So are Republicans going to agree to extend the middle-class payroll tax cut that expires at the end of the year? The LA Times reports:

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) met behind closed doors with rank-and-file lawmakers Friday morning, but opposition to continuing the payroll tax break still runs high among conservatives in the House, showing the difficulty Boehner will face in drawing backing for the measure.

...."I'm just not sold on this payroll tax extension, this unemployment extension" said Rep. Allen West, a freshman Republican from Florida. Like many foes of the payroll tax break, he said he opposes the way it reduces the revenue stream to Social Security — even if those funds are replenished with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

I hope no one is really surprised about this. The modern Republican Party is interested in two things: tax cuts for the rich and spending cuts for the poor. This doesn't fit into either category.

Of course, there is one other thing they're interested in: anything that Barack Obama opposes. That's why Boehner has proposed a sweetener to the payroll tax cut bill: legislation that would advance the Keystone XL pipeline, which Obama recently postponed. Apparently, though, even the prospect of giving Obama the finger over the pipeline isn't enough to overcome Republican opposition to something that's neither a tax cut for the rich nor a spending cut for the poor. The rank and file still aren't biting.

Note to the middle class: the GOP is just not that into you. Maybe it's time to call off the relationship?

National Review's Katrina Trinko attended one of Newt Gingrich's town hall meetings for local tea partiers today:

One thing that struck me was his earnestness in pushing bipartisanship, not a typical theme at Tea Party events....He spoke about having to attract Democratic votes to stay in Congress during his early years as House member in Georgia, and referred to working to get Democratic votes in the '80s to pass Reagan’s initiatives. "I grew up in politics learning a lot about how you build bipartisan coalitions," Gingrich observed.

…"There are a thousand small things that create bipartisanship even if you disagree about big things," Gingrich said. "And it's really important to remember that, all the little human things that a good leader can do to get the city of Washington to work again. Tragically, none of them are being done by the current team."

I read that with my mouth agape. If there's a single person in the country more responsible than Newt for the poisonous state of partisan politics in America today, I don't know who it is. Remember these gems down through the years?

1978, speaking to a group of College Republicans: "I think that one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty."

1989, speaking about the Democratic leadership in Congress: "These people are sick…They are so consumed by their own power, by a Mussolini-like ego, that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending."

2011, speaking about the current Democratic president: "Obama is the most serious radical threat to traditional America ever to occupy the White House."

There's no cherry picking here. These are all workaday themes for the GOP's self-proclaimed philosopher king, one of the nastiest, most malignant pieces of work ever to grace American politics. Newt Gingrich extolling the virtues of bipartisanship is like Hannibal Lecter promoting the value of good nutrition.

From Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, explaining why it's so hard to fix the euromess:

We all know what to do, but we don’t know how to get reelected once we have done it.

That's from Jared Bernstein. More at the link.

UPDATE: This quote is actually from 2005 and has nothing to do with the current crisis. I'm not sure why Jared made it sound like Juncker said it last week, but in any case, I suppose it never hurts to recycle a good quote.

According to the Washington Post copy desk, "Republican campaigns pause as Herman Cain announcement looms." Really? The entire clown show is in suspended animation while it waits with bated breath for Herman Cain to tell us if he's planning to pull out of the presidential race? I guess stranger things have happened.

Anyway, since Cain was never remotely likely to win the nomination, I don't really care what he decides to do. The only thing I'm curious about is who he blames. There are several obvious choices:

  1. The lamestream media, which was determined from the start to tear down President Obama's biggest threat.
  2. The Democrat machine, which is terrified of facing a strong, conservative black man in November.
  3. Republican elites, who don't want an outsider breaking up their cocktail parties and power lunches.
  4. Our hypersensitive liberal culture, which always interprets "You want a job, right?" in the worst possible light.
  5. Gloria Cain, who continues to support him without reservation but would like Herman to spend more time with his family.

Vote in comments! Or add your own guess to the list. Personally, I'm voting for all five.

For reasons that escape me, the latest craze in conservative pundit circles is to claim that Republicans aren't, in fact, unalterably opposed to tax hikes on the rich. Charles Krauthammer made this case last week, and Reihan Salam has since picked up the ball and taken a run up the gut with it a few times recently. For example, here he is objecting to Ron Brownstein's latest column:

[Brownstein] suggests that the GOP is aiming for “a deficit plan that relies solely on spending reductions (particularly in entitlements) while preserving tax cuts for the affluent.” As Keith Hennessey has explained, congressional Republicans have made a strategic shift on taxes. Opposition to any net tax increase was a way to secure leverage in negotiations over the long-run fiscal trajectory. But leading Republicans have demonstrated an openness to net tax increases, and in particular to an increase in the average tax rates paid by the most affluent households, provided it is part of a package that secures structural, architectural Medicare reform.

This is just flatly untrue, and I'm a little surprised at how flagrantly it's been bandied about lately. The Toomey proposal in the supercommittee did indeed include about $300 billion in new taxes, some of which would have fallen on high-income earners. But Toomey's proposal explicitly tied this to a demand for permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich (those are the red bars on the right, the ones that fall exclusively on those earning more than $200,000). Unlike the other Bush tax cuts, these cuts are very much a matter of contention between the parties, so Toomey's proposal, in plain English, was this:

  • Republicans will agree to raise taxes on the rich by $300 billion
  • If and only if Democrats agree to permanently extend $700 billion in tax cuts for the rich.

Conservatives try to handwave this away by claiming it's "just a baseline game" or some such, but if it were just a game they wouldn't care about it. In fact, as they know quite well, we're talking about actual tax dollars paid by actual people that affect the actual budget deficit. Compared to the law as it stands now, Toomey's deal explicitly demanded that net taxes on the rich go down by about $400 billion after 2013. That was the only deal ever on the table.

