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Late Night FDL: John and Katrina broke up

As he does when he’s filming a campaign commercial with government funds touring an area impacted (yeah, I know, I verbed. I’m going to hell) by the Bush administration, Senator McCain took the troops with him into New Orleans (note: except for the ones who were filming this photo op for the Senator’s convention film, camera crews were not allowed to accompany the Senator, so the picture below is from a similar visit to Baghdad):

Republican John McCain toured this city’s still-impoverished Lower 9th Ward today, accompanied by dozens of soldiers from the Louisiana National Guard and trailed by a press corps herded onto the flatbeds of two large green cargo trucks.

Accompanied by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, McCain and his wife Cindy stopped to greet volunteers at the Lisa Jones House, a Christian charity that distributes clothing and food to local residents in need. Initially, the only crew allowed on the street with him during the three-block walk was his campaign film crew, which has been putting together a video montage of this week’s tour of America’s "forgotten places" for the convention.

Democrats criticized McCain’s visit to New Orleans, noting that he’d voted against a spending bill in 2006 that would have provided $28 billion in hurricane relief, and legislation that would have extended unemployment and Medicaid benefits to hurricane victims for several months. The Arizona senator also opposed a commission to study the federal government’s response.

"Touring the 9th Ward with reporters can’t hide the fact that John McCain voted against billions of dollars in Katrina recovery efforts, emergency healthcare for survivors, unemployment assistance for displaced workers, and even the creation of a commission to find out what went wrong," Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said in a statement. "People in the Gulf Coast can hardly afford four more years of the failed Bush-McCain agenda."

McCain defended those votes aboard his campaign bus as part of his campaign against wasteful spending, saying the legislation could have led to "waste" and "mismanagement."

"They were all partisan votes," McCain said. "I’m proud of my support of American citizens regarding the taxpayers. I will not vote for projects and programs and bills that are laden with pork-barrel projects that waste taxpayers’ dollars . . . They were full of pork-barrel, wasteful, unnecessary projects and earmarks."

One of those projects? Drugs for senior citizens:

Congressional Republicans from across the ideological spectrum yesterday rejected the White House’s open-wallet approach to rebuilding the Gulf Coast, a sign that the lockstep GOP discipline that George W. Bush has enjoyed for most of his presidency is eroding on Capitol Hill.

Trying to allay mounting concerns, White House budget director Joshua B. Bolten met with Republican senators for an hour after their regular Tuesday lunch. Senators emerged to say they were annoyed by the lack of concrete ideas for paying the Hurricane Katrina bill.

"Very entertaining," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said sarcastically as he left the session. "I haven’t heard any specifics from the administration."

McCain called on Bush to undo the Medicare prescription drug law, while a number of lawmakers said the costly benefit should at least be postponed from its January starting date. Republicans are pressing ahead with the Medicare changes, even as the White House spreads the word it is opposed to such a move.

But… McCain, you say, is a fierce foe of government spending! And indeed, he is fiercely opposed to this particular form of government spending:

Tuesday night the News Hour with Jim Lehrer dutifully reported that John McCain had been in Pittsburgh that day—tax day, as it happens—at Carnegie Mellon delivering a speech about his economic proposals. The NewsHour’s Kwame Holman quickly noted that McCain went after his rivals on money matters. Indeed he did. He chastised his opponents, saying that they would allow tax cuts to expire, which would result in people paying more taxes—perhaps thousands of dollars per year. In a sly reference to the title of one of Barack Obama’s books, he added that the Democrats have the “audacity to hope you don’t mind.” The NewsHour also allowed McCain to pitch his plan for a temporary suspension of federal gasoline taxes from Memorial Day to Labor Day to reduce pain at the pump.

What the NewsHour didn’t let the candidate discuss was his quiet bombshell proposal to make Medicare beneficiaries with higher incomes pay more for their prescription drug benefits, a notion that furthers the privatization (and in the eyes of many health care advocates, the diminution and eventual death) of Medicare, and one that presumably a lot of NewsHour viewers would be interested in. In his prepared remarks, McCain called the prescription drug benefit a “new and costly entitlement” that included many people who could buy insurance on their own without government help—people like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. By making them pay more for their medicines than some worker who spent his career in the coal mines, the country could save “billions of dollars that could be returned to taxpayers or put to better use.”

That rhetoric sounds plausible, maybe even logical, and it may well resonate with the public. Why shouldn’t a poor coal miner pay less than Bill Gates?

But many health care advocates see McCain’s proposal is just another opening to privatize Medicare and destroy it as a social insurance program, under which everyone who has paid into the system is entitled to equal benefits as a matter of right. A provision that was tucked into the recent law that gave seniors the drug benefit (Part D) already requires wealthier beneficiaries to pay more for the Medicare premiums that cover doctor visits and outpatient services (Part B). If drug benefits, too, are based on income, critics fear that support for the program will eventually erode as those with more choices and more money will opt out of the program and buy coverage from private insurers.

Like the NewsHour, most of the media didn’t get it, and ignored MCain’s privatization message and its ramifications. The New York Times mentioned it in a front page piece, noting that the proposal would affect not just billionaires but couples earning more than $164,000 and single people with incomes of $82,000. But it didn’t go beyond that. A McClatchy Newspapers story appearing in The Seattle Times nibbled around the edges. McCain’s proposal, the paper said, “brings up the specter of means testing for federal-benefit programs, anathema to the politically powerful seniors lobby,” a tip-off to what the debate is about, but without really explaining it. The Washington Post presented a shred of context, but only a shred, that offered a glimmer of what’s really at stake here. The Post pointed out that McCain’s Medicare proposal had been floated unsuccessfully past Congress before.

