On American politics and policy.
Last night marked the first time that voters themselves could weigh in on the GOP’s war on voting. The results were mixed, as Maine voted to reinstate election-day voter registration, while Mississippi voted to mandate government-issued IDs in order to cast a ballot.
First, Maine. By an overwhelming twenty-point margin, Mainers overruled the GOP governor and legislature and voted to restore election-day registration, which had been on the books since 1973 before Republicans scrapped it this year. The Protect Maine Votes coalition gathered 70,000 signatures in less than a month, according to the Bangor Daily News, in order to place the issue on the ballot. Sixty thousand Mainers registered on election day in 2008, and the convenience of same-day registration helped explain why Maine consistently had one of the highest voter turnouts in the nation.
As they always do, Republicans pointed to voter fraud as the reason for restricting access to the ballot. But a two-month investigation by Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers following the 2010 election didn’t find a single instance of voter fraud. When that argument didn’t stick, opponents of same day registration bizarrely argued that voters should oppose reinstating the reform because gay rights groups supported it. That argument backfired as well, turning what was expected to be a close vote into a blowout. “The Republicans once again overplayed their hand,” Maine Representative Chellie Pingree, the former president of Common Cause, told Rachel Maddow last night.
Things turned out differently for voting rights advocates in Mississippi, which became the seventh GOP-controlled state to adopt voter ID legislation this year, and the first to do so through a ballot initiative. The initiative passed by twenty-four points. Eleven percent of eligible voters do not possess government-issued photo IDs, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which equals 234,000 voters in Mississippi. “There is reason to believe that Mississippi will have a higher than average rate of people with no ID, since it is the poorest state in the nation, since it has among the highest rates of people with disabilities and because it has a high African-American population,” Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center, told me. “Each of these characteristics correlates with lower rates of ID possession.”
The NAACP and ACLU are considering challenging the new law, which must also receive approval from the Justice Department as specified by the Voting Rights Act before going into effect. “This Department of Justice will be aggressive at looking at those jurisdictions that have attempted for whatever reason to restrict the ability of people to get to the polls,” Attorney General Eric Holder said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing yesterday.
Today residents of Mississippi will decide whether voters must produce a government-issued ID in order to cast a ballot and voters in Maine will choose whether to keep or overturn a new law banning election day voter registration, which had previously been on the books since 1973.
These votes occur amidst the backdrop of an unprecedented, Republican-led war on voting. Since the 2010 election, at least a dozen states controlled by Republicans have approved new obstacles to voting—mandating government-issued IDs, curtailing early voting, restricting voter registration, disenfranchising ex-felons. Five million voters could be negatively impacted by the new laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which found that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities”—in other words, those most likely to vote for Democrats.
A key component of the GOP’s campaign has been orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which receives substantial funding from the Koch brothers. ALEC drafted mock photo ID legislation after the 2008 election and in five states that passed ID laws in the past year—Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin—the measures were sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC.
A new investigation from Brave New Foundation, in conjunction with the Advancement Project and amplified by a host of progressive groups, outlines ALEC’s influence in the war on voting and spotlights the $245,550 in campaign contributions the Koch brothers have given to politicians supporting new voter ID laws, such as Scott Walker and Rick Perry. “Folks like the Koch brothers are attempting to ensure that as few people of color and as few young people show up as possible,” says NAACP President Ben Jealous.
The video also features interviews with eligible voters who may be unable to cast a ballot because of the new restrictions. “Voter suppression is obviously a critically important issue,” says Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films. “Our job is to put a face on this—take it from abstract policy to real people losing the right to vote because of right-wing attacks on our democracy." Brave New Foundation also launched a petition on their website asking Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
On a related note, civil rights groups such as the NAACP and National Urban League today announced the formation of a new group, Stand 4 Freedom, to protest the new voting laws. Representative Keith Ellison also recently introduced two bills, the Same Day Registration Act and the Voter Access Protection Act, which would, respectively, “require states to provide for same day voter registration for a federal election,” and “make sure election officials cannot require photo identification in order to cast a vote or register to vote.”
The sleeper issue of the 2012 election is starting to get a lot more attention.
