished how far out of the mainstream the Ryan budget proposal truly is. When Americans were polled by the Wall Street Journal recently -- not exactly a hotbed of Liberalism -- out of a list of two dozen options to reduce our federal deficit, the answer an overwhelming majority of the American public gave as their favorite was to tax the millionaires and billionaires more. Over eight in ten Americans -- 81 percent -- favored that idea. Paul Ryan's budget would actually lower taxes on millionaires, shifting more of the tax burden to the middle class. This is so far out of the mainstream, it's not even in the water anymore. So please stop using the phrase 'what the American people want' because the American people have spoken quite clearly -- and they want to tax the rich, not hand them more tax breaks."

By all means, let's vote on Ryan's budget!

Paul Abrams at the Huffington Post has been consistently beating this drum for a while, and he is right -- it is an excellent idea. Pin the Republicans down on the Ryan budget. Get them all on record. Get a solid vote in the House, and then introduce the Ryan plan as-is in the Senate, and force all the Republican senators to vote on it, too. Politically, the ads for next year just write themselves. If Democrats were smart, they'd remove all procedural hurdles to holding an up-or-down vote in the House and Senate and call the Republican bluff. It'll never pass the Senate, and even if by some Blue Dog miracle it did, Obama would never sign it, so it's risk-free for the Democrats to nail down Republicans on Ryan's extreme budget. Abrams puts it better than I have, however, so we'll just end here today with an excerpt from his most recent call to hold votes on the Ryan budget:

I also urged the relevant committees to hold hearings. Big hearings. Televised hearings. Letting both policy experts and people from all walks of life who would be impacted by the Ryan budget testify. Build a record.

And, have the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation score it.

Then, bring it to a vote. Today, in part because the Democrats did not bring the Ryan budget to a vote before the midterms, and thus allowed Republicans to speak in vague generalities about cutting the deficit and failed to show what Republicans intended to do to the country, the Democrats control only the Senate -- and that only because Republicans ran some raving loonies in Delaware, Colorado and Nevada.

So, Senate Democrats were given a reprieve. Now, they need to bring the Ryan budget to a vote. Record carefully how each of the Republicans up for re-election in '12 and '14 votes. And then, challenge the House to do the same.

This year, bringing the Ryan budget to a vote also enables the president to get each one of his potential opponents on the record as to how they would have voted on it and, if passed, whether they, as president, would have signed it.

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