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Senator Mike Johanns (NE) listens to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s responses during Secretary Vilsack’s testimony on “Healthy Food Initiatives, Local Production and Nutrition,” before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, March 7, 2012 in W
So freshman Sen. Mike Johanns didn't even need a full term in the Senate to decide he was bored and wanted out. The former two-term governor, who cruised to a relatively comfortable 58-40 victory over Democrat Scott Kleeb in 2008, has announced his intention to retire at the end of his first and only term, and has communicated that intent to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.

Interesting, because Heineman is number one with a bullet in terms of Republican choices to replace him. Heineman has been a wildly popular vote-getter, so much so that he beat a true Nebraska legend—former congressman and Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Tom Osborne, a man revered for bringing three national championships to Lincoln—in a 2006 gubernatorial primary, before crushing two hapless Democrats in the 2006 and 2010 general elections with over 73 percent of the vote in both cycles.

Will Heineman run? He passed up a shot at the Senate in 2012, so maybe he's not that interested, and he's not exactly a kid (he'll be 66 years old in 2014). True, 2014 may be an easier race—the Democratic field will be weaker this time out without former Sen. Bob Kerrey running—but Heineman is sufficiently popular that he doesn't really have to worry about who the Democratic nominee is, and never did; he'd have skated in 2012, and he'll skate now, if he wants the seat.

If he doesn't run, Reps. Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith might seek to succeed Johanns, as might State Treasurer Don Stenberg (who has now run four times for the United States Senate, so who would put it past him?) Of course, in a truly open primary it's hard to know who might be competitive; current Sen. Deb Fischer, after all, was a little-known state senator two years ago but managed to win a wild three-way Republican primary.

On the Democratic side, Bob Kerrey is out, which pretty much leaves the number of well-known, well-funded Democrats on the bench at zero. There are, of course, a number of enterprising Nebraska Democrats looking at a statewide race, but chances are, most of them will opt for a potentially winnable gubernatorial race (Heineman is term-limited) rather than a suicide mission against Dave Heineman.

There is, of course, one Nebraskan who could conceivably run as a Democrat and win—a conservative with success in the private sector and a long record of service in Vietnam, in the Reagan administration, and two terms in the U.S. Senate, including a 2002 reelection bid when he won 81 percent of the vote.

That's Chuck Hagel, and perhaps Senate Republicans should think twice about blocking his nomination for secretary of defense.

3:48 PM PT (David Jarman): As for whether Heineman actually will run, we won't know right away; Heineman says he will take "a few days" to mull it over, though he did add a postscript to that, that he has never "indicated that being in the Senate is my dream job." Rep. Jeff Fortenberry also floated his name, saying "I will consider a run for the United States Senate" (though I suspect Fortenberry wouldn't get in if Heineman entered, since Fortenberry would have to give up his lifetime sinecure in NE-01 for a long-shot primary battle).

Roll Call also points out a few other GOP possibilities, in addition to the above-mentioned Heineman, Fortenberry, Smith, and Stenberg: one is ex-state Treasurer (and ex-naval aviator) Shane Osborn; another is businessman Pete Ricketts, who lost the 2006 Senate election to Ben Nelson (and son of Super PAC-funding, Cubs-owning Joe Ricketts). AG Jon Bruning is another possibility, though he still carries baggage from his 2012 GOP Senate primary loss to Fischer. Finally, they mention Nebraska's other Rep., NE-02's Lee Terry, who gave Politico the rather vague promise that "I will think about it at some time."

One common Democratic response to multiple reports that Sen. John Kerry will be President Barack Obama's choice for Secretary of State is sure to be "No, please, no, not another special election in Massachusetts." But with that, it's time for the Great Mentioner to swing into action. As a Massachusetts native and Senate horserace geek, here are my off-the-cuff assessments of some possible candidates.

First, I'm not 100 percent sure outgoing Sen. Scott Brown is going to run for Senate instead of running for governor. Being governor means actually having to do work; being in the Senate means you can just fart around and tout bi/nonpartisanship and independence, at least for a while. On the other hand, it's much, much easier to get elected governor, and, in particular, to get reelected—you can claim to have no ties to the national GOP and that, as we know Brown likes to do. If he's in the Senate he'll be hunted this spring, in fall 2014, and then every six years—and he'll occasionally have to fight Presidential-year turnout, as he did in 2012. Now that everyone knows he can be beat, people won't be scared to take him on as they were in 2012; he might be able to hold back the tide in midterm elections.

If Brown doesn't run, former Gov. Bill Weld, who just moved back to the state, actually might. That would also be a tough race, but less so than Brown. Weld was an immensely popular governor, but he last held office during the Clinton administration, he moved out of state for several years, and he lost his last race (a 1996 Senate bid against John Kerry himself).

Gov. Deval Patrick has said a million times he's not interested in the Senate. I'm inclined to believe him, though he'd be a strong candidate if he ran. Patrick apparently wants to appoint Vicki Kennedy. She's not categorically refusing as she's done in the past, but she's also far from a sure bet to take an appointment, and if she were appointed as a caretaker, it's not certain she'd run to succeed Kerry.

Beyond that, what does the field look like?

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I wrote recently about the scheduled execution of Warren Hill, a mentally retarded Georgia man. Mr. Hill's execution is now slated for Monday, July 23, one week after the previously scheduled date.

