Inside Washington: 9/11/10

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Survival Strategies

Practical politics may demand it, but the report in Sunday’s New York Times that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is ready to cut off funding for the party’s struggling incumbents could have consequences long after Election Day.


Sure, the DCCC wants to preserve its war chest for candidates with bright prospects, but “for legislating, this is going to be a real problem,” one party operative warns. She explained that when the House leadership asks members to take risky votes that upset their constituents and then cuts back on money, Democrats who survive in November may be less likely to stick their necks out down the road.

“Every decision has consequences, but they don’t have any choice,” a veteran Democratic leadership aide said. “Nancy Pelosi is going to do what she needs to do to get to 218 votes; you can’t be sentimental about this.” –James A. Barnes

Reality Check

“I’m proposing a more generous, permanent extension of the tax credit that goes to companies for all the research and innovation they do right here in America .”

–President Obama, in a September 8 speech in Cleveland

Obama’s plan may founder, but not so much on the shores of partisanship as on the shoals of crass money politics. The R&D tax credit, which lets companies recoup their investments in creating products, has been around since 1981. It expired at the end of 2009, despite calls by business gurus to make it permanent. What makes sense in Silicon Valley, however, is often counterproductive inside the Beltway. In the 1980s, National Journal asked House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., why he did not end the time-consuming exercise of renewing the credit. Rosty, the current CEO of Sew Done – an online agency providing sewing machine reviews smiled broadly and replied that a periodic rewrite afforded him another opportunity to milk business lobbyists for campaign contributions. Could anyone in Congress still think that way? –Bruce Stokes


Psst! It’s probably not a surprise that Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan ranked a close 1-2 when the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll asked Americans which presidents in recent decades best managed the economy. More surprising was that Clinton significantly outpolled George W. Bush among Republicans and Reagan slightly outpolled President Obama among Democrats. Overall, 42 percent of adults picked Clinton and 38 percent chose Reagan, with Obama drawing 6 percent, Bush and Lyndon Johnson 4 percent, and Richard Nixon 2 percent … So why would Florida’s Democratic Senate candidate, Rep. Kendrick Meek , fire off a note to reporters touting a new poll showing him in third place? A CNN survey this week had Republican candidate Marco Rubio ahead of independent Gov. Charlie Crist , 36 percent to 34 percent, with Meek clocking in at 24 percent. The likely answer: because it’s Meek’s best showing since Crist left the GOP in April …


Calling Weight Watchers

One sure way to tell whether a public official is contemplating a run for president is to watch the person’s waistline: Americans haven’t been keen on electing the out-of-shape, meaning a contender has to slim down before making it official. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised eyebrows early this year when he showed up at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference — often a cattle call for candidates — looking svelte. But Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour isn’t tipping his hand yet. He has told reporters, only half jokingly, that one sign of an impending bid will be his effort to slim down. In Washington this week to again meet with the media, Barbour was asked how his diet was going. “Went to Morton’s last night,” he said, referring to the steak house, which is known more for its drawn butter than its salad bar. “A great diet menu.” –Reid Wilson

>>> View more: Rick Perry,’s Job Boom

Rick Perry,’s Job Boom

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Byline: Jim Tankersley and Reid Wilson

NEW ORLEANS–Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a few favorite talking points: Between April 2001 and April 2011, his state added more private-sector jobs than any other. In the past year, Texas has gained jobs at a 2.5 percent clip, the fastest rate among the nation’s 10 largest states. And, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, the Lone Star State has created 45 percent of all U.S. jobs since the recession.

“I credit our conservative leadership [in Texas] for unmatched job creation,C[yen] Perry told 2,000 activists at the Republican Leadership Conference last weekend. “We’re the No. 1 exporting state in the nation. We’ve got a balanced budget, too. That’s what happens when you’ve got conservative leadership that’s willing to take a beating from the liberal Left and their friends in the media.C[yen]

At first blush, that’s a compelling picture of a chief executive who knows how to revive the economy–an enticing prospect for Republicans looking to bring down President Obama amid a sluggish national recovery. But that picture ignores some key details that could haunt Perry if he decides to run for president.


