Rep. Walberg Pushes Fast And Furious Conspiracy Theory

February 02, 2012 4:32 pm ET by Chris Brown

During today's House Oversight Committee hearing, Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) echoed the gun lobby's conspiracy theory suggesting that Operation Fast and Furious was "set up to go wrong" in order to undermine the "Second Amendment liberties of law-abiding citizens."

In fact, an official report issued by the House Oversight Committee's own chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), found that the "purpose" of Fast and Furious was to "build a large, complex conspiracy case" targeting high-level Mexican cartel members. Further, as has now has been documented extensively in a report by House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), similar misguided tactics were used in several cases during the Bush administration. Nonetheless, Walberg is more comfortable pushing conspiratorial accusations than discussing the reality of these misguided ATF tactics.

WALBERG: No admission [by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein], other than now when brought on the carpet and brought into the public light, that this has gone wrong, was set up to go wrong, and frankly I believe was set up to go wrong in order to deal with Second Amendment liberties of law-abiding citizens and pushing into a perception that it was the problem of the Second Amendment as opposed to law enforcement, and more importantly, Mr. Attorney General, your oversight of an agency, of a department of individual leaders in that department that have not been held accountable.

HOLDER: Well, with all due respect and,, I mean this with great respect, the notion that this was an operation set up to do something to impinge upon the Second Amendment rights of my fellow citizens is absurd.


Walberg is not the first Republican to adopt this conspiracy, which is a favorite of the National Rifle Association and their allies in the right-wing media. Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Joe Walsh (R-IL), and Dan Lungren (R-CA) have all embraced similar claims. Lungren was rebuked by Holder after raising the issue at a December hearing.

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Sen. Coburn And The Occupy Movement

February 02, 2012 3:49 pm ET by Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn

When the Occupy Wall Street protests began last fall, it may have seemed unlikely that the problems they targeted would take a central place in the national political discourse. After all, the massive and growing gap between the super-wealthy and everyone else — as well as the structural problems that ensure that gap — are not exactly new developments, but they had been largely ignored by political and media elites for years. When the protests began, the media paid little attention. Conservatives, of course, dismissed their message as the irrelevant and incoherent whining of America-hating leftists.

Yet the protests struck a chord with the public. That's because the problems they've addressed are instantly recognizable to most Americans, liberal and conservative alike. 

Here's Tom Coburn (R-OK), one of the most conservative Republicans in Congress, during his 2004 Senate campaign:

[Coburn] blamed much of the "dislocation of jobs from this country" on the quest to improve "options and stock profits for chief executives officers of multinational corporations."

"They have no loyalty to America," Coburn said. "What they have a loyalty to is their own fortune." [...]

Coburn's approach to slashing drug prices may not appeal to companies producing those drugs.

"I would first of all have the pharmaceutical industry give us a justification for spending $7 billion on television advertising for drugs they can't get without a prescription," Coburn said. "If you eliminated that tomorrow, you'd cut the price of drugs 3.5 percent.

"I would hold hearings in the Senate on the lack of competitive nature. Ask anybody. Go out and buy Aciphex, Protonix, Prilosec, Nexium and ask for the price, they're all priced within pennies of each other. They all do exactly the same thing. Why doesn't one of those pharmaceutical companies cut the price a whole lot to get more market share? Why haven't they? Because they're colluding, that's why. And so I would have oversight in terms of the lack of competition in the pharmaceutical industry." [Oklahoma City Journal Record Legislative Report, 4/5/04]

That's a conservative Republican, running for office in one of the most conservative states in America, making an argument that would fit in at any Occupy rally: CEOs are padding their own profits at the expense of American workers, and big drug companies are guilty of price-fixing. Coburn's solutions tend to be run-of-the-mill right-wing anti-government nonsense that would devastate the poor and middle class in order to help those who need it least, like big oil companies. But his longstanding comfort launching rhetorical attacks on CEOs and millionaires helps explain the success of the Occupy protests: They tapped into sentiment common among conservatives as well as liberals, as a new Pew survey shows:

Low-income Republican voters say the government does too little for poor people, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Over half of Republican-leaning registered voters earning less than $30,000 a year — 57 percent — say the government doesn't do enough to help the poor, while only 18 percent of these say it does too much, Pew found. [...]

The poorer voters surveyed were much more likely to agree, however, with the statement that "a few rich people and corporations have too much power in the U.S." Among low-income Republicans polled, 70 percent agreed with that statement, compared with just 39 percent of wealthier likely Republican voters.