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that execution of prisoners suffering from mental retardation violated the Eighth Amendment. As Mr. Hill's case shows, reality does not always conform to this ideal. Georgia happens to be the only state that requires proof of mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt, a uniquely high burden of proof for death row prisoners.

The State Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Hill had to prove his mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. The dissent rightly argued that applying the tougher standard is unconstitutional because it imposes too high a risk that a court’s conclusion will be wrong. The dissent relied on the United States Supreme Court holding that it is unconstitutional to require a defendant to prove that he is incompetent to stand trial by any standard higher than a preponderance of the evidence.
Currently, Mr. Hill has a motion for a stay of execution pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as a motion for rehearing of the Court's denial of Mr. Hill's petition for certiorari. His attorneys have also filed an appeal for a stay of execution with the Georgia Supreme Court.

Since my last diary, the issue of Mr. Hill's mental retardation has been litigated again, and a Butts County judge has ruled:

A Butts County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday that Hill has proven an IQ of 70 beyond a reasonable doubt and meets the overall criteria for being mentally disabled by a preponderance of the evidence.

Georgia requires death row inmates to prove beyond a reasonable doubt they are mentally disabled to avoid execution. The court said Hill failed to do that.

Mr. Hill's IQ of 70 has been conceded beyond a reasonable doubt; he meets the criteria for mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence. Only Georgia's high burden of proof keeps Mr. Hill slated for execution - in spite of the Supreme Court's ruling ten years ago.

Ten years ago, in Atkins v. Virginia, the United States Supreme Court ruled that execution of prisoners suffering from mental retardation violated the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. However, the state of Georgia, which was in fact the first state to ban the practice, is poised to do just that on July 18. From a New York Times editorial:

This week, Georgia issued a warrant to execute Warren Lee Hill Jr., a death-row inmate convicted of murder, who has an I.Q. of 70. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles is the fail-safe in the state’s criminal justice system, with a mandate to exercise mercy when the court system has failed to come to a just result. That is clearly true in this case. The trial judge found that Mr. Hill was mentally retarded by applying the fairer “preponderance of the evidence” standard in determining his mental impairment.

The State Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Hill had to prove his mental retardation beyond a reasonable doubt. The dissent rightly argued that applying the tougher standard is unconstitutional because it imposes too high a risk that a court’s conclusion will be wrong. The dissent relied on the United States Supreme Court holding that it is unconstitutional to require a defendant to prove that he is incompetent to stand trial by any standard higher than a preponderance of the evidence.

In other words, even though a court has found Mr. Hill to be mentally retarded, the Georgia Supreme Court determined that this showing was not enough under the state's uniquely high burden of proof for the defendant.  
In 1988, Georgia became the first state in the nation to ban executions of the mentally disabled. Lawmakers enacted the law in response to the 1986 execution of Jerome Bowden, who had been found to have the mentality of a 12-year-old.

In passing the law, the Legislature required capital defendants to prove "mental retardation" beyond a reasonable doubt, the same standard required of juries to convict someone of a crime. Today, Georgia is the only state in the country that sets such a high burden of proof for such claims.

In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied Mr. Hill's claim:
Judge Frank Hull, writing for the majority, said federal law "mandates that this federal court leave the Georgia Supreme Court decision alone — even if we believe it incorrect or unwise."
The United States Supreme Court has also denied review. As a result, Mr. Hill's last hope is a plea for clemency from the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. There is considerable support for sparing his life. Again from the Times:
Jurors from this case said they would have sentenced Mr. Hill to life without parole if they had had the option. The family of the victim has said Mr. Hill should not be executed. The pardon board has the discretion and the duty to commute his sentence to life without parole. The legal and factual record strongly compels that just decision.
Indeed they do. Justice demands, and our constitutional precedent dictates, that Mr. Hill's life be spared. The power to do so now lies solely with the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Elizabeth Warren (D)
The Massachusetts Senate race is, and will continue to be, the most closely watched Senate race in the country, pitting a Republican hero against a rising Democratic star. It will also easily be the most expensive race in the country. Scott Brown is raising money like a Wall Street-backed incumbent Republican. Elizabeth Warren is raising double that. Whoever emerges as the winner will be the recipient of great national attention and will have an almost limitless political future within the party.

The candidates are doing so well, in fact, that the future is nearly as bright even for the loser. In fact, it's not impossible that the two will be serving in the Senate together in a year or so.


If you've kicked around the idea of a Sen. Elizabeth Warren making a presidential bid in 2016, you wouldn't be the first: the Grey Lady herself floated the idea as early as February, and progressive activists have dreamed about it for far longer.

She could conceivably win the Democratic nomination, too. The base loves her, her fundraising is eye-popping, and her messaging is very good—she catapulted into a tie with a popular incumbent almost instantly after entering the Senate race, after Scott Brown had been crushing all comers for months. She will be 67 years old in 2016, which is not young, but older folks have won the nomination before (Reagan 1980, Dole 1996, McCain 2008).

What happens to Scott Brown if he wins? Well, the Republican is at least nominally pro-choice. So if he has any designs on national office, he'll have to take a page from the book of his longtime Massachusetts political ally and mentor, Mitt Romney (he's got a leg up on rolling back women's health already, with his cosponsorship of the Blunt Amendment). Still, he's likely to be insufficiently pure for the tea-flavored set in 2016.

Second, he lacks substance. It's going to be impossible for him to win a presidential nomination just going on friendly conservative talk radio and praising the Celtics. At some point, he has to start talking about real issues, and Jared Sullinger's back doesn't count. It works well in Massachusetts and may win him reelection, but the nation expects a little more out of the president.

