Why It's Time for Myth McConnell to Go
With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell facing a tough reelection battle back home in Kentucky, Washington Post columnist and Fox News regular George Will rushed to the defense of his fellow human-turtle hybrid. Returning the 30 year veteran to Capitol Hill, Will proclaimed, is about nothing less than the "restoration of the Senate's dignity."
Will's warning would be hilarious if it weren't so grotesque. Mitch McConnell, after all, is the man most responsible for the GOP's unprecedented obstructionism during President Obama's tenure. Under his leadership, Senate Republicans shattered the record for filibusters and blocked Obama's judicial and executive branch nominees at rates unimaginable before 2009. Nevertheless, the same Mitch McConnell who on November 4, 2010 declared "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president" less than a year later complained about Democrats' "storyline" that "there must be some villain out there who's keeping this administration from succeeding."
But McConnell's unique parliamentary skills are only one weapon in his kamikaze campaign to sink the Democratic agenda under President Obama. As it turns out, Mitch McConnell is also the GOP's mythmaker-in-chief, a hyper-partisan more than willing to tell the biggest lies on the biggest issues in order to mislead the American public, all in the service of his Republican Party.
Whether he's discussing taxes, health care, the economy, the debt or pretty much anything else, virtually all of Myth McConnell's talking points are tried--and untrue.
Click a link to jump to the details for each below
- "The [Kynect] Website Can Continue, But In My View the Best interests of the Country Would Be Achieved by Pulling Out Obamacare Root and Branch."
- 47 Million Uninsured Americans "Don't Go Without Health Care."
- "Any President's Judicial Nominees, After Full Debate, Deserve a Simple Up-or-Down Vote."
- "Obama Made the Economy Worse."
- Public Sector Layoffs Are a "Local" Problem
- "No Evidence Whatsoever That the Bush Tax Cuts Actually Diminished Revenue."
- "Punishing Job Creators."
- "We Look a Lot Like Greece Already."
- The Debt Ceiling "Is a Hostage That's Worth Ransoming."
- The Public Option "May Cost You Your Life."
- Democrats Are "Sticking It to Seniors with Cuts to Medicare."
"The [Kynect] Website Can Continue, But In My View the Best interests of the Country Would Be Achieved by Pulling Out Obamacare Root and Branch."
Within hours of President Obama affixing his signature to the Affordable Care Act, Mitch McConnell declared the Republicans' 2010 midterm slogan "will be 'repeal and replace', 'repeal and replace.'" But now that 520,000 of his constituents--12 percent of Kentucky's entire population--have gained insurance thanks to Obamacare, McConnell is trying to have it both ways. As described his plans for Kynect, the Blue Grass State's incredibly successful Obamacare program, during his recent debate with Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes:
"The website can continue, but in my view the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare root and branch."
After winning Politifact's Lie of the Year awards for "death panels" and "government takeover of health," this new Republican hoax is the most cynical and cruel deception of all: if Obamacare is repealed, over half a million Ohioans, those 520,000 Kentuckians and over 25 million people across America will lose their health insurance. As a result, thousands of them will needlessly die every year.
The deception behind the Republicans' Obamacare shell game is a simple. The nearly $1 trillion Affordable Care Act program contains several, interconnected components. To succeed in their con, the likes of Mitch McConnell and John Kasich need voters to not grasp that inescapable truth. So, Mitch McConnell says Kentucky's Kynect web site "can continue," even though it would have no policies to sell the customers who could no longer afford them after he repeals Obamacare "root and branch." No Obamacare means no Medicaid expansion, which means 400,000 people in Kentucky lose their current coverage. No subsidies for Kentuckians to buy private insurance through the state's Kynect exchange means almost 100,000 will be left uninsured. And in a bitter irony, McConnell's newly uninsured will be disproportionately concentrated in the counties where he and his fellow Republicans poll best.
47 Million Uninsured Americans "Don't Go Without Health Care"
McConnell the "strict obstructionist" was naturally in the forefront of the all-out Republican effort to block health care reform at any cost. As he repeatedly put it in June 2009, "all of us want reform, but not reform that denies, delays, or rations health care." To prove his point, McConnell didn't merely trot out a Canadian patient who came to the U.S. for special treatment, but insisted to NBC's David Gregory that no American did without health care.
GREGORY: Do you think it's a moral issue that 47 million Americans go without health insurance?
McCONNELL: Well, they don't go without health care. It's not the most efficient way to provide it. As we know, the doctors in the hospitals are sworn to provide health care. We all agree it is not the most efficient way to provide health care to find somebody only in the emergency room and then pass those costs on to those who are paying for insurance. So it is important, I think, to reduce the number of uninsured. The question is, what is the best way to do that?