Why Romney And The GOP Want To Convince You That The Poor Have Too Much Money

February 02, 2012 2:18 pm ET by Jamison Foser

Mitt Romney

Substantively, Mitt Romney's statement that he isn't concerned about poor people matches up perfectly with his policy proposals, which demonstrate a callous disregard for the wellbeing of anyone who isn't already well-off. But that doesn't mean Romney's comments were a sincere and straightforward articulation of his agenda: This is, after all, a candidate whose only sincere commitment is to saying whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. And, indeed, Romney's explanation for his lack of concern about the poor was characteristically disingenuous, pointing to the very social safety net he proposes to destroy as evidence that we needn't be concerned for those who rely upon it. 

More likely, Romney's comments were an invocation of a decades-long right-wing narrative designed to drive a wedge between the poor and middle class, to the benefit of a handful of wealthy elites. That narrative is an essential element of the right's approach to politics: After all, a movement that exists primarily to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of as few people as possible won't exist long without a successful divide-and-conquer strategy. Recognizing that they need the votes of more than just the nation's millionaires and billionaires — and that the middle class shows up to vote more reliably than the poor, particularly if you make it extremely difficult for the poor to do so — conservatives have long worked to convince the middle class that the reason they are struggling is that the poor have it too good. Hence Ronald Reagan's apocryphal tales of Cadillac-driving "welfare queens": anything to distract the public from policies that redistribute wealth upwards, not downwards.

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Sen. Coburn Blocks September 11 Memorial

February 01, 2012 4:06 pm ET by Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who previously held up a bill providing benefits for sick 9/11 responders, is now blocking funding for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at ground zero:

Sen. Tom Coburn is blocking legislation that would provide $20 million a year in federal funding for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at ground zero, demanding that co-sponsors of the bill come up with cuts to pay for the spending, his office confirmed to POLITICO.

"Our debt is our greatest national security threat, and Dr. Coburn makes no apologies for forcing Congress to make choices and avoid unnecessary borrowing," said John Hart, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Republican. "If providing federal funding for this effort is a critical national priority, the sponsors should pay for this effort by reducing spending on lower-priority programs.

This is the kind of substantively meaningless stunt Coburn likes to pull: The $20 million in funding for the September 11 memorial is less than 0.001 percent of the federal budget. It would have essentially no effect on our debt. Coburn has built his reputation as a fiscal hawk by grandstanding like this

If Coburn really wants to find a way to pay for the September 11 memorial, he could stop standing in the way of Democratic efforts to eliminate tax breaks that give five hugely profitable oil companies $2 billion a year. Eliminating those breaks would pay for the memorial, with $1.98 billion left over for deficit reduction. Of course, that would mean standing up to the oil and gas industry, Coburn's second-largest source of campaign funds, so he'll probably just keep blocking the September 11 memorial instead.

Why Doesn't Rep. Issa Want Former ATF Chief Melson To Testify?

February 01, 2012 3:39 pm ET by Matt Gertz

In a letter introducing the conclusions of the Oversight Committee's Democratic staff report on Operation Fast and Furious and other gunwalking operations conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) since 2006, ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) writes:

The Committee also rejected my request to hold a public hearing with Kenneth Melson, the former Acting Director of ATF, the agency primarily responsible for these operations. Although Committee staff conducted an interview with Mr. Melson, the public has not had an opportunity to hear his explanations for why these operations continued for so many years without adequate oversight from ATF headquarters.

If Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his committee's Republicans really want to get to the bottom of why these flawed ATF operations were allowed to take place and who knew about and approved them, why wouldn't they want the ATF's former leader to testify?

Perhaps because it would give Melson a forum to publicly answer questions about one of the mysteries of the GOP's response to Fast and Furious: What were Republican congressmen told about the operation in a briefing Melson provided to them nearly two years ago, when the operation had already seen more than 1,000 firearms trafficked to Mexican drug cartels?

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Mitt Romney's Policy Proposals Reflect Lack of Concern For Poor — And Middle Class

February 01, 2012 1:44 pm ET by Jamison Foser

On CNN this morning, Mitt Romney declared that he is "not concerned about the very poor." That may seem like a stunningly out-of-touch statement coming from a quarter-billionaire who wants to be president, but Romney has been pretty clear about this all along.

Romney's tax plan, for example, would give those who earn more than $1 million a year a 14.5 percent increase in after-tax income, while those earning less than $20,000 would see their after-tax income go up less than 1 percent. That's the tax plan of a candidate who is far more concerned with lining the pockets of rich people like himself than with the ability of the very poor to afford food and shelter. (Romney's tax plan suggests he isn't very concerned about the middle class, either: People earning under $100,000 a year would get an increase in after-tax income of less than 4 percent — less than one-third the increase Romney and his fellow millionaires would get.)