Whoever does win the nomination in 2016, however, will do so by out-crazying the rest of a rabidly right-wing field, and will have to Etch A Sketch their way back to somewhere resembling the political center. Enter Scott Brown as a possible vice-presidential nominee on the Santorum '16 ticket.


What about the person who loses the 2012 race? He or she will be out of the running for the presidency ... but will still have a large base of support in Massachusetts and a donor list as long as both arms.

What do you do with those things? Well, one of the options for Brown or Warren would be to seek the governorship of Massachusetts in 2014.

Brown, a former state legislator, might be the more likely to seek this office. As a Republican governor in a Democratic-dominated state that likes its Republican governors, he wouldn't have to do very much; he could let the Legislature run the state while he arranges secret meetings with kings and queens. He seems to like being the center of attention more than governing, and the great thing about being governor is that you're always the center of attention.

If he ran, with his name recognition, positive favorability, and profound fundraising potential, he would be the prohibitive favorite to win at least one term as governor. As far as 2014 is concerned, it's difficult to think of anyone in Massachusetts who might even throw a scare into Brown; the presumptive frontrunner for the governor's office right now is the woman Brown beat in 2010, Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Would Warren, if she loses, have any interest in being governor? She has based her campaign more on national issues than state issues (Wall Street accountability, for example). She'd have a tremendous fundraising advantage over all other candidates, an advantage so profound that it might scare off most other Democrats. Of course, if she loses the high-profile 2010 race, she will break a lot of hearts and crush a lot of dreams in Massachusetts, and some might not forgive so easily.

Return to the Senate?

It's not impossible that Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren will be serving alongside each other in the Senate in 2013.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated in the past that she's unlikely to stay through a second Obama administration. Massachusetts' senior senator, John Kerry, is rumored to covet the job.

If John Kerry is the next Secretary of State in 2013, Massachusetts will have a special election in 2012, as we did when Ted Kennedy died. Whoever loses the 2012 race, Warren or Brown, would presumably be in the ideal position to put a statewide campaign together in a few months and win the seat. No Democrat in the state has shown the ability to compete with either Warren's money or Brown's ...

The Dark Horse

... save for one youthful red-headed congressional candidate, former prosecutor, Peace Corps volunteer, Harvard Law graduate and scion of the Kennedy family.

The Kennedys still poll well in Massachusetts, and the newest star on the horizon, Joe Kennedy III, has proven to be quite the political dynamo so far, having raised a staggering $1.3 million in his first quarter as a House candidate.

Born in 1980, Kennedy might be considered too young and too green to mount a serious bid for the Senate in 2013 or 2014. But then, Ted Kennedy was 30 when he first ran for the Senate, and Joe III has already established a pretty notable record of public service.

If Scott Brown returns to the Senate either in 2012 or shortly after, or if he's elected governor, Kennedy will be one of the few people left in Massachusetts who could beat him. And if Elizabeth Warren loses in 2012, her former student at Harvard Law School might be the only person in the state who could threaten to beat her in a primary for another office. It's hard to imagine anyone in the state beating her if she wins ... but if she loses this time, a well-funded challenger might credibly make the case that Warren had her shot and missed it.  

Wisconsin state Sen. Dale Schultz

Remember Dale Schultz? He was the one Republican senator in Wisconsin to vote against Gov. Scott Walker's anti-worker Budget Repair Bill.

Well, with his Republican Party now clinging to a 17-16 majority in the state Senate, Schultz is now going to be the most popular man in Madison, and de facto majority leader of the Wisconsin Senate, simply by virtue of not being a Scott Walker Republican.

Consider this: If Walker tried to pass something like his last budget again, Democrats would have enough votes in the state Senate to kill the bill outright. There would be no running to Illinois to deny quorum, no protracted battle of several weeks; the Senate could vote, and with Jessica King and Jennifer Shilling to go with Schultz and the 14 incumbent Democrats, they would have a functional majority.

So even as a Republican, Schultz, not Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald, is the most powerful man in the Senate—he is the balance of power in Wisconsin, and if he's interested, he could team with Democrats to form a majority coalition, or even switch parties outright.

Minority Democrats have built coalitions to elect moderate Republican leadership before—Texas House Speaker Joe Straus is a legacy of one such coalition, having been first elected Speaker with predominantly Democratic support. Former Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams is another example.  

Granted, Schultz will be courted by Republicans (at least those in Madison) on legislation as hard as he's courted by Democrats. So it's possible that none but the most odious Scott Walker legislation (like the Budget Repair bill) will be spiked in the Senate. But that's a lot better than the situation yesterday.

Even if Schultz did form a coalition with Democrats, it's not as though a lifelong Republican becomes a movement progressive overnight. Nevertheless, it seems his possibilities for career advancement, at least in the short term, are much better with Democrats than with Republicans. And if Schultz really does seek a moderate, bipartisan approach to governance, becoming de facto majority leader is his best shot to ensure that approach actually takes place. Schultz was in fact majority leader before, until 2006, when the Democratic wave swept the Republicans out of leadership. Perhaps he's interested in having the job again.

If he actually did switch parties, he'd again enjoy the title and the big office and all the perks that go with actually being majority leader (one suspects Democratic leader Mark Miller would happily give Schultz the title if it meant the majority).