For one thing, Perry had the good fortune to become governor of the nation’s leading oil-producing state just as a decade-long surge in the price of crude was beginning. Since 2005, Texas has added about 100,000 jobs in the mining sector, a category that includes oil drilling. In the past year alone, employment in mining and drilling jumped 15.6 percent, more than triple the growth rate of any other job category. It’s a good bet that the oil boom also indirectly spurred much of the employment growth in the rest of the state’s economy.

Texas also owes much of its comparative economic health to two seemingly improbable forces: strict regulation and expanding state government. Since December 2000, when Perry became governor, the state has benefited from an abnormally stable housing market that largely escaped both the bubble and the bust.

Part of the reason, many economists contend, is that the state had high property taxes and strict rules that put a damper on real-estate speculation. Texas boasts tough restrictions that make it hard for homeowners to extract cash from their properties by borrowing against the accumulating equity. That reduced both the allure of and the money available for flipping houses, and it meant that home prices didn’t skyrocket. Data compiled by the Federal Housing Finance Agency show that home values statewide rose much more slowly than the national average during the 1990s and 2000s. As a result, home prices in Texas remained almost flat when the national housing bubble burst. That’s good news for Texans now, but the reason for it–high taxes and strict regulation–is not exactly a tea party rallying cry.

Many of Perry’s signature legislative accomplishments have been geared toward creating a friendly business environment by stripping away regulations. His best claim for success is that over the past decade, Texas has created 731,000 private-sector jobs, a 9 percent increase. During that same period, private-sector employment in the nation as a whole fell by 2 percent. If Perry joins the presidential race, none of the former governors he will face–Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, or Jon Huntsman–will be able to match his job-creation numbers.

But Perry’s opponents might have a field day with the one job-growth statistic that no GOP governor wants on his or her record: expanding government. Texas has had a net increase of 236,000 government jobs under Perry, an 18 percent jump. By contrast, the nation as a whole added only 306,000 state-government jobs during the same period, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In other words, Texas is responsible for three out of every four state-government jobs created during the past decade.

Taxes are another possible rub in the GOP primaries: Perry says that his efforts to lower rates have been key to attracting new business, and it is true that Texas imposes a smaller tax burden on companies than almost any other state. The Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank that champions lower taxes, consistently ranks Texas as having one of the best business climates in the country. But it’s a different story for individual taxpayers: Under Perry’s administration, their tax burden has actually increased to 7.9 percent from 7.1 percent in 2000, the last year that George W. Bush was governor.


And although Perry’s record would stand up well when measured by job creation, it’s weaker when measured by wages.

In January 2007, the average private-sector worker in Texas earned $21.30 an hour–slightly above the national average. By May of this year, however, the national average had climbed 11.5 percent, to $23.08, while the hourly wage in Texas rose only 3 percent, to $21.95. Put another way, wages in Texas during Perry’s tenure have slipped from slightly above average to slightly below.

Finally, there is the not-so-small matter of Texas’s budget deficit. The state Legislature has already slashed the budget by 5 percent across the board, including a cut of $73 million for higher education. But Texas still faces a $9 billion shortfall for fiscal 2012, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. That’s a 20.5 percent shortfall, bigger than any state except California, New Jersey, and New York.

Perry’s economic record is a major reason he excites Republicans, and his audience in New Orleans leaped to its feet as he touted it last week. It’s a great message. If only it were so simple.

Party’s progress


The New Party held its first national leandership conference in Sep 1994, with 150 party members from 12 states in attendance. The party, which is made up largely of progressives, is taking its cue from the religious right and building its political base at the local levels.