That President George W. Bush, Tom Delay and Paul Broun among other Republicans also claimed "people have access to health care in America...after all, you just go to an emergency room" doesn't make it any more true. As the pre-Obamacare numbers showed--50 million uninsured, another 25 million underinsured, 45,000 unnecessary deaths, one in five Americans "self-rationing" care and 62 percent of all personal bankruptcies being related to medical bills--the crisis was far worse than the one Mitch McConnell pretended didn't exist.
"Any President's Judicial Nominees, After Full Debate, Deserve a Simple Up-or-Down Vote."
After Minority Leader McConnell broke a string of promises to allow President Obama's judicial nominees to get a vote on the floor of the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid had enough. Last November, he exercised the "nuclear option," changing Senate rules to end the judicial filibuster on all nominees for the federal bench, except for the Supreme Court. In response, McConnell was furious:
"This is nothing more than a power grab. They broke the Senate rules in order to exercise a power grab."
Of course, when Republican George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, McConnell had a different view. In March 2005, a spokesman explained that "Senator McConnell always has and continues to fully support the use of what has become known as the '[nuclear]' option in order to restore the norms and traditions of the Senate." And as McConnell declared on the Senate floor on May 19, 2005:
"Any president's judicial nominees, after full and fair debate, receive a simple up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. It is time to move away from advise and obstruct and get back to advise and consent."
Any president, that is, as long as he is a Republican. As ThinkProgress reported in 2011, the Democrat Barack Obama faced "the worst obstructionism any new president faced at any point in American history:"
[T]he Senate confirmed fewer of [Obama's] district and circuit nominees than every president back to Jimmy Carter, and the lowest percentage of nominees - 58% - than any president in American history at this point in a President's first term. By comparison, Presidents George W. Bush, Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Reagan and Carter had 77%, 90%, 96%, 98%, and 97% of their nominees confirmed after two years, respectively.
Senate Republicans' mass obstruction of Obama's judges stands in stark contrast to the treatment afforded to past presidents. Indeed, the Senate confirmed fewer judges during Obama's first two years in office than it did during the same period in the Carter Administration, even though the judiciary was 40 percent smaller while Carter was in office.
As dismal as Mitch McConnell's record was, it was actually an improvement from a year earlier, when only 43 percent of President Obama's judicial appointments had been confirmed. So much for an "up-or-down vote."
"Obama Made the Economy Worse."
For years, Mitch McConnell (for example, here, here and here) regurgitated the GOP talking point that President Obama "made the economy worse." Sadly for the trickle-down mythmakers of the Republican Party, the facts and the overwhelming consensus of economists - including John McCain's 2008 brain trust - prove otherwise. President Obama not only did not make the American economy worse; no thanks to obstructionist Republicans in Congress he saved the United States from "Great Depression 2.0" and put the nation on the path to recovery.
Start, for example, with the conclusions of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Despite Republican mythmaking that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) "created zero jobs," in November 2011, the CBO reported that the stimulus added up to 2.4 million jobs and boosted GDP by as much as 1.9 points in the previous quarter. As the Washington Post reported in June 2012, the House Budget Committee heard testimony from the CBO chief answering a simple question: did the $787 billion Obama stimulus work? Unfortunately for Republican propagandists, Elmendorf clearly refuted Mitt Romney's claim that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was "the largest one-time careless expenditure of government money in American history."
Under questioning from skeptical Republicans, the director of the nonpartisan (and widely respected) Congressional Budget Office was emphatic about the value of the 2009 stimulus. And, he said, the vast majority of economists agree.
In a survey conducted by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, 80 percent of economic experts agreed that, because of the stimulus, the U.S. unemployment rate was lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been otherwise.
"Only 4 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed," CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf told the House Budget Committee. "That," he added, "is a distinct minority."
Not content with that response, Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp tried again. "Where did Washington mess up?" Huelskamp demanded. "Because you're saying most economists think it should've worked. It didn't." As the Post's Lori Montgomery detailed, Elmendorf drove home the point:
Most economists not only think it should have worked; they think it did work, Elmendorf replied. CBO's own analysis found that the package added as many as 3.3 million jobs to the economy during the second quarter of 2010, and may have prevented the nation from lapsing back into recession.