How would all this affect his reelection? Schultz isn't up for reelection until 2014. Would he have a better chance at reelection as a Democrat? His Senate district went solidly for John Kerry in 2004, and 61 percent for Barack Obama in 2008, so yes, you'd have to think a moderate Republican-turned-Democrat who has already held the seat for 20 years could probably win there.

Certainly, he'd be better off taking his chances with the Democrats than staying a Republican, having already incurred the wrath of the tea party and virtually guaranteed a mouth-breather primary in 2014.

Of course, all this depends on Democrats actually maintaining their numbers with 16 senators. Which is why it's so important for Democratic senators Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch to win their own recalls next Tuesday.

Once they're safely back in the fold, let the courtship of Dale Schultz begin.

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AZ-Sen: Not sure who listens to John McCain anymore, but he's endorsed Jeff Flake (shocker!) No news on who might run for the Democrats, though some apparently still hold out hope that Gabrielle Giffords will recover in time to make the race.

FL-Sen, FL-13: Superrich guy Vern Buchanan may or may not end up shaking his employees down for campaign dollars making the U.S. Senate race against Bill Nelson, but he won't be hurried into any decisions, thank you very much; he's not expected to decide until the end of the year. People with $400 million can afford to take their sweet time, after all. If he makes the race, he's likely the underdog to Bill Nelson even with all his cash. His district nearly went Dem in 2006 (Buchanan won by less than 400 votes) but he's won comfortably since; of course, we don't know what it will look like in a year's time.

MA-Sen: This may or may not entice an ambitious Democrat or two into the race: John Kerry says he's running again, meaning no open seat in 2014, meaning that it's Scott Brown or nothing for the Democrats in the state looking to move up. (Well, there'll be an open Governor's race, but you get the point). It's still possible that Kerry will be appointed to the Cabinet in a second Obama term...but how safe is the bet on a Democratic President in 2013?

MI-Sen: This goes beyond "Some Dude" territory into "Apparently Famously Anti-Gay Some Dude" land. Gary Glenn of American Family Association of Michigan (now there's an anti-gay mouthful) intends to teabag Pete Hoekstra for the Republican nomination. The Michigan Log Cabin Republicans, however, have told him to get out.


IN-Gov: Apparently breaking his promise to never take a policy position, ever, if he can help it, Mike Pence has sortakinda come out of his slumber to say something; he supports "pro-growth tax relief" which is Republispeak for "I am breathing".

MO-Gov: Peter Kinder really can't do anything right. Not even Tweet.

VA-Gov: Long way to go until 2013, but PPP always has their toe in the water testing future races; unsurprisingly, they show LG Bill Bolling and AG Ken Cuccinelli narrowly leading former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, albeit with a boatload of undecideds, so do with this what you will.


AR-01: Talk Business offers their take on possible Democrats vying to take on GOP frosh Rick Crawford, who holds one of the most inviting seats in the whole South for Democrats. They name 2010 nominee Chad Causey, State Senator Robert Thompson, Craighead County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Ellington, businessman Steve Rockwell, and 2010 Land Commissioner nominee L.J. Bryant.

CA-15, CA-17 (we think): Despite rumors of retirement, septuagenarian Democrats Mike Honda and Pete Stark are going to seek reelection. As you were, gentlemen.

FL-02: I had no idea this had happened, but the Republicans in the Florida Legislature passed a "Charlie Crist Law" to prevent recent party-switchers from running for office. This would appear to spike the candidacy of former GOP State Sen. Nancy Argenziano, who intended to run as a Democrat against freshman tea guy Steve Southerland. The Florida Democratic Party appears to still want her, though, so we'll see if they fight the law in court, or just perhaps throw their support behind an independent run by Argenziano or something.

MN-03: Possible Some Dudette Sharon Sund will make the race against second-term GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen, who cruised in 2010 after a tough 2008 open-seat race against Democrat Ashwin Madia in this swingish suburban district.

OR-01: Apparently hoping that 2012 will be better than 2010—you know, without the Republican wave and the tiger-suit-clad, Klingon-referencing incumbent to run against—2010 Republican nominee Rob Cornilles will run in the special election to replace David Wu. Cornilles has the backing of the entire local Republican establishment, but he'll have a tough fight against a non-Wu Democrat in a regular year; to show how serious his challenge is, consider that Democrat Suzanne Bonamici raised $240,000 in just five days, an impressive total even if it is low-hanging fruit.

SC-07: State Rep. Thad Viers, a young Patrick McHenry lookalike with a host of boilerplate right-wing platitudes and not much else, is running for the new Pee Dee-based seat in South Carolina. If meaningless cliches win elections, then young Mr. Viers is twirling, twirling, twirling towards a bright future.

TX-14: Republican lawyer Michael Truncale, a conservative with "tea party values", whatever that means, is running to succeed retiring Rep. Ron Paul.


GA-Redist: No maps yet, but a fairly interesting article from Jim Galloway of the AJC, who has his ear to the scuttlebutt in Atlanta. Galloway confirms that Georgia's new district will be located in North Georgia, and numbered the 9th (the number 14 will go to Tom Price's district). He also confirms that John Barrow, the last white Democrat in the Deep South, is the top GOP target, but they're not certain they can eliminate him without forcing Jack Kingston to take on too much water. The other big GOP concern is the future of GA-07, where despite a big nominal advantage, changing demographics could doom GOP Rep. Rob Woodall by 2020. Finally, Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop, who survived a tough race in 2010, is likely to actually be shored up a bit by the GOP legislature, as is GOP frosh Austin Scott, who beat back Democratic veteran Rep. Jim Marshall in a district already solidly Republican to begin with.

