Greg Corombos of Radio America and Jim Geraghty of National Review are faced with all crazy martinis today. They explain the stunningly illogical liberal push for a trillion dollar coin to help alleviate our national deficit. They also appreciate Paul Krugman withdrawing his name from consideration as the next treasury secretary even though he was never being considered – and they offer a couple of clarifications of their own. And they’re not exactly encouraged by Iran enthusiastically endorsing the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary.
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President Obama nominated former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense on Monday, igniting a fierce Senate debate over Hagel’s positions on Israel and Iran and whether he’s the right choice for the job.
Retired U.S. Army Maj. General Paul Vallely is not impressed with the choice. Even before positions on key issues are considered, Vallely says Hagel is lacking in two key areas.
“He doesn’t have that much corporate experience or running money, so I don’t think he’s strong on appropriations,” said Vallely. ” I don’t think he has much strength in international relations, which is very important now in light of the international use of our military force around the world.”
Gen. Vallely is also very frustrated by what he considers a troubling and persistent lack of vision from the top of our Defense Department.
“What I’m concerned about is that lack of a strategic thinker at the Pentagon today in light of the threats that we have,” said Vallely, noting that he can’t cite a single example of progress achieved by recent secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta and he fears Hagel would be more of the same.
“There are far more experienced people that haver some strategic thinking capability that would be able to look at today and tomorrow and look at our threats and then construct the force or structure the armed forces to meet that threat and then the funding to support the structure.”
“They’re doing it all backwards now. They’re looking at the money and looking at cutting this and cutting that, which is really not looking at the threats on our borders, the Middle East threat with Iran, what’s happening worldwide on the international chessboard,” said Vallely. “So that’s what concerns me more than anything and that’s why I don’t think Chuck Hagel is qualified.”
So what in the Hagel record gives Gen. Vallely pause? The challenges in the Middle East top the list, especially as it relates to Hagel’s record on being critical of Israel, the ongoing civil war in Syria and what many see as a soft approach on the Iranian nuclear threat.
“I don’t think he’s well-schooled to understand internationally what the threats are to America,” said Vallely. “I don’t hear him talking in a global, strategic sense that he’s got a good feel for it. I would say he’s also very naive when it comes to Iran and their two main threats in the world – number one is nuclear proliferation. Second is support of international terrorism and the global caliphate. Unless he can articulate that well, then he’s not qualified to be Secretary of Defense.”
Vallely predicts that while the confirmation process may be noisy, enough Senate Republicans will go along with the nomination to avert a filibuster threat.
Greg Corombos of Radio America and Jim Geraghty of National Review are pleased a federal court has sided with Virginia in ruling that stormwater is not a pollutant and they’re pleased the Lisa Jackson emailing scandal isn’t going away. They also try to figure out why President Obama wants to have a big fight over Chuck Hagel. And they appreciate pro-gun Democrats walking back some of their initial embrace of more gun control legislation.
President Obama nominated Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Assuming Kerry is confirmed, the new position will give him the highest profile since his unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign. As a result, the Capitol Steps reflect back to that campaign and their parody highlighting the senator’s most famous gaffe. Our guest is Capitol Steps Kerry impressionist Mark Eaton.
President Obama, Congressional Democrats and even some Republicans plan to push new gun control legislation in the 113th Congress, but defenders of the Second Amendment fear Obama is poised to enact the restrictions through the executive branch if Congress is not cooperative.
John M. Snyder heads the gunrightspolicies.org blog and has worked for organizations from the National Rifle Association to the Second Amendment Foundation to the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. He says Obama and his allies have already chartered what regulatory course to pursue through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“We have some confidential information that he may order the ATF to reclassify certain models of semi-automatic firearms as Title 2 guns under the Gun Control Act of 1968,” said Snyder. “What this would mean is that people could not obtain these without going through a terribly difficult process that includes registration of each firearm and paying a severe fee for the ownership of each one.”
Snyder says an even more drastic approach from Obama would be to try to ban semi-automatic weapons altogether.
“Also, there is the possibility that the administration could try to declare that the administration could try to declare that semi-automatic firearms are fully automatic firearms or machine guns under this Title 2, in which case they would be banned because of an amendment that’s on the books the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Snyder is referring to what’s known as the Hughes Amendment, which forbids the acquisition of any new fully automatic weapons or machine guns.
The possible strategy is not a new idea, according to Snyder. He says liberal groups have advocated the move for years but Democrats have been reluctant to pursue it because of the massive public backlash that will ensue.
“This is an ongoing project of theirs and they use a lot of these tragedies to try to advance their cause in a public relations sense. So far they’ve been unable to do that,” said Snyder. “It appears that the public is catching on to them and they know what their game plan is generally speaking. So a lot depends on their frustration, the political situation at the time and a number of other factors too.”
Even if the Obama administration were to bypass Congress by imposing new regulations, there is still one card left for pro-Second Amendment forces to play – the House of Representatives removing funding for the ATF or abolishing it completely. But would the House GOP actually do that? Snyder is confident it would.
“I wouldn’t be surprised. I think the House is really furious with the president,” said Snyder. “The Republicans would like to cut budgets of the federal government because they think the federal government is taking too much money and spending too much money, and a good place for them to cut would be in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. If there is strong enough public support against the activities of the federal government, the House of Representatives will develop a plan to slash the budget of the agency. I think it’s a real possibility.”