Mark Zandi, an adviser to John McCain in 2008, couldn't have agreed more. He was adamant on positive role of the stimulus. Federal intervention, he and Princeton economist Alan Blinder argued in August 2010, literally saved the United States from a second Great Depression. In "How the Great Recession Was Brought to an End," Blinder and Zandi's models confirmed the impact of the Obama recovery program and other federal interventions dating back to 2008, concluding that "laissez faire was not an option":
We find that its effects on real GDP, jobs, and inflation are huge, and probably averted what could have been called Great Depression 2.0. For example, we estimate that, without the government's response, GDP in 2010 would be about 11.5% lower, payroll employment would be less by some 8½ million jobs, and the nation would now be experiencing deflation.
Public Sector Layoffs a "Local" Problem
Last fall, Minority Leader McConnell led the GOP opposition to President Obama's proposed $400 billion American Jobs Act. The loss of hundreds of thousands of police, firefighter, teacher and other public sector jobs, he insisted, was a "local" problem.
But as the numbers show, the sum of McConnell's "local" concerns was a disaster for the United States. DC Republicans didn't just block Obama initiatives like the American Jobs Act and infrastructure investment that could have boosted employment when unemployment was mired at 9 percent and strangle job creation and consumer confidence with their debt ceiling hostage-taking. The draconian austerity policies of state and local governments created an "anti-stimulus," with layoffs of public sector workers and cuts to spending that only served to undermine the gains from ARRA. By May 2013, the Hamilton Institute estimated those austerity policies cost 2.2 American million jobs and resulted in the slowest recovery since World War II. In April 2012, the Economic Policy Institute explained:
The current recovery is the only one that has seen public-sector losses over its first 31 months...If public-sector employment had grown since June 2009 by the average amount it grew in the three previous recoveries (2.8 percent) instead of shrinking by 2.5 percent, there would be 1.2 million more public-sector jobs in the U.S. economy today. In addition, these extra public-sector jobs would have helped preserve about 500,000 private-sector jobs.
That March, Paul Krugman expressed the same point, but with some inconvenient historical context for the Party of Reagan. "In fact, if it weren't for this destructive fiscal austerity," Krugman explained, "Our unemployment rate would almost certainly be lower now than it was at a comparable stage of the 'Morning in America' recovery during the Reagan era."
We're talking big numbers here. If government employment under Mr. Obama had grown at Reagan-era rates, 1.3 million more Americans would be working as schoolteachers, firefighters, police officers, etc., than are currently employed in such jobs.
And once you take the effects of public spending on private employment into account, a rough estimate is that the unemployment rate would be 1.5 percentage points lower than it is, or below 7 percent -- significantly better than the Reagan economy at this stage.
Fast forward to 2014, and GDP gains, the drop in unemployment and new investment are nevertheless outpacing the recovery from the Reagan recession. To put it another way, Barack Obama is out-Reaganing Reagan. No thanks, of course, to Mitch McConnell.
"No Evidence Whatsoever That the Bush Tax Cuts Actually Diminished Revenue."
In his version of the Republican myth that "tax cuts pay for themselves," President Bush confidently proclaimed, "You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase." As it turned out, not so much.
After Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt with his supply-side tax cuts, George W. Bush doubled it again with his own. (Reagan's performance would have been much worse, had he not raised taxes 11 times to help make up the shocking shortfall.) As a share of American GDP, tax revenues peaked in 2000; that is, before the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded, the Bush tax cuts accounted for half of the deficits during his tenure, and if made permanent, over the next decade would cost the U.S. Treasury more than Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, TARP and the stimulus - combined.
Nevertheless, as the Republican Party waged its all-out attack in 2010 to preserve the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the GOP's number two man in the Senate provided the talking point to help sell the $70 billion annual giveaway to America's rich. "You should never," Arizona's Jon Kyl declared, "have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans." For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rushed to defend Kyl's fuzzy math:
"There's no evidence whatsoever that the Bush tax cuts actually diminished revenue. They increased revenue because of the vibrancy of these tax cuts in the economy. So I think what Senator Kyl was expressing was the view of virtually every Republican on that subject."
That may have been a view universally shared by virtually every Republican, but it happens to be wrong. In a 2012 University of Chicago Booth School of Business survey, not a single one of the economists asked agreed that "a cut in federal income tax rates in the US right now would raise taxable income enough so that the annual total tax revenue would be higher within five years than without the tax cut." As Former Obama administration economist and current University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee put it:
Moon landing was real. Evolution exists. Tax cuts lose revenue. The research has shown this a thousand times. Enough already.
"Punishing Job Creators."
For years, Senator McConnell has been among the legions of Republicans wrongly arguing that even the slightest increase in taxes for the wealthiest Americans is tantamount to "punishing job creators." As his colleague John Boehner put it:
"The top one percent of wage earners in the United States...pay forty percent of the income taxes...The people he's [President Obama] is talking about taxing are the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy."
