The February jobs report is out, and -- once again -- Obamacare has failed to kill all those jobs Republicans warned us about. But we'll get to all of that later, in the talking points, so you'll just have to wait for that.
Before we do get to how good the job market has become, let's take a quick spin around the rest of the week's political news. There were three major stories vying for media attention this week, so let's take a look at them first.
Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu gave a campaign speech to Israel's citizens this week, an event which normally wouldn't have gotten much press coverage in America, except for the venue he was offered (which might be called "the world's biggest hustings"): the United States Congress. Most American media utterly failed to grasp what was really going on (Bibi giving a speech to win re-election as prime minister), which was kind of astonishing because it was really staring everyone in the face. All you had to do was look at the timing of the speech. If, as Republicans maintain, the speech was given for the benefit of the American people, then why was it scheduled so it could appear on prime-time television in Israel? Why wasn't it given in the evening in Washington, when American networks could choose to broadcast it live? The answer is obvious: because that's not really what the speech was about. It was given on Israeli time to an Israeli audience, because it simply wouldn't have had the same domestic impact if Bibi had spoken in the middle of the night, Tel Aviv time.
As for the content of the speech, Fareed Zakaria has been doing the best job of deconstructing Netanyahu's speech, pointing out the fact that he's been ringing the same exact alarm bell for a quarter-century now -- the last time Netanyahu spoke to Congress, he warned Iran was "extremely close" to getting the bomb, and warned: "Ladies and gentlemen, time is running out. This is not a slogan. This is not an overstatement." That was in 1996. Zakaria also helpfully pointed out this week that Bibi had pretty much no plan for what would happen next if the talks collapsed and no pact was reached, which is also well worth a read.
The second big story was essentially buried by the first. On the very same day Netanyahu spoke in the morning from the House podium (again: in the morning, for the benefit of the Israeli television schedule), John Boehner completely caved on the big fight over the Department of Homeland Security's budget. He got his caucus together and told them that anything other than passing a clean bill was nothing more than the sheerest delusional fantasy, which (predictably) annoyed all the Republican House members who are incapable of understanding what "not having a veto-proof majority" actually means. But Boehner was smart in his timing, you'll have to admit, because forcing the bill through right after the Netanyahu speech meant it received far less attention on that evening's news. This dampened the attention given to Democrats, who have known all along that passing a clean bill was the only possible option open to congressional Republicans in this particular fight. In the end -- just as everyone expected -- a bill passed with all Democrats and over 70 Republicans voting for it.
After the bill was signed by President Obama, even Ted Cruz (of all people) admitted the entire exercise had been folly all along:
Unfortunately, [the Republican] leadership's plan was never to win this fight. Since December, the outcome has been baked in the cake. It was abundantly clear to anyone watching that leadership in both houses intended to capitulate on the fight against amnesty. It was a strategy doomed to failure. It's an old adage in Washington: Never take a hostage you're not prepared to shoot. There was no chance, zero, that Republicans were going to fail to fund the Department of Homeland Security because Republicans care deeply about homeland security.
Which is, of course, what Democrats have been saying since Republicans demanded to have this fight in the first place. But lest you think Cruz has suddenly seen the light on the stupidity of holding hostages during such negotiations, he suggested instead choosing a different hostage next time: "[We] should have focused on the EPA, or the IRS or the Department of Labor. Now, those are departments which a majority would be prepared to allow funding to temporarily expire in order to use as leverage."
These next fights might come sooner than anyone thinks, Huffington Post reports, as the freshman hardliners in the GOP are eyeing "a transportation funding debate, a mid-year fight over the future of the Export-Import Bank, and a battle over raising the debt limit and approving a budget" to stage their next legislative tantrums. Not to suggest that the GOP is incapable of doing anything but lurching from self-induced crisis to self-induced crisis, mind you.
The third big news story out of Washington was the Supreme Court hearing another Obamacare case. I'm not going to try to wrap up all the analysis, but it looked pretty good for Obamacare winning another court victory. As Richard Kirsch helpfully pointed out, we should start using feline terms to describe Obamacare, because it now truly has had nine lives.
Republicans continue to insist (as indeed they have been doing for 50 months, now, since January of 2011) that should the Supremes rule against Obamacare, they'll have a plan in place to replace it before anything bad could actually happen. Some Republicans came up with a brilliant plan -- they'll just continue to insist that they've got a plan, over and over again, until people believe that it exists. Other Republicans are more fond of extolling the unidentified "freedom" of their non-existent plans. Ted Cruz, to his credit, actually put forward a bill -- more than any other Republicans have managed to accomplish, although the Cruz bill essentially just says "we'll return to the pre-Obamacare days except insurance will be sold across state lines, which will magically solve everything." Can't wait for the budget office to score that one, personally. But, ridicule aside, at least Cruz has the courage of his convictions, while all other Republicans are content to just chant the endless mantra "we've got a plan," until they're blue in the face. Instead of, you know, actually proposing a plan or anything.
OK, that's it for the big news. We'll quickly run through a few things you may have missed in the past week, and then get to the awards and talking points. And because we're already running long, we're going to use a bit of shorthand from this point on.