NV-Redist: After repeated attempts to forge an agreement between the Democratic legislature and GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Nevada redistricting map—and a potential windfall as many as three Congressional seats for either party—is going to the courts. At least Democrats have a rack of candidates preparing to run, even if they don't know exactly where.

WI-Recall: MoveOn, DFA and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are up on the air with a substantial buy ($265,000) against Republican Sens. Alberta Darling and Luther Olsen. You can check out the Darling ad here: it's actually pretty good.

WV-Redist: I'm no longer sure what's going on; yesterday morning it looked as though the Democrats in the legislature had decided to go after GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito in redistricting; now it looks as though they're going for minimal change in the Congressional map, which was the original idea.


DCCC: The boys and girls in blue are out with a target list for "Accountability August". Alliteration, yeah! The list is 44 names long at present.

President John F. Kennedy, icon of progressive taxation
We've got an economy struggling with a slow recovery from a genuinely disastrous crisis.

We've also got a very large federal debt, one that we should probably do something about at some point.

The debate on how to fix these two problems generally splits two ways. Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, propose doubling down on tax cuts for the rich and returning to 1929 rates (ask Herbert Hoover how that worked out), apparently still believing, in the face of historic evidence, that tax cuts are the solution to all problems real and imagined.

Progressive Democrats propose a return to Clinton-era tax rates, and perhaps even tax hikes for the rich and corporations to maintain valued social programs like Medicare and Social Security, further our investment in public education—and who knows, maybe even do a little more, better targeted economic stimulus. Economist Jeffrey Sachs on the progressive budget proposals:

In the progressive middle is the People's Budget. Like Ryan's plan, the People's Budget would cut the budget deficit to zero by 2021, but would do so in an efficient and fair way. It would close the budget deficit by raising tax rates on the rich and giant corporations, while also curbing military spending and wrestling health care costs under control, partly by introducing a public option. By raising tax revenues to 22.3 percent of GDP by 2021, the People's Budget closes the budget deficit while protecting the poor and promoting needed investments in education, health care, roads, power, energy, and the environment in order to raise America's long-term competitiveness. The People's Budget thereby achieves what Ryan and Obama do not: the combination of fairness, efficiency, and budget balance.

Naturally, President Obama is in the middle, supporting an eventual return to Clinton-era tax rates, just not right now, and opposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security without taking cuts completely off the table.

What's missing from this argument, even on the progressive side, is a discussion of returning to historically normal tax rates. John Boehner, Jim DeMint, Rush Limbaugh and Scott Brown, along with several other Republicans, have praised Democratic President John F. Kennedy as a kind of Democratic model, because one of his first acts as president was to pass a tax cut that lowered rates even for the richest Americans.

This is true. Kennedy did slash the top marginal tax rate … all the way down to 70%. And that's just the beginning:

– The tax reform passed after Kennedy’s death cut the top marginal tax rate from 90 percent to 70 percent, twice today's top rate of 35 percent. Kennedy explicitly called for a top rate of 65 percent, but added that it should be set at 70 percent if certain deductions weren't phased out at the top of the income scale.

– Kennedy called for U.S. corporations to be taxed on all their profits, earned anywhere in the world, rather than the current system of allowing them to defer taxation until they bring those profits home. "The undesirability of continuing deferral is underscored where deferral has served as a shelter for tax escape through the unjustifiable use of tax havens such as Switzerland," Kennedy said in 1961. During Kennedy's time in office, corporate taxes made up more than 20 percent of total revenue. Today, it's less than ten percent.

– Kennedy called for cutting tax preferences for the oil and gas industries, saying in 1963 that, "while these are complex as well as controversial problems, we cannot shrink from a frank appraisal of governmental policies and tax subsidies in this area." Republicans have been adamantly opposed to cutting subsidies for oil and gas companies.

– Kennedy called for limiting itemized deductions for the rich, saying that they should receive the same benefit for things like charitable giving "as everyone else," instead of preferential treatment (which they still receive). President Obama has called for the same system since he came into office, but the GOP has derided Obama's proposals.

Is that what Boehner and Brown and DeMint want to return to?

And if it were, what would be the outcome?

In truth, a top marginal rate of 70% was the lowest we ever had from 1936 to 1981, a period of time when the United States enjoyed strong and sustained economic growth, so much so that it's referred to as the "long boom." The strongest economic growth we've seen since then occurred in the 1990s—under a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who did raise the top marginal rate, albeit not to pre-Reagan levels.

If we brought it back today, it would affect only the most bloated incomes in America; the top Kennedy-era tax brackets, adjusted for inflation, would affect incomes of $5 million or more.

Hardly any struggling small businessmen in those brackets, it'd be safe to say.

So let's take a moment to think about what would happen if we did return to such rates—and what we could do with the windfall.

What Would Happen If Kennedy-Era Rates Did Return? We'd Pay Down The Deficit, For Starters

We've seen the Republican plan to deal with the deficit; it's the Ryan plan. Still more tax cuts for the rich, paid for by eliminating Medicare and carving up basically every other successful federal program in existence … and we get, maybe, a balanced budget 20 years from now.

Democrats have a pretty reasonable response; the economy was pretty good during the Clinton years, so hell, let's just go back to Clinton-era tax rates and raise revenues; do that, and end the expensive Republican wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and use the added revenue to pay down the deficit. After all, Clinton was the only president since LBJ to actually balance the budget. Maybe the Big Dog actually knew what he was doing.