If so, those expectations were sadly unmet under George W. Bush. After all, the last time the top tax rate was 39.6 percent during the Clinton administration, the United States enjoyed rising incomes, 23 million new jobs and budget surpluses. Under Bush? Not so much.
On January 9, 2009, the Republican-friendly Wall Street Journal summed it up with an article titled simply, "Bush on Jobs: the Worst Track Record on Record." (The Journal's interactive table quantifies his staggering failure relative to every post-World War II president.) The meager one million jobs created under President Bush didn't merely pale in comparison to the 23 million produced during Bill Clinton's tenure. In September 2009, the Congressional Joint Economic Committee charted Bush's job creation disaster, the worst since Hoover.
That dismal performance prompted David Leonhardt of the New York Times to ask last fall, "Why should we believe that extending the Bush tax cuts will provide a big lift to growth?" His answer was unambiguous:
Those tax cuts passed in 2001 amid big promises about what they would do for the economy. What followed? The decade with the slowest average annual growth since World War II. Amazingly, that statement is true even if you forget about the Great Recession and simply look at 2001-7...
Is there good evidence the tax cuts persuaded more people to join the work force (because they would be able to keep more of their income)? Not really. The labor-force participation rate fell in the years after 2001 and has never again approached its record in the year 2000.
Is there evidence that the tax cuts led to a lot of entrepreneurship and innovation? Again, no. The rate at which start-up businesses created jobs fell during the past decade.
The data are clear: lower taxes for America's so called job-creators don't mean either faster economic growth or more jobs for Americans.
As Jared Bernstein aptly put it:
"Tax cuts and job growth? They're just not that into each other."
"We Look a Lot Like Greece Already"
As their last round of hostage-taking of the debt heated up in the summer of 2011, Republicans including Mitch McConnell warned, "We look a lot like Greece."
While FactCheck.org was quick to conclude that "whatever it 'looks like' through Sen. McConnell's eyes -- the fact is that the U.S. is not yet a fiscal wreck of Greek proportions," its analysis hardly does justice to the scale of the Republican myth-making. The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen summed it up quite succinctly:
New rule: every time a confused Republican lawmakers compare the United States' fiscal conditions to that of Greece, an angel loses its wings.
Look, the very idea is just crazy. The U.S. has extremely low interest rates and foreign investor are happy to loan us money; Greece has extremely high interest rates and no one is eager to loan the country money. The U.S. has our own currency; Greece has the Euro. We have a great credit rating (for now); Greece has an awful credit rating. We have a manageable debt; Greece has a debt crisis. We're a large country with an enormous economy; Greece is a small country with a small economy. We have one of the world's most stable systems of government (at least until six months ago); Greece's government structure is a little shaky.
For his part, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been decrying the "Hellenization of economic discourse" for months. "Greece -- with a long history of fiscal irresponsibility, very high public debt, and a country without a currency -- doesn't bear much resemblance even to the other peripheral Europeans, let alone the United States."
Here's debt levels (if you ask me the IMF projections for Greece are too optimistic):
Plus there's the having your own currency thing, and the fact that the interest rate on US 10-year bonds is 3.11 percent, on Greek bonds 16.82 percent.
Otherwise we're exactly the same.
The situation has only continued to improve since Krugman penned those words. By the spring of 2013, both Speaker Boehner and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan were forced to admit "we do not have a debt crisis right now." Federal spending is lower, the annual budget deficit halved and U.S. public sector employment down since President Obama first took the oath of office on January 20, 2009.
The Debt Ceiling "Is a Hostage That's Worth Ransoming."
Once upon a time, raising the debt ceiling--that is, increasing Uncle Sam's borrowing authority to pay bills already incurred--was a routine, bipartisan practice. The debt limit was routinely raised 40 times since 1980, including 17 times under Ronald Reagan (who tripled the national debt) and another seven under President George W. Bush (who nearly doubled it again). As it turns out, the GOP leadership team that included Eric Cantor voted a combined 19 times to bump the debt limit $4 trillion during Bush's tenure. And that vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP Senators.
Then Democrat Barack Obama became President of the United States. And when Republicans regained the House majority four years ago, they became the first party with both the intent and the votes to block a debt ceiling increase and thereby trigger a sovereign default by the United States. Despite John Boehner's admission that a default would mean "a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy," Congressional Republicans nearly drove the nation over the cliff in the summer of 2011.
Mitch McConnell relished his new role as Extortionist-in-Chief. As the Washington Post reported after the debt ceiling was raised in exchange for the draconian budget sequester, McConnell crowed:
"I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting," he said. "Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this -- it's a hostage that's worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done."