McCain adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin revealed the most when he said in the Post story: “You could make this as aggressive as you want to get more savings.” In other words, if the government saves $2 billion by making couples with incomes greater than $164,000 pay higher premiums, it could save $6 billion by moving down the income ladder to, say, $100,000 or even less.

Or, you know, what George Will thinks cops and teachers make in Chicago.

So, in a fiscally responsible way, I’m so there, dude! Screw the people of New Orleans, because the most important thing in the world is to cut taxes:

John McCain’s plan to cut taxes and balance the budget wins praise from fellow Republicans. Economists and nonpartisan analysts say his numbers don’t add up.

McCain’s proposal, outlined April 15, would extend President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, reduce the top corporate rate, repeal the alternative minimum tax and double exemptions for dependents. Price: $3.3 trillion by the end of a President McCain’s second term in 2017, according to figures from his campaign and the Treasury.

The Arizona senator said that would be offset by eliminating pork-barrel spending, freezing a portion of the budget, and saving from Medicare spending. He could cut the budget by $100 billion a year “in a New York minute,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview yesterday.

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Washington-based Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that advocates budget restraint, said “the huge imbalance” in McCain’s plan “is that the tax cuts are specific and large and the spending cuts are small and vague.”

Once, McCain was a deficit hawk, Bixby said, but “strange things happen when people run for president.”

Back when:

"I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us at the expense of middle-class Americans who need tax relief."–John McCain, May 2001

Particulary not when it benefits Certain People.

Now, he can’t support the end of the tax cuts for the rich because it would be just like a tax increase.

But hey. Fiscal austerity. More important than medicine for seniors or feeding people in New Orleans, right?

Republican John McCain said Sunday that cutting taxes and stimulating the economy are more important than balancing the budget, and accused both Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama of supporting tax hikes that would worsen the impact of a recession.

"The goal right now is to get the economy going again," the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting said on ABC’s This Week, adding that he would put America "on a path to a balanced budget" by attacking wasteful spending.

What he can support is Medicare rate increases, because … well, he doesn’t need to worry about such things.

OK, whatever. He married his money. Let’s talk about what the entrepreneurs who make this country great have to say:

[Pro-estate tax crusader Bill Gates Sr], 78, says the wealthy should pay the tax because they owe a special debt. Their riches, he says, would not be possible without a strong society supporting capitalism.

"Most of the things that have generated the enormous advances in our economy are things that started on some campus or in some laboratory," Gates said in an exclusive interview last week. "And most of those are because the government financed it."

Gates, a semiretired lawyer who runs the $24 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, isn’t an idle advocate. He’s so passionate about it that he recently wrote a book on the subject — his first — and is hitting the publicity circuit this week to use his name and book to battle Bush, who last week proposed killing the tax for good as part of his $674 billion economic stimulus plan. "I’m relishing it," Gates says of the upcoming battle in Congress.

The stakes are enormous, especially for the 1% of U.S. households who control 38% of private wealth, Gates says. Under current law, the estate of someone worth $1 billion would have to cough up as much as $490 million in taxes after he or she dies. Eliminate the tax, and the heirs would gain that much.

The tax generates about $30 billion in annual federal revenue, about 1% of all, Gates says. That doesn’t sound like much, but it will likely go higher as thousands of Americans who amassed fortunes in recent decades begin to die, putting up for grabs as much as $136.2 trillion in wealth.

The effort by Gates, Buffett and others is not as odd as it might seem. Gates’ son, with $43 billion, and Buffett, with $36 billion, have said they’ll give most of their fortunes to charity, which will reduce estate taxes.

The estate tax stems from a 1916 law that taxes the value of property, stocks and other assets valued above certain amounts when someone dies. Unless it is killed, the tax, the dollar values and the tax rates, will reduce gradually until 2010, when the tax will be repealed for one year. Then it reverts to 2001 levels.

Most Americans will never pay the tax because their estates are too small, Gates says in Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes (Beacon Press, $25). Only about 2% of estates qualify each year. But it is those estates and their powerful families that concern Gates.

Without the tax, he says, their wealth could grow to a point where they could have too much control over the national agenda.

As it is, I’ll just point out that whatever he may say for the campaign cameras, John McCain’s real concern for the people who lost either almost all they had or their lives in Katrina hasn’t changed much from the day the storm hit.

What a mensch.


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Middle-aged (thank god); married (oddly enough); native New Yorker; one (thoroughly magnificent, thanks) child, She Who Must Be Obeyed, aka HM (Her Majesty). But a mere lowly end-user by profession, and a former [pretty much everything, at least in somewhat limited first-world terms].

Extravagant (mostly organic) cook, slapdash (completely organic) gardener, brain space originally assigned to names and faces piled up with the overflow from the desperately overcrowded Old Movie and Broadway Trivia section, garage space which was originally assigned to a car piled up with boxes of books.

Dreadful housekeeper, indifferent dresser, takeout menu ninja and the proud owner of a major percentage of the partially finished crafts projects on the east coast of the continental United States.

The handsome gentleman in the picture is Hoa Hakananai'a. He joined the collection of the British Museum in 1868. His name, which is thought to mean "stolen or hidden friend," was given to him by his previous owners when he was collected.