When Paul Ryan introduced his radical budget plan this year—which would turn Medicare into a voucher system, privatize Social Security and massively redistribute income upward by drastically cutting taxes for the wealthiest one percent while severely slashing programs for low-income Americans—Mitt Romney heartily applauded.
“I applaud Rep. Paul Ryan for recognizing the looming financial crisis that faces our nation and for the creative and bold thinking that he brings to the debate,” Romney said in April 2011. “He is setting the right tone for finally getting spending and entitlements under control. Anyone who has read my book knows that we are on the same page.”
Now Romney has gone a step further, actively incorporating Ryan’s ideas into his own plan to reduce the social safety net, which he outlined at the Koch Brothers–funded Americans for Prosperity convention on Friday. Romney would raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare, cut $100 billion from Medicaid and allow seniors to pay for health coverage through vouchers for private insurance (a shrewd way to undermine the immensely popular government-run Medicare program).
After the speech, Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote that Romney “has found his inner Paul Ryan.” Ryan, in turn, told Rubin that Romney’s plan was “a great development…. This tracks perfectly with the House budget.” The Wisconsin congressman gushed to National Review: “It shows we’re all singing from the same hymnal.”
Given the unpopularity of the Ryan budget, Romney may come to regret this endorsement. It may help him win the votes of Tea Party conservatives in the GOP primary, but it will almost certainly become a liability in a general election campaign against President Obama.
The US economy gained 104,000 private sector jobs last month, but lost 24,000 public sector jobs, resulting in a net total of 80,000 new jobs—fewer than expected and well below what the country needs to get out of the Great Recession.
This is by now a depressingly familiar story. In the past year, 1.6 million private sector jobs have been created. But since the recession began in December 2007, more than 500,000 public sector jobs have been lost. Half of those jobs have disappeared since January 2011, after Republicans (who ran on improving the economy in 2010) took control of the House of Representatives. States have cut 49,000 jobs and localities have cut 210,000 jobs since the beginning of the year. Contrary to what Republicans might tell you, these are “real” jobs lost by real people, who pay taxes, spend money, provide for their families and perform vital public services. When they suffer, the economy suffers too.
“This is the worst time to push government workers into the ranks of the unemployed,” notes blogger Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute. “With slack capacity, a high number of unemployed people, and negative real interest rates, we can’t afford a war against government workers.”
Yet this war against government workers has been going on for quite some time. Conservatives have long tried to “starve the beast” of government and have actively demonized public employees for decades. Yet the real job losses for public sector employees accelerated in 2010, when President Obama, in a nod to conservative orthodoxy, declared a three-year freeze on nondefense discretionary spending and a freeze on federal pay, and did not renew badly needed aid for state and local governments after the stimulus ran its course.
After the 2010 election, the Bowles-Simpson commission recommended cutting an additional 10 percent of the federal workforce, which would have resulted in 200,000 more lost jobs, even though federal jobs are at their lowest per capital level since 1962. By that time, Republicans were actively rooting for public sector job losses. “If some of those jobs are lost, so be it,” John Boehner said in February 2011. “We’re broke.” Yet somehow Republicans found the money to propose massive tax cuts for the richest corporations and wealthiest Americans.
Just last month, Republicans in Congress blocked a section of Obama’s jobs plan that would have prevented 400,000 teachers, firefighters and cops from losing their jobs through aid to state and local governments, which is among the most effective forms of stimulus. “Federal aid to strapped state and local governments also is providing significant economic benefits, lessening their need to slash programs and jobs or to hike taxes and fees,” wrote Mark Zandi of Moody’s in July 2010. Had it not been for austerity policies, wrote David Leonhardt of the New York Times, state and local governments would have added half a million jobs, rather than cutting them. “In other words, the state and local austerity of the last two years has cost the economy about one million jobs,” Leonhardt writes.
Saving a million jobs isn’t enough to lift the economy out of the recession, but it would certainly improve the bleak economic situation. And any politician who professes to care about creating jobs but argues that government jobs aren’t “real,” and don’t count, is a heartless hypocrite.
The creation of the Congressional “supercommittee” last August was a major victory for Washington’s austerity class. It was shrouded in secrecy, exempted from regular Congressional rules and required to choose between two unpopular options in order to enact $1.2 trillion in savings: a so-called grand bargain that would significantly curtail the social safety net vs. deep, automatic across the board cuts at a time of economic peril.