Romney's budget proposals demonstrate even greater disregard for the very poor — and the somewhat poor, and the middle class. In his speech in Florida last night, Romney promised that as president, "without raising taxes, I will finally balance the budget." But balancing the budget while enacting his tax policies and increasing defense spending — another Romney promise — is only possible via massive cuts to programs that poor and middle-class families rely on. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Romney's plan would require cutting every program, including Social Security and Medicare, by 21 percent in 2016 and 36 percent in 2021. If Social Security were excluded from cuts, Romney would have to cut everything else, including Medicare, by 30 percent in 2016 and 54 percent in 2021. And that would have a devastating impact on America's poor and middle class, as CBPP explained:

  • Medicare would be cut by $153 billion in 2016 and $1.4 trillion through 2021.  Achieving cuts of this size solely through reducing payments to hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers would threaten beneficiaries' access to care. Thus, beneficiaries would almost certainly face large increases in premiums and cost-sharing charges.
  • Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021. ... [I]t would leave 34 million people uninsured who would have gained coverage under health reform.
  • Cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. These cuts would primarily affect very-low-income families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
  • Compensation payments for disabled veterans (which average less than $13,000 a year) would be cut by one-fourth, as would pensions for low-income veterans (which average about $11,000 a year) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for poor aged and disabled individuals (which average about $6,000 a year and leave poor elderly and disabled people far below the poverty line).

Elaborating on his lack of concern for the poor, Romney said: "[W]e have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it, but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor." But Romney has a policy agenda that wouldn't strengthen those programs — it would tear even larger holes in the safety net.

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Rep. Issa Ties Himself In Fast And Furious Knots

January 31, 2012 4:39 pm ET by Matt Gertz

This morning, the Democratic staff of the House Oversight Committee released a report finding that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) failed Operation Fast and Furious was initiated by the ATF's Phoenix Field Division as part of a strategy dating back to the Bush administration, and that there is no evidence that senior officials in the Obama Department of Justice authorized gunwalking in that case. On Fox News this morning, Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) tried to invalidate the report's conclusions with an avalanche of flawed logic and hypocrisy. 

ISSA: They released this last night around midnight, but last Friday in the dump done by the Justice Department late on Friday in order to avoid any kind of real review over the weekend, what they showed was that Lanny Breuer, on the very day that we were being given a false statement, February 4, he was in Mexico lobbying for continuation of gunwalking. So, you know, if you just read the administration's dump, which of course they undoubtedly had ahead of time, they would have known that their whole report was based on a premise that was false. ... Three days after the Friday dump, the evidence given to us, finally, by the administration, goes even further. It shows that Lanny Breuer was still a believer in Fast and Furious and programs like it. 


Note Issa's very slippery use of the phrase "Fast and Furious and programs like it." He's using that turn of phrase because the documents in question don't show that Breuer knew anything about the flawed gunwalking techniques used in Fast and Furious itself. Instead, Issa is referring to a suggestion made by Breuer during a meeting with Mexican law enforcement officials about the possibility of a cross-border coordinated operation in which U.S. law enforcement would follow suspected straw purchasers to the Mexican border, where they would be arrested by Mexican officials and prosecuted for illegal possession of guns.

Curiously, Issa has previously explained how operations that involved coordination with Mexican authorities were "just the opposite" of Fast and Furious — when they occurred under the Bush administration.

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Grover Norquist Loves Impeaching (Democratic) Presidents

January 31, 2012 3:28 pm ET by Jamison Foser

If you're surprised that Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist raised the possibility of impeaching President Obama if he doesn't extend the Bush tax cuts, you shouldn't be. Norquist pursues the impeachment of Democratic presidents like a dog chases a car: enthusiastically, and with no regard for the consequences of his actions. 

In 1997 — before the Monica Lewinsky story broke — Norquist was part of a group of conservative activists who took seriously then-Rep. Bob Barr's proposal to impeach then-President Bill Clinton. Once the Lewinsky story broke the following year, Norquist, a close ally of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, argued tirelessly for Clinton's impeachment. Even after the Senate declined to remove Clinton from office in 1999, Norquist suggested the absurd saga might not be over, and that there was still time to impeach Clinton again before his term was over.