McConnell, the Post revealed, "said he could imagine doing this again." And as he explained to CNBC's Larry Kudlow, McConnell's future hostage-taking wasn't a threat, but a promise:
"What we have done, Larry, also is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order."
The result of McConnell's hostage-taking was that the U.S. economic recovery stalled as consumer confidence and job creation nose-dived. Standard & Poor's was shocked by what is rightly remembered as the "Tea Party Downgrade":
A Standard & Poor's director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default -- a position put forth by some Republicans. Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said. "That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."
For his part, Mitch McConnell boasts about his party of hostage-takers. But former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill has a different name for them:
"The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of al Qaeda terrorists. Really. They're really putting our whole society at risk by threatening to round up 50 percent of the members of the Congress, who are loony, who would put our credit at risk."
The Public Option "May Cost You Your Life."
While Mitch McConnell insisted that the lack of insurance doesn't prevent anyone from getting health care (above), in 2009 he suggested having coverage could prove fatal. Months before the passage of the Affordable Care Act without the so-called "public option," Minority Leader McConnell said it would be deadly.
That irresponsible fear-mongering came during an appearance on Dennis Miller's radio show in October 2009. Blasting the "opt-out" version of the public option then being considered in the Senate bill, the Senator from the state ranked 45th in health care performance insisted access to coverage could kill you:
MCCONNELL: Well, it doesn't make any difference frankly whether you opt-in or you opt-out, it's still a government plan. You know, Medicaid, the program for the poor now, states can opt-out of that, but none of them have. I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you're going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn't fit the government regulation, you don't get the medication.
MCCONNELL: And it may cost you your life. I mean, we don't want to go down that path.
As a Harvard Medical School study found in 2009 before the passage of Obamacare, each year the path of no health insurance leads 45,000 Americans to the grave.
Democrats Are "Sticking It to Seniors with Cuts to Medicare"
For four years running, Mitch McConnell has been among the 40 GOP Senator voting for Paul Ryan's House budget plan to privatize and inevitably ration Medicare now used by 46 million American seniors. In the late 1990's, McConnell joined in Newt Gingrich's effort to slash almost 15 percent from the Medicare budget so that the program would "wither on the vine." But when the Affordable Care Act called for $760 billion savings from the private Medicare Advantage program used by only 15 percent of elderly beneficiaries, it was Mitch McConnell who warned seniors about the mythical danger.
In July 2009, McConnell tried to scare America's 46 million Medicare beneficiaries by declaring, "The administration plans to use Medicare cuts to fund yet another new government program." Hoping to build on the momentum of the GOP's disgusting and demonstrably false "euthanasia" talking point, McConnell cautioned:
"Some in Congress seem to be in such a rush to pass just any reform, rather than the right reform, that they're looking everywhere for the money to pay for it -- even if it means sticking it to seniors with cuts to Medicare."
That salvo came just two weeks after McConnell promised to defeat health care reform in the Senate, warning America's highest turnout voting block:
"They are going to pay for this plan by cutting Medicare, that is cutting seniors."
Those claims, the New York Times pointed out the day after the Republicans' overwhelming triumph in the 2010 midterms elections were misleading at best and false at worst. Regardless, every version of the Ryan budget McConnell and 95 percent of Congressional Republicans voted for four years in a row contains the exact same $760 billion in savings from Medicare. But in 2010, McConnell and friends demagoguery worked.
And so it goes.
As Joshua Green documented in 2001 in The Atlantic, "Mitch McConnell is a master manipulator and strategist" whose "relentless tactics have made his party victorious." But that doesn't make him a truth-teller, except on those rare occasions when he reveals his true motivations. During the debt ceiling stand-off in 2011, McConnell briefly got weak in the knees at the prospect of U.S. sovereign default not because it would be a disaster for the nation, but because it could damage his Republican Party:
"I refuse to help Barack Obama get re-elected by marching Republicans into a position where we have co-ownership of a bad economy. ... If we go into default, he will say that Republicans are making the economy worse and try to convince the public -- maybe with some merit, if people stop getting their Social Security checks and military families start getting letters saying service people overseas don't get paid. It's an argument he could have a good chance of winning, and all of the sudden we have co-ownership of a bad economy," he said. "That is very bad positioning going into an election."
Despite Mitch McConnell's parliamentary roadblocks and pathological lying, the United States economy is now getting back on track. George Will's cheerleading aside, the restoration of dignity to the United States Senate cannot begin until he is no longer part of it. Which is why it's time for Myth McConnell to go.