Yet the $1.2 trillion in savings, which will come on top of the $2 trillion in deficit reduction already enacted during the Obama administration, is not enough for some members of the austerity class. For months groups like the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) have been urging the supercommittee to “go big” and enact a $4 trillion deal. Eighty House members, lead by Representatives Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Heath Shuler (D-NC), echo that sentiment in a soon-to-be-released letter. The CRFB even argued that tripling the size of the supercommittee’s mandate “increase the chances of success.”
I find that very hard to believe. During the debt ceiling fiasco John Boehner rejected President Obama’s $4 trillion grand bargain offer and Republicans have only hardened their position since then, with every major Republican presidential candidate saying they would oppose a deficit plan that was even 10:1 spending cuts to tax increases. Believing that a $4 trillion deal can be reached given the current level of GOP intransigence is borderline insane.
Indeed, this week committee Republicans immediately rejected Senator Max Baucus’s $3 trillion debt rejection offer, which included $500 billion in proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. (The triggered cuts—which exempt Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security and require that half the savings come from defense spending—will likely be far more palatable to progressives than any type of grand bargain).
By relentlessly pushing the $4 trillion number, which they claim is needed to stabilize the US debt-to-GDP ratio, the austerians are setting the supercommittee up for failure. That way the austerity class can continue to bang the drum for more and more deficit reduction, writes David Dayen of Firedoglake.
We’ll ALWAYS need $4 trillion. Without that big and urgent a need, you cannot cut things like Social Security or Medicare. You cannot acknowledge the deficit reduction that’s already taken place. You cannot acknowledge the fact that doing nothing would bring the medium-term deficit almost entirely into balance. You cannot acknowledge that the debt situation is trivial relative to the jobs crisis. You must only repeat $4 trillion, $4 trillion, $4 trillion over and over again like a mantra.
Indeed, the “go big” campaign is totally divorced from political and economic reality. Stan Collender, a longtime budget expert at Qorvis Communications, notes three reasons why:
“One, the supercommittee is going to have enough trouble coming up with $1.2 trillion,” says Collender. “Two, if they did come up with $1.2 trillion, it should be considered an extraordinary success, not what the Concord Coalition and CRFB would consider a failure. Three, it’s a supercommittee, not a super hero…. Take half a loaf and go home. $1.2 trillion, on top of the deficit reduction that’s already enacted, would be an extraordinary achievement.”
Aside from the utter unfeasibility of enacting such a plan, the austerity class never mentions the impact a $4 trillion deficit reduction accord would have on the economy in the midst of a recession, particularly if it were weighted heavily toward spending cuts (as is likely to be the case). The IMF recently reviewed 173 cases of austerity over thirty years and found that austerity “lowers incomes in the short term, with wage-earners taking more of a hit than others; it also raises unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment.”
The Washington Post’s Brad Plumer summarized the rest of the report:
An austerity program that curbs the deficit by 1 percent of GDP reduces real incomes by about 0.6 percent and raises unemployment by almost 0.5 percentage points. What’s more, the IMF notes, the losses are twice as big when the central bank can’t cut rates (a good description of the present.) Typically, income and employment don’t fully recover even five years after the austerity program is put in place.
In the wake of the Occupy Wall Street protests, media coverage of the country’s unemployment crisis has expanded drastically on cable news (from a mere 502 mentions of “unemployed” or “unemployment” on CNN/FOX/MSNBC in the last week of July to 2,378 mentions of “jobs” from October 10–16), while coverage of the debt has dropped dramatically (from 7,583 mentions in July to 398 mentions in October). But inside the supercommittee, it’s like the protests, or the economic crisis, never happened.
The fact that creating jobs is absent from the committee’s mandate illustrates just how isolated it is from the economic situation today. Last month, Senator Jeff Merkley proposed a very sensible idea: any proposal from the committee should be evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office to see what impact it would have on jobs and to make sure it would not increase the already high unemployment rate. You’d think leaders in Congress would have already thought of that. But to date, Merkley’s proposal has only eleven cosponsors. No wonder the disconnect between Congress and the public grows wider every day.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent does a great job of dismantling Paul Ryan’s new speech at the Heritage Foundation, where the Wisconsin congressman absurdly accused President Obama of “sowing social unrest and class resentment.”