After Netanyahu's speech, Lindsey Graham stayed classy by personally attacking Nancy Pelosi for her looks. He did eventually apologize, sort of.
President Obama's third veto was upheld, as the Senate failed to overturn it with only 62 votes for the Keystone XL pipeline. This, remember, was the bill Republicans moved first because they thought they might be able to beat the expected Obama veto. Which means all the other ones they've got lined up are weaker -- which bodes well for the power of Obama's veto pen.
There was another important Supreme Court case heard, on gerrymandering, which didn't get the attention it deserved. States such as Arizona and California have had popular revolts against the partisan drawing of House district lines, and have instituted a non-partisan panel to redistrict the state every ten years. But this experiment to get rid of gerrymandering is now in danger of being declared unconstitutional.
There seems to be a group of triangulating "new Democrats" out there (in the mold of the old Democratic Leadership Council or perhaps the Blue Dogs) itching to push back on the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party, apparently. The big question is which way Hillary Clinton will jump, of course.
The Alabama state Supreme Court announced it was more powerful than the entire federal court system on gay marriage, continuing to stand in the courthouse door over the issue. Stay tuned for further developments.
But, surprisingly, the most anti-gay political news is not out of the Deep South this week, but instead out of California, where a lawyer has paid his fee to put his initiative on the ballot for voters to decide. It is quite possibly the most odious legislation we have ever seen, which really takes some doing. The text of the ballot measure repeatedly refers to "sodomites" (it's even called the "Sodomite Suppression Act") and would institute a new penalty into California law:
Seeing that it is better that offenders should die rather than that all of us should be killed by God's just wrath against us for the folly of tolerating wickedness in our midst, the People of California wisely command, in the fear of God, that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.
It goes on to say that, should the state government fail to properly act, the citizens of the state could take it upon themselves to go around shooting gay people in the head, without fear of any legal penalty for doing so. Read the whole thing, it's absolutely breathtaking in its medievalism. Thankfully, though, he's got to gather 350,000 signatures to qualify the measure, which is not likely to happen.
That seems a good lead-in to note the fact that this week saw not only the 50th anniversary of the Selma march, but also the 100th anniversary of one of the most influential movies ever made (and, quite possibly, the most racist movie of all time). Yes, it's been a century since Birth of a Nation was screened at the White House for Woodrow Wilson (who approved of the movie, it's worth noting). This film gave birth to a new resurgence in the Ku Klux Klan, and even introduced the ritual of burning crosses to the organization.
In drug news, the "Cocaine Congressman" is back! He's opened an office to help other politicians navigate crises. Talk about the "voice of experience," eh?
Washington D.C. held a marijuana exposition, and the sky did not fall. Out in Utah, however, the Drug Enforcement Agency is apparently fighting hard to rid the land of the scourge of stoned bunnies (you cannot make this stuff up, folks!).
And we'll end with a much happier birthday -- this week marked the 226th anniversary of constitutional government in America. Yes, the first Congress under the United States Constitution gathered in New York City at Federal Hall. Unfortunately, they did absolutely nothing the first day. They couldn't, because only 22 of the 81 members showed up, and they didn't have a quorum. Another month would go by before Congress actually did anything. Starting a grand tradition of inaction (and long vacation breaks) in America. Happy 226th birthday, Congress!
We're going to go outside our regular zone this week, and award the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to a man who is not exactly a politician. Instead, he's a lawyer tasked with the responsibility of defending the executive branch's position in court.
Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. is this week's MIDOTW award-winner, for doing a much better job arguing the case for President Obama's interpretation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court than he did the last time around. In the previous case, in 2012, Verrilli was roundly criticized for his oral arguments, and for a while there it looked like he personally had doomed the case. This did not turn out to be the case, of course, but that didn't stop a whole lot of people from assuming it at the time (we even awarded him that week's MDDOTW, back in FTP , for his performance).
This time around, Verrilli did a much better job, from all accounts. He made persuasive arguments to both sides of the court, and earned a fair amount of praise for his efforts. Now, obviously, predicting the outcome of cases based solely upon oral arguments is a fool's game (just look at the last Obamacare case), because the high court takes much more into account than just what is said in the courtroom.
Even so, for admirably handling himself under an enormous amount of political pressure, Donald Verrilli turned in a very impressive performance indeed. By doing so, he went a long way towards redeeming himself for his earlier, less-impressive Obamacare arguments. Which is why he is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.
[Congratulate Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. on his Justice Department contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]
This week saw an amusing milestone -- the first "Hillary is toast!" meme that went skittering around the cocktail party circuit inside the Beltway. Or perhaps, upon reflection, it doesn't qualify for "the first," since there was all that whispering back when she went on a book tour.
We can all look forward to dozens upon dozens of instances of this storyline cropping up over the next year or so, of course. They will all be presented as "scandals" and our guess is that none of them are going to affect Hillary's standing with the public much, if at all. So in our opinion, the whole email foofaroo doesn't even qualify Clinton for a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award. Colin Powell used a private email, and so did Hillary. So what's the problem? Sheesh.