At least some tax increases on the wealthiest Americans shouldn't be controversial given the size of the federal debt, since it's a basic principle of economics that revenue should match expenditures in order to balance the budget, and since we like most of our main expenditures (Medicare, Social Security, defense spending) and want to keep them, we ought to look at revenue.

Actually, the American people are very much on board with this:

Sixty-one percent of Americans said that increasing taxes to the wealthy should be the first step toward balancing the budget.

By contrast, 20 percent of respondents preferred cuts to defense spending as the first option, while 4 percent said that cutting Medicare would be the best way to start cutting the deficit. Three percent said they preferred cutting Social Security.

But it's worth noting that even if we raise the top marginal rates just a little bit, or if we just raise them on people making $5 million annually or more, it saves far more on its own—coupled with no spending cuts at all—than the Republican plans.

So the conclusion is pretty clear; either Republicans don't actually care about the deficit or have no idea how to reduce the size of it, since even a little tax hike for the rich is far more effective than the Ryan Medicare-abolition plan.

Obviously we'd do well in paying down the debt if we returned to Clinton-era or slightly higher tax rates. But for fun, let's go back to 1961 tax rates.

All these taxpayers would pay a whopping $382 billion more in taxes this year if they had to pay at the 1961 effective tax rate, the rate the rich actually faced on their tax returns 50 years ago after taking advantage of every available loophole.


Why do we need more audits at the top? The most recent IRS Oversight Board report estimates we're losing $290 billion a year to tax cheats — and high-income taxpayers, one 2008 study has concluded, underreport their incomes at triple the "misreport" rate of average-income taxpayers.

The bottom line: Taxing the rich at the actual rates they paid a half-century ago — and doing more to make sure all the rich pay their taxes — would likely this year raise, at the federal level alone, an additional half a trillion or so.

That would raise about half a trillion dollars. The Republican austerity measures would save, oh, about 20% of that.

If you are legitimately serious about reducing the size of the deficit, by far the best, simplest, and most logical way to do it is by increasing revenue. It's just more efficient and more effective than even the draconian spending cuts in the Ryan budget.

Progressive Deficit Reduction

Sachs has made a powerful case for this strategy (emphasis mine):

Progressives have come to berate deficit hawks as if concern about the budget deficit is somehow intrinsically reactionary. I view deficit reduction as progressive, because it reflects a concern to protect our future wellbeing, and especially that of our children. What counts is not deficit reduction per se, but how it's done. If it comes as the Republicans propose, by slashing government programs for health, education, retirement, and infrastructure, it would indeed be a disaster. If it comes instead by taxing the banks, higher incomes, and fossil-fuel pollution (initially at a low, but then rising rate), while simultaneously investing more in clean energy, modern infrastructure, education and jobs skills, then deficit reduction is prudent, progressive, and wholly supportive of sustainable prosperity.


What Could You Do Beyond Paying Down The Deficit, With This Added Revenue?

Well, for one thing, you could invest it in the economy.

Let's take Sachs up on his proposal. Is it possible to do the stimulus correctly—in an investment-based manner, spending on higher education, infrastructure, clean energy and so forth? Would it help bring us out of this struggling economy?

With an added revenue stream, why not?

During a time when the economy is struggling, we shouldn't be beholden to right-wing blather on the evils of spending (especially from the same gang that brought us the unpaid-for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Because government spending actually doesn't hurt the economy; in fact, it helps in the short term, as even conservative Chicago School economists acknowledge.

John Taylor (and Robert Hall), Macroeconomics, 5th ed.:

pp. 190 ff.: We now know that an increase in government spending... increases the interest rate and increases income.... [T]he increase in government demand increases GDP through the multiplier.... [But] interest rates must [also] rise to offset the increase in money demand.... This increase in interest rates will reduce investment demand and net exports and thus offset some of the stimulus to GDP caused by government spending. The offsetting negative effect is crowding out.... An expansionary fiscal policy will have a relatively strong effect on aggregate demand if interest rates don't rise by much [when government spending increases]...

Why does government spending help the economy? Two reasons:

1)    Like we saw during the New Deal, the government can actually hire people to do stuff in the public sector, if it wants to. Some of that stuff can be highly useful: it can hire workers to build highways, schools, railroads, parks and so forth; it can make investments in clean energy; it can hire cops to police those streets and teachers to fill those schools. Even conservative icon Ronald Reagan would acknowledge the success of such programs; his father, Jack Reagan, worked for a series of New Deal programs in the 1930s, and that’s a big part of what kept the Reagan family above the poverty line.

2)    Even if the government isn't directly hiring, the economy is basically a measure of aggregate demand—or aggregate spending, in other words. The more demand there is for goods and services, the more is actually spent on goods and services—which is the definition of economic activity. This is why, during times of economic recession, you'll be told to go shopping, or invest your money somehow. Anything to do your part toward spurring economic activity. The U.S. government, being the biggest single spender in the American economy, has more power to affect aggregate demand (and economic activity) through spending than any other entity.

Sachs argues that taking a simplistic Keynesian view towards government spending—that any kind of stimulus is good stimulus—is erroneous and dangerous, and that that’s part of the reason the Obama stimulus was only moderately successful.

This is very likely true. But as Sachs points out, there are legitimately smart investments in the energy, transportation and higher education sectors that we could target with further, smarter stimulus.