In early 1998, National Review reported that Gingrich "associates" believed Norquist was responsible for a report that the speaker was thinking of impeaching both Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Norquist denied that he was behind the report — but emphasized that it was "absolutely essential" to remove Gore from office as well as Clinton:

Since Elizabeth Drew claimed that Speaker Gingrich has been discussing the idea of impeaching President Clinton and Vice-President Gore with his advisers, Gingrich has told conservative legal pundit Victoria Toensing that the claim was (her words) "false, absolutely false"; and his press secretary, Christina Martin, has ridiculed the idea of dual impeachments. Drew sticks by her story. [...]

Some associates of Gingrich are fingering Grover Norquist, the ubiquitous leader of Americans for Tax Reform, as Drew's source. Norquist denies it—"I haven't spoken to her in a long time"—and says he has never advised the Speaker on this subject. But he adds that it is absolutely essential that if Clinton were somehow to be removed from office because of scandal, Gore would have to go too—for the obvious partisan reason, and because Gore is involved in the important, i.e. non-sexual, scandals. "It is self-evident to any intelligent person on the Hill that this is the way to approach this. . . . Our goal is not to remove Clinton any more than it was to remove Gorbachev. It is to eliminate the whole corrupt system of which Clinton and Gore are a part."

Throughout the year, Norquist cheered on the Gingrich-led drive for impeachment, ignoring legal and constitutional scholars who said there was no basis for it, and the public, which wanted no part of it. Norquist was certain that with Clinton weakened politically, Republicans would enjoy large gains in that year's mid-term elections:

Conservative activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, is gleefully sounding the death knell for new Democrats -- who include such moderates as Walnut Creek's Ellen Tauscher -- now that their leader is crippled.

"The 10 to 20 Democrats in the House and the three to five in the Senate who are going to lose in November are the people who ran in rural, suburban, Southern and Western districts who can no longer survive as those districts move Republican and their party is seen as hewing left," Norquist said.

Norquist, who has close ties with GOP House leaders, also predicts a more aggressive Republican agenda on the Hill. "Nobody is afraid that Bill Clinton will get up and give five speeches and change the topic of debate," Norquist said. "Before, a few Clinton speeches could move voters. And for Republicans to get through the Clinton message cost millions of dollars in advertising. This time around, that just isn't an option." [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/17/98]

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Elephants In The Room – January 31, 2012

January 31, 2012 1:58 pm ET by Media Matters Action Network

A daily look at the Republican presidential primary campaign.

Statistician Nate Silver gives Mitt Romney 98 percent odds of winning in today’s primary in Florida.

Newt Gingrich leads in the Tea Party Patriots straw poll, with Rick Santorum not far behind.

Miami Herald: “Gingrich could be losing by as many as 60,000 votes before polls even open Tuesday.”

Ron Paul is quietly accumulating support from the Mormon community.

Gingrich gets sued for using the song “Eye of the Tiger” in his campaign events…

…and sources say Gingrich took Nancy Reagan's ‘passing the torch’ comments out of context.

TPM has a handy chart tracking which celebrities are endorsing GOP 2012 presidential candidates…

…and the National Post tracks the volatility of the “Anyone But Romney“ candidate in the race.

A Gingrich robocall in Florida says a Romney policy forced Holocaust survivors to eat non-kosher.


English-Only Implications Lost On Sen. Rubio

January 31, 2012 12:47 pm ET by Brian Powell

Fueled by the rhetoric of their presidential candidates, the Republican Party is moving at full steam to make English the official language of the United States, despite fears that such a policy could lead to non-English speaking citizens being disenfranchised at the ballot box.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the latest member of the GOP to shrug off the serious repercussions that an official language policy could have on non-Anglophone citizens. In an interview on CNN, host Soledad O'Brien asked Rubio if he was concerned that making English the official language could result in ballots being printed exclusively in English, effectively disenfranchising voters who aren't fluent in the language. Rubio's response was as startling as it was honest — the issue simply "doesn't bother" him.

O'BRIEN: But you know the reality of this would be, right? That you wouldn't have ballots that would have English and Spanish, you'd only have ballots in English and other things like that, so the actual practical implications

RUBIO: That doesn't bother me as much. Yeah, the ballots don't bother me as much. I don't think anyone's talking about prohibiting that. My name is spelled the same way in English and in Spanish, for example. I don't think that's as big an issue. You can confront that at the state level.

I don't think they should ban Spanish ballots, because certainly, voting is a fundamental right. But what we're talking about here — is there gonna be an official unifying language of our country? Yes, it should be the English language. It's the official language of Florida, and the world hasn't ended there.

O'BRIEN: And we haven't had an official language, and the world hasn't ended there, either.


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