However, we are going to have to go out on a limb somewhat when handing out this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. As is our custom, we fully reserve the right to retract this award later if legal vindication is achieved (it's always risky giving these awards for anything short of a full conviction in court or a full confession).
Even so, Senator Bob Menendez appears to be in quite a bit of hot water. The Department of Justice has leaked that it's about to bring criminal corruption charges against Menendez, for favors he performed for a friend of his, who also happened to be a big donor.
Once again, if the case falls apart and Menendez is vindicated, we will issue a formal apology and retraction. But for the time being, the magnitude of the situation was such that nobody else really was in the running for Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.
[Contact Senator Bob Menendez on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]
Volume 338 (3/6/15)
Another month of good jobs numbers for Democrats to talk about. That's really all the intro this week's talking points need, come to think of it.
Almost 300,000 new jobs
Let's just start with the top-line numbers, shall we?
"Last month the American economy added 295,000 jobs, which beat the Wall Street expectations. When Barack Obama took office, our economy was losing 750,000 jobs per month, but now we just gained almost 300,000 jobs in a single month. Month after month brings good news on the economy, which makes it harder and harder for Republicans to spin things pessimistically. In spite of all their attempts to sabotage the recovery, the American economy keeps moving forward in the Obama years. I notice that the Republican candidates for president out on the campaign trail don't much want to talk about the economy anymore, because despite all their gloom-and-doom predictions, the recovery continues apace. Almost 300,000 American families are enjoying the benefits of a paycheck now who weren't a month ago, and it's impossible to say that's a bad thing."
Lowest rate since 2008
The next three talking points all point out the historical significance of where we are now. Again, we'll start with the most-watched number.
"The unemployment rate is now at 5.5 percent, and has hit the lowest point since the summer of 2008, right before the Wall Street crash. When Barack Obama took office, the rate was at 7.8 percent and climbing fast. Later that year, after passage of the stimulus, it finally topped out at 10.0 percent. Since that time, the rate has steadily fallen and if we get a few more good months it could soon hit 5.0 percent -- down by half since the dark days of 2009. While there is still room for improvement, we're getting to the point where the job market is much more friendly to job-seekers than to employers. And that's a real milestone, folks, because that's traditionally when wages start rising again."
This is a number worth bragging about, too.
"The United States economy has added over 3.2 million jobs in the past 12 months. That is the best one-year record since 1998. Yes, you heard that right -- last year was the best America has seen in the job market since Bill Clinton was in office. Over 260,000 jobs per month were added during the past year, on average. And those 3 million families have more money in their pockets to spend, which boosts the economy even further -- and results in more jobs added. That's pretty impressive, don't you think?"
Best streak since 1994
You don't even really have to use Bush's name to point out the difference between Democratic and Republican presidential records on the economy.
"Over the past 12 months, the economy has added more than 200,000 jobs each and every month. That is a pretty strong streak of job gains -- in fact, you have to reach back to 1994 to find a better record for a one-year span of time. The past year was better, month to month, than any year since Bill Clinton's second year in office. For all of the Republican naysaying, it seems the record is crystal clear: the job market does much, much better when there's a Democrat in the Oval Office."
Teen unemployment down
OK, this is cherry-picking to a certain extent, but then again these are talking points.
"Last month alone, teen unemployment fell a whopping 1.7 percent. That's in one month. It took the overall unemployment rate over a year to fall an equal amount, by comparison. But in February, the youngest job seekers saw their unemployment rate go down in a big way. And that's after a whole bunch of states increased their minimum wage -- something that Republicans warned would be a job-killer for teens entering the workforce. I guess they were wrong about that, eh?"
Europe not doing so well
This one really should be driven home for all the austerity-lovers.
"You know, when the world economy crashed in 2008, there were two paths to take. One was to invest a little in the future since borrowing rates were so low, to provide the economy the stimulus it needed to get better. The other was to slash budgets in an orgy of austerity measures. The United States mostly chose the former, and Europe mostly chose the latter. So how did that work out? Well, our unemployment rate is now 5.5 percent, while in the Eurozone it is more than twice that, at 11.2 percent. The austerity hawks were just flat-out wrong, in other words. Look no further than Europe to see the results of harsh austerity in the middle of a downturn."
Obamacare fails to kill jobs, once again
And we end where we began, disproving perhaps the biggest lie about Obamacare of all.
"For years now, we've had to listen to Republican predictions that the sky would fall if Obamacare ever happened. Their favorite modifier for the Affordable Care Act was, in fact, 'job-killing.' That 'job-killing Obamacare' was going to kill all the jobs, which would become painfully obvious to all when it was fully implemented. Well, guess what? Obamacare started in October of 2013, when the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent. Since then, the unemployment rate has steadily fallen to 5.5 percent. So where are all the dead jobs? Where are all those jobs massacred by the evil Obamacare? We keep waiting, month after month, for the dreaded job-slaughter by the Obamacare ogre, and month after month the jobs market keeps getting stronger. I notice that all the Republican Chicken Littles seem to have dropped the 'job-killing' modifier when they talk, these days. I guess that's as close as we'll ever get to an apology for them being so very, very wrong for so long.
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