The Obama stimulus was designed on the premise that personal saving rates would drop back to pre-2008 levels—about 3%—and that that increase in aggregate demand would spur growth. Personal saving rates were still around 6% in the summer of 2010.

Whether or not the government is spending too much, Americans aren't spending enough. Someone's got to make up the difference; that can be done while making smart investments in America’s future sustainability and prosperity.

Kennedy: Put Up Or Shut Up

Republicans like Speaker John Boehner, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, and tea party darling Jim DeMint love pointing to John F. Kennedy as a Democratic tax-cutter. And he was—again, he dropped the top marginal tax rate all the way from 91% to 70%.

So here's what I'd like President Obama to do. I'd like for him to introduce legislation calling for a return to Kennedy-era tax rates, right here, right now, call it the Boehner/Brown Tax Relief Bill, and give the Republicans a choice.

"Either pass it, and I'll sign it, or shut the hell up about John F. Kennedy."

It wouldn't necessarily get any votes, but hopefully it would preclude the Republicans from continuing to spew misinformation and deceit about the strongly progressive history of our tax code.

At The End Of The Day

We know we're not returning to Kennedy-era rates any time soon. Boehner and DeMint and Brown will never get the chance to put up or shut up on their peacock talk. There just isn't the political will for it; even the Progressive Caucus doesn't want to go near the level of tax rates that were once considered historically low, during the period of the American long boom.

But it's perfectly reasonable to do it. It wouldn't hurt the economy, and it might help; it would raise revenues dramatically; it wouldn't drive business overseas; and it would give us all a chance to reinvest in America's future.

All you'd have to do is ask millionaires to pay their traditional share.

The Paul Ryan Medicare plan
Though President Obama won North Carolina, barely, in 2008, no one can call it a Democratic bastion.

So this should be frightening news for Republicans in 2012, up and down the ballot:

By almost a 2:1 margin, the state’s voters are against the Paul Ryan Medicare proposal. Without Ryan’s name or party mentioned, 47% of voters are opposed to seniors receiving a voucher for private insurance, with only 24% in support. At 17-61, Democrats are starkly against the plan, as are independents (22-40), but even Republicans fall only 35- 33 in support. Seniors are the most opposed, with only 18% supporting and 56% opposing the Ryan plan. But the youngest voters, those who would be affected by the plan in 25 years or so, are also very much against it, 24-52.

That's almost 2-1 against the Ryan plan, even when it's not called the Ryan plan, with similar numbers among independents.

Every Republican in the North Carolina delegation backed the Ryan plan in Congress.

It won't exactly help any of the Presidential candidates in NC, either, and it's pretty much impossible to see how a Republican candidate wins the Presidency without North Carolina.

Well done, Paul Ryan. Well done.

Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah

Though it's one of, if not the most Republican states in America (Wyoming gives it a run for its money), Utah has one exceptionally popular elected Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, who has won elections in dark-red districts for 10 years, survived an effort to redistrict him out in 2002, and even got reelected during the 2010 fiasco.

He's been regularly mentioned as Democrats' best (and perhaps only) hope at capturing the governorship or a Senate seat, but it's been assumed that he'd have to wait until 36-year incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch retired.

It appears that may not actually be the case. Utah pollster Dan Jones and Associates' latest public survey says that Matheson would not only be formidable in an open-seat race, but that he could beat Orrin Hatch.

Dan Jones and Associates (6/13-16, registered Utah voters, MoE 5%):

Jim Matheson (D): 47
Orrin Hatch (R-inc): 47

Jason Chaffetz (R): 46
Jim Matheson (D): 45

There's a non-trivial chance that Hatch gets a serious teabagging from firebrand Rep. Jason Chaffetz; Matheson doesn't perform any better against Chaffetz, but doesn't do any worse, either.

A Hatch/Chaffetz primary is every bit as close as both general-election matchups:

Jason Chaffetz (R): 41
Orrin Hatch (R-inc): 40

Among likely voters Hatch is up 47-44, though I can't begin to imagine how small the sample is or what screen they're using. FWIW, Dan Jones also does polling for Senator Hatch, but it doesn't appear this poll was conducted on his behalf.

Obviously these numbers are near miraculous for a Democrat in Utah. No Utah Democrat has served in the Senate since Sen. Frank Moss was defeated in 1976 (by none other than Orrin Hatch), and no Democrat has served as Governor since Jim Matheson's dad, Scott Matheson, from 1977 to 1985.

Perhaps complicating Matheson's decision is the question of what his district will look like after redistricting. Utah gains a fourth Congressional seat this year. Two plans had been bandied about for redistricting, both of them bad for Matheson.

One, pushed by Republicans, was a "pie" plan cutting the state - and the Democratic bastion of Salt Lake City - into roughly equal quarters. The other, pushed by Democrats and good-government types, was a "donut hole" plan preserving Salt Lake County in its own district, and creating three uber-red rural districts around it. (This would make a district Democrats could win much more easily than the current UT-02, but would also open the conservative Matheson up to a potentially serious primary challenge).

Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups, however, has come up with a truly devious "compromise", managing to create a donut-hole district that screws Democrats anyway.

Democrats have repeatedly called for creating a new U.S. House district that is totally within Democratic Salt Lake County, known as a "doughnut hole" plan. GOP Senate President Michael Waddoups offered such a plan Wednesday — but he made his doughnut hole Republican-flavored.

His plan would center its one all-Salt Lake County district in the valley’s southern end around growing, Republican areas such as Herriman and South Jordan, avoiding most Democratic strongholds.