Lest there be any doubt, Ryan should now be regarded as a first-rate demagogue and class warrior for the wealthy, rather than the deep thinker behind the intellectual resurgence of the GOP.
Ryan’s speech, however, is sure to get a lot of coverage in Washington. After all, he’s now considered a very serious person inside the Beltway, willing to take “bold” and “courageous” unpopular positions. As I wrote in my recent piece, “How The Austerity Class Rules Washington,” Ryan largely owes his rise to the so-called centrist deficit hawks in DC, who’ve validated his radical policy prescriptions.
Here’s the relevant section from my post:
The unholy alliance between the austerity class and supply-side conservatives, who talk a good game about deficits but in fact care principally about cutting taxes and government spending, has shifted the debate over the economy and the deficit far to the right since Obama took office. By promoting an age of austerity, the deficit hawks have enhanced the power of “starve the beast” conservatives like Grover Norquist, whose goal for years has been to shred the New Deal. The austerity class’s infatuation with Representative Paul Ryan is a prime example of this addled love affair.
In 2008, when Ryan introduced his radical budget road map—which called for turning Medicare into a voucher system, privatizing Social Security and redistributing income upward by drastically cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations—MacGuineas praised his “tremendous courage and leadership.” When Ryan reintroduced his plan in 2010, the CRFB lauded his “thoughtfulness and courage.” The CRFB failed to mention that Ryan’s plan would increase the deficit, from a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60 percent in 2010 to 175 percent by 2050. “Paul Ryan added a huge amount to the deficit,” says John Irons, policy director at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). “To call that even remotely fiscally responsible was not a correct analysis. It’s almost as if they said, We don’t care what your plan does—as long as you talk tough on deficits we’re going to support you."
Indeed, in January the CRFB, the Concord Coalition and the Comeback America Initiative (all funded by the Peterson Foundation) gave Ryan a cherished fiscal responsibility award, despite his deficit-exploding budget, hostility to tax increases and votes in favor of the Bush administration’s deficit spending. Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, introduced Ryan by quoting Time magazine: “The irony of Ryan’s rise is that he has vaulted to popularity by embracing historically unpopular ideas.” Said Bixby, “And I thought to myself, now there is a deficit hawk…. If we limit ourselves to popular ideas, we’re never going to solve the problem.”
MacGuineas said the award honored Ryan for being the first politician to put forth a budget plan in 2011, which she called “the most fiscally responsible of any of the plans.” Technically, that’s true. Ryan’s budget, a modified version of his road map, achieves a modest $155 billion in savings over ten years by proposing what the CBPP calls “the most severe and wrenching budget cuts in US history—two-thirds of which would come from programs for people of low or moderate incomes” (i.e., Medicaid, Pell grants, food stamps and low-income housing).
The award to Ryan illustrates just how dangerously obtuse the austerity class’s definition of fiscal responsibility is. The deficit hawks succeed by making the debate over the deficit a pure accounting game, with no acknowledgment of the adverse impact a plan like Ryan’s would have on the broader economy and on so many Americans if it became law. “If [you’re] willing to slash spending so that long-run deficits are brought under control, then it’s fiscally responsible,” Jim Horney, vice president for federal fiscal policy at CBPP, says of the Ryan plan. “But if by fiscally responsible you mean putting the budget on a sustainable path but making sure that government is able to meet the needs of the people of the United States, then I think it’s a terribly irresponsible plan.”
So long as Ryan is taken seriously by the political establishment in Washington, his outlandish attacks on President Obama and extreme policy positions will continue to get top billing.
If you want to understand how the top 1 percent have accumulated such power in American politics, look no further than Washington’s K Street lobbying corridor. Wall Street has long been the dominant player in the capital. “The banks,” Senator Dick Durbin said in 2009, “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.”
The financial sector has spent more money on campaign contributions and lobbying than any other sector of the economy—$4.6 billion on lobbying since 1998, according to Open Secrets. This year, commercial banks and securities and investment firms have spent over $82 million on lobbying, employing over 1,000 lobbyists.