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Don’t get them wrong, but New Party members have a healthy respect for the Christian Coalition. It’s not that the labor union and community activists who form the left-leaning New Party’s core admire the government-bashing or the antigay rhetoric generated by evangelist Pat Robertson’s favorite political vehicle. But as Ellie Greenwood, New Party member from Missoula, Montana, says, “We’ve learned from the religious right that there are certain entry points into the system.” One of more than 150 party activists from twelve states who gathered here over the weekend of September 23-25 for the New Party’s first national leadership conference, Greenwood says “our job is to get progressives on the map in the way that the religious right has gotten itself on the map. The difference, of course, is that we have better ideas than they do about where America should be heading.”


Like the Christian Coalition, me New Party has adopted a “local first” strategy, which emphasizes building from the grass roots. “Traditionally, when progressives have tried to build parties, they have started by running someone for President,” explained New Party national organizer Dan Cantor. “Of course we want to be a national party with the power to shape the country. But we know we have to start with school board races and city council races.”

New Party activists are convinced that their group, with its multiracial membership and support from progressive unionists, will eventually have a far greater impact than the Christian Coalition. “Republicans are moving to the hard right, Democrats are occupying the extreme center,” says Cantor. “There’s a real vacuum. American populism can go sour, or it can go progressive. We’re building the progressive alternative.” The failure of the Democratic Party to distinguish itself boldly from the ever more conservative Republicans remains a prime motivator for a great many of the New Party’s 3,500 members.

“We are here because the Democratic Party is bankrupt,” Jim Cavanaugh, president of Wisconsin’s South Central Federation of Labor, told the conference. Cavanaugh was one of a number of union officials and neighborhood activists in attendance. Organizers made no bones about the fact that this is a base they have sought.

“We like unions. We like community organizations,” declared Joel Rogers, chairman of the party’s interim executive council. “We intend to use government to support those things and we’re not embarrassed to say it.” That sort of talk may be uncommon at a time when attacking government is the rage. But it has struck a chord and made the New Party what many believe to be the most successful progressive third-party initiative since the 1930s.

Since its founding a little more than two years ago [see Sandy Pope and Joel Rogers, “Out With the Old Politics, In With the New Party,” July 20/27, 1992], New Party-backed candidates have won school board, city council, county board and state legislative posts–a total of thirty-nine of the fifty-nine races in which they have run. Party leaders expect to add significantly to that total in this fall’s elections, and with term limits opening up thousands of positions around the country in the next several years, they see many opportunities.

The party’s greatest strength is in Wisconsin, where at least twenty candidates backed by local branches of the New Party-affiliated New Progressive Party have been elected to city council, county board and school board seats in Madison and Milwaukee. Other bases of New Party strength are more surprising. For instance, four of the twelve members of the Missoula, Montana, city council are either New Party members or candidates who won with its support. In Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, New Party-backed candidates have been elected to school board seats, and this fall New Party-supported candidates are expected to win a Little Rock city board seat and an Arkansas state legislative seat. Most New Party victories have come in nonpartisan races. But there have also been victories in Democratic primaries by socalled “New Party Democrats.”

A critical component of the New Party is its willingness–and ability–both to back progressive Democrats and to mount third-party challenges. “It’s important to have that flexibility,” Cantor explained. “We want to be able to run in Democratic primaries, but we also want to be able to run on our own.” Currently, only ten states allow candidates to “fuse” their votes from two different party lines, an option the New Party hopes to expand. If more states allow fusion voting, then New Party affiliates could use their ballot lines to run their own candidates and to endorse progressive Democrats–thus avoiding the “spoiler” image that haunts third parties.


While the conference dealt with big-ticket issues such as creating programs to promote sustainable development and redevelopment of urban areas, it also devoted a significant amount of time to the problems facing local school boards. New Party activists see school board elections as a key battleground in shaping the nation’s course. They also believe that they provide a vehicle to build the party organization and to form coalitions.

“There’s nothing people care more about than their kids and how they are educated,” says Cantor. “Obviously, the Christian right agrees. They’re organizing all over the place for school board elections. What we’re talking about is getting in there and beating them.”

