The working group is right to think big, yet it must be cognizant that legislation will face stiff opposition from the National Rifle Association. In today’s polarized environment, an omnibus bill might offer everyone something to oppose. It would be a mistake to ask Congress for a package so big that it sinks. [...] [T]he White House can show leadership on the related issues of mental health and of violence in entertainment and video games. But the urgency of action, and the deep polarization of our politics, means the administration should choose its legislative priorities carefully, aiming for those with broad public support and a reasonable chance of approval. As Mr. Biden vowed the other day, “We are not going to get caught up in the notion that unless we can do everything, we’re going to do nothing. It’s critically important that we act.”In other words, let polls and NRA opposition drive policy. The editors support a new assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity clips, increased background checks and greater penalties for drug trafficking. But addressing the epidemic of gun violence in this country requires a whole lot more, and the president and vice-president should put for a bold, life-saving package -- regardless of what Republicans and NRA supporters in Congress have to say about it. Start big, sell it to the American people, and let the people pressure Congress to step up the plate. Calling for the administration to sink its vision down to the level of the most despised institution in the country is the wrong call. Every victim of gun violence, their families, and their communities deserve much better.
The editors at The Denver Post have the right idea. They say Gov. John Hickenlooper's call for universal background checks and increased mental health funding is a good start, but a bigger, bolder plan is needed:
Hickenlooper's take on ways to prevent violence includes a call to change the state's standards for committing people with mental problems to make it easier to get them help. His proposal would bolster funding for the mental health care system by $18.5 million. Laudable ideas, to be sure. [...] With both chambers of the legislature controlled by Democrats, it's all but a lock those measures will pass, and the state will be better for them. Taken cumulatively, Hickenlooper's address was a reserved exercise that touched upon business and energy themes that appeal to Republicans and other issues and causes that have been supported by his fellow Democrats for some years. As such, he could have taken a bolder stance on gun control while maintaining his reputation as pragmatist.Don't miss Aaron Blake's rundown of vice-president Biden's relationship with the NRA.
The Los Angeles Times editors look at the surge of gun sales:
The reason for all this gun mania, of course, is fear — not fear of victimization, but fear that the government will impose limits on gun ownership. President Obama is the focus of this fear, as he has been since 2008, despite the fact that he has neither proposed nor signed anti-gun legislation. [...] Congress, meanwhile, is dusting off old bills to reinstate an expired federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (a movement with notably more enthusiasm among Democrats than Republicans). Such weapons are already banned in California.Switching gears to Afghanistan, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon at Reuters looks at the debate about troop levels:
In fact, there is almost zero chance that the federal government will adopt restrictions tougher than what California already has on the books, making the reaction in Ontario [by those who rushed to purchase guns] a little puzzling. That doesn't render Washington's efforts worthless — California has the strictest gun laws of any state, and the country would be safer if such limits were imposed nationwide. Meanwhile, some California lawmakers are proposing state bills that would impose even stricter rules here.
To gun owners and prospective buyers, we can only say: Don't panic. Any legislative changes will be, for the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners, unnoticeable. Obama's not going to break into your house wearing a ski mask and take your guns away.
[T]alking about the mission – the “good war” whose eventual goal became “good enough” – is what most of Washington has avoided. By not discussing in depth the war and its objectives, the administration has allowed the American public to believe there is nothing to salvage in Afghanistan after a decade of battle.Ryan Cooper at The Washington Monthly on the debt ceiling debate:
This idea of Afghanistan as hopeless, says the celebrated diplomatic workhorse Ryan Crocker, who most recently served as ambassador to Afghanistan, should be questioned. Leaving Afghanistan with little financial, civilian or military support, he said, is a lethal recipe for history to repeat.[...] Crocker and others say the bill for supporting the Afghan military is far more affordable than another war.
“We will wind up paying about $2.5 billion a year as our share of support for Afghan security forces totaling 230,000,” Crocker said. “That sounds like a lot of money ‑ until you consider that we’re paying about $110 billion a year now. So this is pretty cheap insurance.” Whether that insurance will be sufficient to help Afghans protect their nation and avoid a descent into civil war remains in doubt. But as Obama and Karzai meet in Washington, the call for clarity on U.S. objectives and commitments has grown ever louder.
[President Obama] should absolutely refuse to even entertain the possibility of negotiations over raising the debt ceiling. Normalizing the idea of holding the economy hostage to extract unrelated policy concessions is a terrible development, and habit needs to be broken. [...] if the president can’t acknowledge the validity of the coin option, what is the point of working through the logistics and generally talking about it so much? The real danger of the coin option is the ignorance of the national media. As we’ve been finding out, many members of the press have primitive, pre-Enlightenment beliefs about money. They think the government is like a household, and don’t consider the implications of fiat currency. Running the government on platinum seigniorage, even temporarily, would sound deeply strange, and you can bet Republicans would be howling bloody murder. The coverage would be key. If only we had panicked reports from the likes of Judson Berger blaming the president entirely for the situation, gabbling incoherently about hyperinflation and default, then we’d likely see a big backlash and possibly impeachment.Susan Milligan at US News & World Report writes that the bailout lawsuit should be laughed out of court:
Therefore, hashing out the debate now is critical, to give the president the confidence he needs that the platinum option is a viable one and he won’t be crucified for exercising it, so he can absolutely refuse to negotiate over the debt ceiling. I’d say Team Coin has done quite well in this task so far.