Given these facts, it makes sense that the Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to K Street. Since October 1, demonstrators have gathered in MacPherson Square, their numbers and visibility growing in recent days. Yesterday Harvard professor Larry Lessig, one of the pre-eminent advocates of true campaign finance reform, spoke to Occupy K Street. Nation intern Cal Colgan attended the talk and passed on some notes.
“Forget the 99 percent,” Lessig said yesterday. “We are the 99.95 percent of people who have never maxed out in a Congressional election campaign by giving the maximum amount. It is .05 percent of America who have given $2500 in the last election to a Congressional candidate, .05 percent, and Congress listens to them.” These are the same people who pay lobbyists to convince lawmakers to gut crucial regulations and oppose new ones.
It is the first time in American history where we have seen a collapse followed by no fundamental reregulation of the financial services sector because [the banks] have the power to block change from either the Democrats or the Republicans, because they can say to the Democrats or to the Republicans, “If you don’t back us, we guarantee you will lose in the next election.” They are the largest single group of contributors to Congressional elections of any in the country, and they hold this country hostage because of that power, because of that corruption.
Lessig called on the demonstrators to make confronting this legalized system of corruption a central organizing principle of the growing movement, and for the left to unite with populist Americans on the right who are similarly frustrated by the stranglehold of money and politics.
It’s worth quoting his extended remarks on this topic:
Now this movement begins on Wall Street and it points to that corruption. And it teaches the world about that corruption by demonstrating against that .05 percent that sets the rules for 99.95 percent, and sets the rules not because they’re smarter, not because they have a better vision of what America needs, but because they have the power to block and control this political system.
Now my belief is if this movement can take that message and carry it from Occupy Wall Street here, to Occupy K Street, and to look down K Street to all the other places where exactly the same kind of corruption is practiced, and talk about this problem as a problem of corruption, then this movement has the opportunity to unite people of very different views.
I spent time at a Tea Party convention in Arizona talking to people who were deeply concerned about this country. They didn’t talk about gay rights. They didn’t talk about abortion. They talked about getting our government back in control. Those grassroots populist members of the Tea Party—forget their leaders—would agree with this point about the corruption of the system. And if this movement can begin to speak about these issues in a way they can hear, where the focus is not against policies they agree with, for example against the free market, but instead against a corrupted market.
You may or may not believe in capitalism, but there is no one who believes in crony capitalism except the crony capitalists, and we can build a movement, you can build this movement, to unite around the idea that the time of crony capitalism has got to come to an end. There is no one on the left or the right who defends the system of crony capitalism; they just practice it.
Lessig has already explored this idea with the likes of MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan and Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots. Lessig’s call to join forces with parts of the Tea Party on the government corruption issue remains a controversial one in Occupy circles. “Lessig got mostly a positive response, but during the Q&A session there were a few speakers who were skeptical about his claims that the rank-and-file members of the Tea Party have much in common with the Occupy movement,” Colgan writes.
Still, I think Lessig is on to something. The public’s bipartisan disgust with the amount of concentrated wealth on Wall Street and K Street has the potential to lead to a new McCain-Feingold coalition, but this time one that advocates reforms that can actually fix the problem.
Reporting by Cal Colgan
In an interview with Philadelphia radio host Michael Smerconish last week, President Obama for the first time denounced the wave of new laws passed by Republicans designed to restrict the right to vote for millions of Americans.
Said the president:
I will say that my big priority is making sure that as many people are participating in our democracy as possible. Some of these moves in some of the other states that we’ve seen try to make it tougher to vote, restricting ballot access, making it hard on seniors, making it hard on young people.
I think that’s a big mistake, and I have made sure that our Justice Department is taking a look at what’s being done across the country to ensure that people aren’t being denied access to the franchise.
The fact that Obama invoked the Justice Department is very important, since the department has the authority under the Voting Rights Act to approve, deny or modify these laws. “The Justice Department should be much more aggressive in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act,” Congressman John Lewis told me recently.
There are signs that is starting to happen. The Justice Department recently sent pointed letters to Texas and South Carolina, two states that have strict new photo ID requirements, asking for more information on what kind of impact the laws will have on minority voters. And last month, the department found that Texas’s new redistricting maps for the state house and US House of Representatives violated the Voting Rights Act by shortchanging Hispanic residents. (A three-panel federal district court in Washington, which also has authority under the VRA, is now reviewing the Texas maps.)