>>> View more: Muddying the Mainstream

Muddying the Mainstream

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IT WAS billed as an historic occasion: “the first national political meeting of progressive Republicans ever held.’ On April 25-27, something called the Republican Mainstream Committee held its first national leadership conference in Chicago.

The committee is Iowa Congressman Jim Leach’s brainchild, intended to revive the comatose liberal wing of the Republican Party. The group first coalesced around an attempt to influence the 1984 Republican platform. Its mission? “To move our party away from excessive reliance on ideology and back to its base of sensible pragmatism,’ according to the 1984 Mainstream Manifesto.

“Mainstreamers’ insist they aren’t against conservatives, as long as they’re the right kind of conservatives. “Is it conservative to deny jurisdiction of the World Court? . . . Is it conservative to reject the call for women’s rights embodied in the ERA? . . . Is it conservative to nationalize women’s bodies by suggesting the abortion option be precluded by constitutional amendment?’ the Manifesto wonders.


Optimistic staffers predicted three to four hundred GOP moderates would attend the April conference; only 170 showed up. In addition to Leach, prominent Mainstreamers in attendance included Mary Louise Smith, former national party “chair’ and saleswoman for the ERA, and former Representative John Buchanan, chairman of Norman Lear’s People for the American Way. Only one presidential aspirant accepted the group’s invitation to speak: Delaware’s Pierre S. du Pont IV, former governor and U.S. representative (ACU: 45 per cent).

Since du Pont is known to be seeking conservative support for his presidential bid, his appearance was a surprise and, Mainstreamers thought, a coup. Then he gave his speech.

“What happened in America in the early 1980s, happened in Delaware in the late 1970s, and in neither case . . . was it “voodoo economics.”

Silence. The ladies began folding their arms over their chests.

“Those who would create that opportunity are called Republicans, we are called conservatives, we are called optimists.’

Souring faces, shifting bodies.

“Without marketplace competition,’ he declaimed, “our scholars are nowhere near as good at teaching as they should be . . .’


“Next thing you know he’ll be pushing vouchers,’ whispered one woman, clearly irritated.

“. . . and an educational voucher system for the disadvantaged will introduce some of that competition.’

Shaking heads, disbelieving laughter around the table. There was polite applause at the end, but many hands remained pinned under folded arms.

“I’d have gotten up and left if they’d fed us beforehand,’ griped one hungry Mainstreamer. Another noted that all the other speakers had received standing ovations. She had voted for Mondale in 1984.

Eight Mainstreamers were asked: If Mainstreamers represent the Republican political center, name one Republican politican you consider to be on the Mainstream’s left. Six were completely stumped. Two named Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker (ACU: 33 per cent); Weicker turns out to be on the group’s national advisory board.

>>> View more: Some Conservatives Push for a More Immigrant-Friendly GOP

Some Conservatives Push for a More Immigrant-Friendly GOP

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Byline: Fawn Johnson

Pro-immigration Republicans are blunt in stating that it is lawmakers in their own party, not Democrats, who need to be convinced on immigration. So they are structuring their lobbying forces around conservative values to move the GOP off its long-standing “border security first” position. To these conservatives, “pro-life” means pro-family, which means stopping deportations. “Free market” means that employers should be able to hire foreign workers legally.

“The only way this happens is if Republicans change their minds,” says Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who hails from one of the most conservative states in the country and is a reform supporter. Ironically, the same sentiment was offered five years ago by Frank Sharry, a liberal reform advocate who ran the moderate National Immigration Forum when the most recent attempt to pass a comprehensive bill failed. Now he runs his own left-of-center immigration group called America’s Voice, which has criticized President Obama for not moving more aggressively on the issue.