If you want to claim that it's a breakthrough merely for Republicans to propose a reduction in the net size of the Bush tax cuts, that's fine. But a net increase? They've never even come close to offering that.

On the left, this is surely what things would have looked like if Inkblot had lived in the Garden of Eden: Innocent, contented, free of all malice, and wanting nothing more than to commune with nature. Unless someone gets in the way of his food bowl.

And speaking of things horticultural, Marian recently constructed a square-foot garden, which I guess is all the rage these days. The one below has eight sections, and as you can see, Domino has her own personal square foot. Seriously. There's nothing planted there because Domino loves it so much she needed to be lured to a spot where she wouldn't crush the actual plants. Not only is it full of nice, lovely dirt, but during the late morning it's also the sunniest patch in the house. For a few hours each day, it's her home away from home.

Jon Chait's move to New York magazine has been annoying for two reasons. First, he doesn't blog as much as he used to. Second, the only way to read his occasional posts is to plow through New York's entire effing Daily Intel blog and pick them out from among the endless Big Apple-oriented detritus that I don't care about. On the bright side, though, all this plowing has introduced me to Dan Amira, who's worth the price of admission.

(But only barely, Dan. Can't you convince the powers-that-be to give you and Chait your own blog so I can more easily ignore the rest of the riffraff?)

Anyway, here he is today with a lexicographic tour of the mind of Newt Gingrich:

By now, we've all become familiar with Newt Gingrich's habit of using a few choice adverbs to make the things he says sound just a bit more intelligent to his listeners. Profoundly. Deeply. Frankly. But none of them are as vital to the Gingrich lexicon as fundamentally (along with its cousin, the adjective fundamental).

....To give you a more complete understanding of how compulsively Gingrich abuses his favorite words, I searched Nexis transcripts and news accounts with the goal of plucking out every single phrase in which he uttered them. I started in the present day, and made it all the way to the beginning of 2007 before I had to stop, for my own health and sanity, which, according to my editors, was beginning to suffer in noticeable ways....Scroll onward, if you dare, to behold all loosely alphabetized 418 entries.

"fundamentally a falsehood"
"fundamentally a lie"
"fundamentally a violation of international law"
"fundamentally about reassessing our entire strategy in the region"

[410 more....]

"fundamentally wrong with it"
"fundamentally wrong with the current system"
"fundamentally wrong with the system"
"fundamentally wrong with weakness in America"

Now that's what Lexis was invented for and what blogging is all about: to quantify just how big a blowhard Newt Gingrich is. Kudos.

War, Endless War

A few days ago I brought up the idea that the original Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed a week after the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11, was obsolete. The AUMF authorizes action against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and anyone who harbored them, but it was al-Qaeda central that was responsible for 9/11, and the CIA says that we've now killed all but a couple of their leaders and a few dozen of their foot soldiers. All that's left is the Taliban, which is the target of a very specific military campaign in Afghanistan.

I didn't take any of this too seriously, figuring that no one in Congress really seemed to care. They'd just go on assuming that the AUMF authorizes anything the president feels like doing, and since there's no one who can stop them, it was all a moot point. But no! I didn't realize this, but the terrorist detention bill sponsored by senators Carl Levin and John McCain specifically renews and expands the AUMF to include anyone who "substantially supports" al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or "associated forces." Glenn Greenwald is predictably appalled:

There are several very revealing aspects to all of this. First, the 9/11 attack happened more than a decade ago; Osama bin Laden is dead; the U.S. Government claims it has killed virtually all of Al Qaeda’s leadership and the group is “operationally ineffective” in the Afghan-Pakistan region; and many commentators insisted that these developments would mean that the War on Terror would finally begin to recede. And yet here we have the Congress, on a fully bipartisan basis, acting not only to re-affirm the war but to expand it even further: by formally declaring that the entire world (including the U.S.) is a battlefield and the war will essentially go on forever.

Indeed, it seems clear that they are doing this precisely out of fear that the justifications they have long given for the War no longer exist and there is therefore a risk Americans will clamor for its end. This is Congress declaring: the War is more vibrant than ever and must be expanded further.

As before, I don't know how much concrete difference this makes. Congress hasn't made a peep over our Yemen operations and only barely roused itself to notice the Libya war. But Glenn is right: apparently some of them have noticed an embarrassing loose end or two, and they want to make sure no one can pester them over it. From now on, military force will be perpetually pre-authorized against anyone who "supports" any group "associated" with something that looks like al-Qaeda. In other words, pretty much anyone at all.

Hooray! We have bipartisan agreement at last. Political insiders on both sides of the aisle agree: Newt Gingrich would be a disaster for Republicans. National Journal quantifies this for us today:

This comes via Jonathan Bernstein, who gleefully passes along the following quotes:

  • “Winning the presidency is all about discipline, focus, and organization,” said one Republican Insider, “none of which are strong suits for Gingrich.”
  • “With Newt, we go to bed every night thinking that tomorrow might be the day he implodes,” said another Republican. “Not good for our confidence — or fundraising.”
  • A third Republican stated plainly, “Gingrich is not stable enough emotionally to be the nominee — let alone, the president.”
  • “Bigfoot dressed as a circus clown would have a better chance of beating President Obama than Newt Gingrich, a similarly farcical character,” quipped a Republican.
  • “Come on,” sighed another GOP Insider, “the White House is probably giving money to Gingrich as we speak.”

I guess Newt still has a wee bit of confidence building to do. But he's a master of language as a key mechanism of control, so I'm sure he's up to the job.