The audacity behind [ex-AIG CEO] Greenberg's reasoning is stunning. His sense of entitlement dwarfs anything we have heard from the Siegels. AIG took bad risks and lost. That's the nature of business and capitalism. The federal government took on a troubled company, helped it get back on its feet, and was rewarded with a profit—money that goes into general revenue. The Treasury Department staff didn't get spa vacations or big bonuses. They did their job, and did it better than Greenberg and his fellow executives did. And Greenberg thinks that's unfair? That's a remarkable perspective from any businessperson, particularly one from a business like insurance, which is rooted in risk assessment. The suit should be laughed out of court. And Greenberg should take some of his leftover compensation and buy a paper bag to put over his faceNathan Lewis at Forbes urges lawmakers to think outside the box when it comes to strengthening Social Security and Medicate and urges a "clean sheet" approach:
If you look at the two main entitlement programs today – Social Security and Medicare – you see immediately that they are extremely inefficient and costly ways of solving the problem of senior income insurance and healthcare. Social Security, for example, pays the most money to the people who need it least – those who had the highest incomes during their lifetime, and have often accumulated substantial assets on top of private-sector pension benefits. Often, those who need it most – those who had the lowest incomes during their lifetime – get benefits so small that they don’t really solve the basic problem of debilitating poverty.Over at The Financial Times (free sign-up required), Jacob Weisberg writes about how "the president's cower has turned to swagger":
Rather than jiggering the existing Social Security program with tweaks like “means testing,” I suggest a clean-sheet-of-paper solution. It would be more like our existing welfare programs. If you qualify, you would get a flat-rate contribution that would be the same for everyone, no matter what their income was. This would likely be much less expensive than the existing Social Security program, which means that taxes to fund it could be much lower. It would be better to roll the program into the general budget and not have separate earmarked taxes, like any other welfare program. This would potentially allow the complete elimination of payroll taxes.[...] This is just one idea. I’m sure someone could make a better one. The important thing is that someone introduces some new ideas, rather than just cutting benefits within the existing framework, for example by raising retirement ages.
On a range of other issues, such as gun control, the president’s new tone suggests that he prefers going it alone to beating his head against a wall of ultraconservative opposition. This means either proceeding unilaterally with more limited executive orders or forcing the Republicans to stand up and be counted in opposition. There is probably some political strategy here. The GOP continues to control the House only because turnout in midterm elections is smaller, older, and whiter than in presidential years. Picking fights on social issues is probably the best way for Mr Obama to turn out the Democratic base in 2014.Writing in The New York Times, Raymond A. Smith argues that presidents should rely more on their cabinet and lays out some ways a stronger relationship between the president and the cabinet can result in stronger policy:
Over the past half-century, however, the expansion of the White House staff has centralized deliberation and decision making increasingly within the confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. This reliance on professional staffers, political advisers and media spinmeisters within a constrictive White House “security bubble” deprives presidents not only of the deep substantive policy expertise of top civil servants but also of the political judgment of cabinet members who are often successful politicians. A strengthened cabinet could promote frank and creative deliberation, help coordinate policy across government and make sure all members are delivering the same political message. All of this could go far in staving off the inertia and drift so common in presidential second terms.Anson Kaye at US News & World Report takes a hilarious look at the tragicomedy of modern House politics:
Cabinet secretaries given a more prominent role would also enjoy a higher profile, enhancing their effectiveness in Washington and beyond, and enabling them to serve as more effective proxies for the president. Here are four ideas to maximize the reach and impact of the next cabinet...
... I have come up with the following modest proposal for House reform: replace the Speaker with a Coracias garrulus. That's right. For lack of a more delicate term, it's the vomit bird. You see, when Coracias garrulus senses danger the little darlings throw up all over themselves. Usually, it makes them a less delectable treat for predators, but put one up on the dais and it's hard to imagine a more accurate physical manifestation of how many of us are feeling about the goings on in the House these days. Just imagine: the Honorable Jim Jordan of Ohio rises to offer an amendment and ... Speaker Coracias garrulus shares his lunch.Howard Kurtz at CNN examines Andrew Sullivan's approach to blogger self-funding through the context of journalists and personal brands:
We are seeing the rise of hybrid journalists, like Ezra Klein, who blogs for The Washington Post, is an MSNBC contributor and writes a column for Bloomberg News. Or Andrew Ross Sorkin, who writes a column for The New York Times, runs its DealBook blog and co-hosts CNBC's Squawk Box.
But below the level of the brightest stars, there is a survival strategy at work. Newspapers and magazines are shrinking. I've lost count of the number of reporters, columnists and critics who have been laid off or taken buyouts, only to launch blogs, join websites, churn out e-books or otherwise seek a foothold in the digital economy.
News organizations used to frown on this sort of thing; now they have bookers to get their folks on TV and social media editors to push their stars on Facebook and Twitter. The Times once discouraged its people from going on television; now, like most newspapers, it has its own studio.
If there was once a line that stopped journalists from engaging in blatant self-promotion, it long ago vanished. But here's why that's not a bad thing. Most print journalists were once viewed as remote figures engaged in one-way communication. Now they've been forced to engage in a dialogue with their readers, responding to tweets, posting pictures, sharing more of themselves with those who consume the news. The walls of the fortress have been breached.