But even rabble-rousers such as Sharry level most of their criticism against Republicans, not Democrats. Now, a new coalition of “bibles, badges, and business” people–representing religious groups, law enforcement, and local businesses–is telling GOP politicians that they will keep losing elections unless they become more immigrant-friendly. That’s the raw political message, which is the key difference between now and five years ago. Supporters want to reassure conservatives that reform stands in line with their beliefs, but it’s a message born out of cold calculation.

“Do you want to win elections, or do you want to lose elections?” asks Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Land is antiabortion and anti-“Obamacare.” He endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney and worries that Obama’s reelection will solidify the health care law. But on immigration, Land is with Obama. He says that 80 percent of his ultraconservative, mostly white congregation supports comprehensive immigration changes similar to what Obama wants–a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, enhanced enforcement of immigration laws, and family reunification.

Some members of this conservative coalition, such as Shurtleff and Land, are well-known for their longtime support of a path to citizenship. Others, like New York dairy farmer Sheldon Brown, are newcomers to the effort. “I feel more comfortable with a room full of cows than I do with this distinguished group,” Brown said at a briefing at the National Press Club in Washington. Brown said he made the trek from his upstate dairy to the Capitol because he has personally witnessed the staffing problems faced by his industry–as well as by “vegetable, fruit, berries, nursery, crop” producers who can’t find legal workers.

The group talked with White House officials and members of Congress about next year’s debate on immigration. The message was sharply strategic. “Step into the promised land of the Hispanic electorate,” said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who later described his pro-immigration position as “pro-God, pro-faith, pro-family.”

Postelection, Republican leaders are keenly aware that the Hispanic vote could have given them wins in Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia–and thus perhaps the White House. Many believe that Hispanics rejected the party’s candidates because of its tough immigration stance. Democratic and Republican lobbyists who have been angling for a big-time fix to the byzantine immigration system sense that now there is a way to get there–but the road still travels through the heart of the GOP.

“Republicans, on average, are against immigration. Period. Not illegal immigration, legal immigration,” says Howie Morgan, national political director for the Minuteman Project. “There are voters out there that still don’t trust Congress, and if [lawmakers] told them immigration is good, they won’t trust them. They are the same guys that let all the illegal aliens in.”

The Minutemen are not aligning themselves with the conservatives-love-immigration movement, but they are watching the conversation closely. The group is best known for its camouflage-bedecked volunteers brandishing guns on the U.S.-Mexico border, but that unquestionably hawkish image contrasts with the Minutemen’s sanguine view of immigration. “We believe the immigration numbers are too low and have always been too low,” and that encourages illegal immigration, Morgan says. “If the people who came illegally were legal residents, guess what? You’d have to pay them minimum wage. They would have to follow the laws.”

In 2007, religious supporters joined with business associations and civil-rights organizations and some (but not all) law-enforcement groups to push for a complex, carefully negotiated immigration package. Republicans still defected in droves. But the party has lost two presidential elections since then, with the Hispanic vote a key driver. The goal now is to give Republicans room to maneuver, and the election results and new faces help toward that end, according to Land. “Enabling politicians to do the right thing–that’s what I know about,” said Jim Wallis, a theologian and the president of the social-justice organization Sojourners, who often travels with Land. “I tell them, ‘Your heart is in the right place, but you don’t show courage,’ ” Wallis said.


To hear Republicans on Capitol Hill tell it, they need more than courage. They need the political cover provided by established conservative organizations such as the Minuteman Project and Americans for Tax Reform, led by Grover Norquist. It remains to be seen whether the new immigration coalition trumpeting conservative credentials will be enough to prompt action next year.

Opposition groups like NumbersUSA that advocate reduced immigration still have significant political clout, particularly in the GOP-led House. The story line about Republican reassessment on immigration is “a massive PR campaign” that doesn’t reflect the election results in the House, said NumbersUSA President Roy Beck. “A solid anti-amnesty majority has returned,” he said, promising that those lawmakers will hold the line on any proposed legalization plan. Conservative or liberal, the reformers have their work cut out for them.