Democratic areas such as Salt Lake City and West Valley City would be put into a different district along with most of western, rural Utah — stretching from Tooele to St. George to Moab. Those rural areas are largely Republican, and could neutralize Democratic votes in Salt Lake County.

It's not clear how this map (if it is in fact signed into law) will affect Matheson's plans, but he says he's running for something - governor, Senate, or House - in 2012.

If he wants to be a U.S. Senator, though, he may never have a better opportunity than he does right now, when he's running even with the longest-serving Senator Utah has ever had.

The state of Pennsylvania
President Barack Obama has endured his share of ups and downs in the Keystone State, leading to some well-founded concerns about the prospect of his losing a state that has gone Democratic for President in each of the past five elections.

Quinnipiac, however, shows the President recovering nicely from earlier struggles in Keystoneville, and well positioned at the moment to beat all Republican comers.

Quinnipiac University (6/7-12, registered Pennsylvania voters, MoE 2.7%):

Barack Obama (D-inc): 47
Mitt Romney (R): 40

Barack Obama (D-inc): 49
Rick Santorum (R): 38

No one besides Romney and Santorum was tested against the President, but since Romney's been the strongest Republican in head-to-head polls almost across the board, this should give a decent idea of the state of play in Pennsylvania, as far as Quinnipiac sees it.

Quinnipiac also polled the primary:

Romney leads the Republican primary pack with 21 percent, followed by Santorum with 16 percent, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin with 11 percent and no other candidate above 8 percent, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. Another 17 percent of Republicans are undecided.

Big trouble for Little Ricky—he can't even win his own state in the primary. Truly, he's 2012's forgotten man so far.

Usually with state polling so far we've seen President Obama with middling numbers, and the Republicans with lousy numbers, and middling beats lousy.

That's still the case here, but Obama's numbers in PA are actually on the upswing. He gets a 48/48 approval number, as well as a 48/46 raw reelect. Not stellar, but better than the genuinely crapulent 42/53 level he was at at the end of April.

Quinnipiac was kind enough to provide Daily Kos Elections with the sample they used for this poll; it is 37% Democratic, 30% Republican, and 27% independents, a fairly similar model to the 2008 CNN exit poll, which was 44% Democratic, 37% Republican, 18% Independent.

All in all, a pretty good poll for the President, especially considering that Pennsylvania was (and is) considered at risk for Democrats this cycle.

UPDATE: In case you were wondering about the state's Democratic senior senator, Bob Casey Jr., he's in even better shape, at 47/26 approval (including 37/38 among Republicans), and leading his most dangerous foe, Generic Republican, by a 47-32 margin. Republican Pat Toomey sports similar 45/28 approvals.

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If you've been following the Netroots Nation group at Daily Kos (and if not, why not?), you'll have seen several longtime diarists post a million reasons why you should attend this year's NN in Minneapolis from June 16-19...and if you can't make it this year, you should absolutely come in the future.

I know many readers and community members are already regular attendees, but for those who are on the fence, or skeptical of how much they'll get out of Netroots Nation...well, I have my own story to tell about why Netroots Nation is so important to me personally, and why I've attended each of the last three, why I'll be in Minneapolis, and why I'll attend next year's convention no matter where it is or how much it costs to get there.

Netroots Nation changed my life, completely and for the better.

No, I didn't meet my girlfriend in Austin in 2008, like Dante Atkins did. But my professional life changed forever in 2008, and my experience at Netroots Nation is one of the biggest reasons why; along with the day Markos Moulitsas extended his offer for me to become a contributing editor, Austin was responsible for launching me into a career as a political professional.

I arrived in Austin a broke 25-year-old, still kicking around a cheap apartment in New York City and figuring out what he wanted to do with his life. By the time I was on the plane back to New York, I had dozens of new friends, new contacts, and a sense of purpose. I'd listened to brilliant speakers, interviewed political candidates, consumed a whole lot of Shiner Bock and barbecue, and my team won the pub quiz to boot. It was ridiculous fun and a terrific political education.

I knew right away that Austin had changed my life, and I wrote that. I just didn't know how, at the time. Now I do.

What makes Netroots Nation really special isn't the politicians who visit, or the parties, or getting a chance to meet the big-name bloggers you've idolized from afar in the past (I was completely speechless the first time I met Digby), or watching a blogger stand up and challenge the former President of the United States and watching Bill Clinton deal with the question directly.

All of that is great fun. But what's truly unique—and intoxicating, even more so than the Shiner Bock—is the feeling you get from being in the same room as a thousand people who all want to change the world. Some of them are bloggers, some of them are political operatives, some are United States Senators, and some are just ordinary activists or members of the Daily Kos community, who do their part in their own way in their own community or state to help make this country greater and stronger.

It's a very empowering feeling. Before Austin, I'd never really believed that I had it in me to make a difference in politics or public life. Going to Netroots Nation gave me the courage to pursue those things professionally, because here were a thousand people just like me, from all over the United States, who were knocking doors for Barack Obama or registering voters in Georgia or running for Congress in South Florida or working for a terrific U.S. Senate candidate in New Mexico - people who had committed their lives to their ideals and were working every day to realize those ideals.

I don't know of any other single place where there are so many people like that, from such a diverse set of backgrounds, to inspire your own activism. And if you're fortunate enough to already be a person with a sense of purpose about their activism...well, there's no better place to meet like-minded souls.  

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