Career lawyers in the civil rights division of the Justice Department, who were frequently sidelined and overruled during the Bush Administration, are reasserting their authority and independence under Obama. They may be the only ones who can halt the GOP’s war on voting.
In a recent article, “The GOP War on Voting,” I examined how GOP officials have passed laws in a dozen states since the 2010 election designed to impede traditionally Democratic voters at every step of the electoral process, which could prevent millions of students, minorities, legal immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots in 2012.
Here’s the summary:
Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states—Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia—cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures—Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin—will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic—including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.
Now, thanks to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, we have the best estimate yet for just how many voters will be impacted: “these new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012,” the report states (emphasis added).
According to the report, “states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012–63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.” It just so happens that of the twelve most competitive swing states in the country, “five [Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Nevada and Ohio] have already cut back on voting rights.”
The Brennan Center notes that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities”—in other words, those most likely to vote against the GOP.
Here’s how the Brennan Center calculated the number of voters adversely impacted by the new laws:
(1) New photo ID laws for voting will be in effect for the 2012 election in five states (Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin), which have a combined citizen voting age population of just under 29 million. 3.2 million (10.3%) of those potential voters do not have state-issued photo ID.
(2) New proof of citizenship laws will be in effect in three states (Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee), two of which will also have new photo ID laws. Assuming conservatively that those without proof of citizenship overlap substantially with those without state-issued photo ID, we excluded those two states. The citizen voting age population in the remaining state (Alabama) is 3.43 million. Of those potential voters, 240,000 (7%) do not have documentary proof of citizenship.
(3) Two states (Florida and Texas) passed laws restricting voter registration drives, causing all or most of those drives to stop. In 2008, 2.13 million voters registered in Florida and, very conservatively, at least 8.24% or 176,000 of them did so through drives. At least 501,000 voters registered in Texas, and at least 5.13% or 26,000 of them did so via drives.
(4) Maine abolished Election Day registration. In 2008, 60,000 Maine citizens registered and voted on Election Day.
(5) The early voting period was cut by half or more in three states (Florida, Georgia and Ohio). In 2008, nearly 8 million Americans voted early in these states. An estimated 1 to 2 million voted on days eliminated by these new laws.
(6) Two states (Florida and Iowa) made it substantially more difficult or impossible for people with past felony convictions to get their voting rights restored. Up to one million people in Florida could have benefited from the prior practice; based on the rates of restoration in Florida under the prior policy, 100,000 citizens likely would have gotten their rights restored by 2012.
It’s important to put these numbers in perspective. Again and again, GOP lawmakers point to voter fraud as the reason for these new laws, even though study after study, investigation after investigation, has found that voter fraud is a minuscule problem in American elections. A major probe by the Bush Justice Department between 2002 and 2007, for example, failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter. Of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only eighty-six people for voter fraud. A much-hyped investigation in Wisconsin, meanwhile, led to the prosecution of only .0007 percent of the local electorate for alleged voter fraud.
So essentially, based on a handful of suspicious incidents, 5 million eligible voters could be disenfranchised in 2012.
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” Mitch McConnell said days before the 2010 election.
Those words have become the guiding light for Congressional Republicans, and explain nearly every decision the GOP has made since the last election. The better the economy performs, the more likely it is that Obama will be re-elected. The longer the recession lasts, the better the chance that McConnell will get his wish.
This dynamic illustrates why Republicans are opposing policies they once supported in Obama’s new jobs plan, such as a payroll tax cut and infrastructure spending. As one senior GOP Republican staffer told Politico, Republicans “don’t want to co-own the economy.”
It also illuminates why Republicans are taking the unusual step of publicly going after the Federal Reserve today, urging Ben Bernanke not to take further action to stimulate the economy. With Congress eternally deadlocked because of Republican obstructionism, the Fed is perhaps the only institution that can still give the economy a boost.
The Fed, of course, is supposed to be politically independent and should pursue policies that are in the best interest of the American economy regardless of political pressure. But if those policies happen to improve the economy, which in turn improves Obama’s political standing, then Republicans will predictably resort to their default strategy: just say no.