Greg Corombos of Radio America and Jim Geraghty of National Review are happy to see Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk back at work after a major stroke and they hope ill-informed Obama voters learn something now that their paychecks are smaller. They also cringe as former Rep. Barney Franks publicly campaigns to be the interim senator once John Kerry is confirmed as Secretary of State. And they wonder why the House conservatives who voted against John Boehner didn’t have an alternative in mind.
Greg Corombos of Radio America and Daniel Foster of National Review Online cheer Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey for saying Republicans are willing to see a government shutdown in order to demand real spending cuts and entitlement reform. They also scold New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for blaming House Republicans for the ongoing suffering in his state from Hurricane Sandy. And they have fun with the news that Al Gore’s Current TV has been sold to Al Jazeera.
As the 113th U.S. Congress convenes, House Republicans are a bit fractured but are ready to fight hard in vital debates ranging from the debt ceiling to job creation.
Texas Rep. Kevin Brady is the top House Republican on the Joint Economic Committee and is also a member of the House Ways and Means Committee. He says the recent fights over the fiscal cliff legislation splintered the GOP, but no one should anticipate anything shocking in today’s election for Speaker of the House.
“We’re having real, honest differences about what’s the best strategy to maximize our power and influence,” said Brady. Which fights do we focus on and got to the mat for? Which ones are we simply not able to pull across the line as we would like to have? I don’t know if there’ll be other alternatives, but clearly the choice is between Nancy Pelosi and Speaker John Boehner. There’s no question about who I support – John Boehner. Should he decide not to seek the speakership today or sometime in the future, whenever that would be, I’m going to support the most conservative candidate.”
Asked about whether that statement indicated Boehner might not stand for Speaker of the House on Thursday, Brady poured cold water on such speculation. The congressman says he has every expectation that Boehner will run and will win.
Rep. Brady says despite the GOP’s frustration during the fiscal cliff debate, the party is fired up and ready to fight when the debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling arrives in a few weeks. Brady says House Republicans succeeded in denying President Obama unlimited power to raise the debt ceiling in this week’s vote and they’re ready to fight for fiscal sanity again.
“The debt ceiling vote is our strongest leverage for getting authentic spending cuts, forcing these guys to the table,” said Brady. “This president, in my view, having gone through several rounds of watching him operate. He’s not a serious president on these issues. He’s not someone you can count on to tackle big issues, just like in this case where he was basically ignored and the vice president had to step in eventually to do business. I really don’t expect him to lead on these issues.”
Brady indicated that Republicans are ready to go even further than before in order to demand spending cuts. He says Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey is right that the GOP must be ready to accept a partial temporary government shutdown if that’s what is needed to impose real discipline.
“Senator Toomey is right. If we don’t get this right, I think we’re looking at another downgrade of our credit rating in America,” said Brady. “We may have avoided the so-called fiscal cliff. We’re still in a fiscal ditch in a major way. Nothing changed from that standpoint and it has to change.”
Brady did reluctantly vote for the fiscal cliff bill on Tuesday. He says he was extremely disappointed over the lack of any serious approach to spending or entitlement reform, but he says the need to make permanent as much tax relief as possible and to block President Obama’s goal of unlimited power to raise the debt ceiling.
Congress passed legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff” just hours into the new year, but whether the bill is better than no bill at all remains a subject of fierce debate.
National Taxpayers Union Executive Vice President Peter Sepp is not impressed with the final product or how Congress went about it’s work.
“Congress still had time to pass a better bill than this. They will say that this was the best deal that was politically possible. I think that had they gotten to this work sooner, even right after the election in more earnest, they might have come up with a better package,” said Sepp.
But Sepp does believe there are least a few bright spots.
“We obviously did secure permanent tax relief through the 2001 and 2003 laws for about 98 percent of Americans. We also permanently extended the so-called patch that protects about 30 million Americans from having to pay the dreaded Alternative Minimum Tax,” said Sepp.
But that’s pretty much where the good points end, according to Sepp.
He says the worst part is that Congress is clearly not serious about spending, since the Congressional Budget Office announced the bill adds $41 in new taxes for every new dollar in spending cuts.
“This is obviously the worst part of this legislation. Members of Congress decided they’re going to try and separate the spending side of the ledger question from the tax side of the ledger question,” he said. “People have a right to be cynical of whether Congress will ever be able to get to the important business of controlling expenditures and reforming entitlement programs after this. This is by far the biggest punt of a season’s worth of punting on fiscal issues.”
Sepp also says there’s a mountain of bad news in here too, even beyond the higher marginal, capital gains and dividend rates for wealthier Americans. Sepp says the worst part may be that the tax code is even more convoluted then ever.
“Couldn’t we have done better here, especially just reforming the system overall?” said Sepp, noting that while most people think capital gains rates are headed up to 20 percent for wealthier Americans, the real story is much more complicated.
“There will be several different rates. You’ll have zero percent, 15. 18.8, 20 percent, even 23.8 percent. And this makes an important point,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot more complexity introduced in the system because of this bill, especially for for higher-income earners. If you earn more than $450,000 as a joint filer, you’ve got a new income tax rate. More than $300,000? You’re going to start losing some of your itemized deductions. More than $250,000? You may have to pay a new surtax thanks to the 2010 health care law. You can bet the tax preparation industry will be busy at the next tax filing season.”
Sepp says the new bill not only further clutters the tax code but is the result of failed efforts to simplify it.
President Obama wanted to raise marginal rates on individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples making north of $250,000. Republicans argued that would be crippling for small-businesses that often file in the highest individual tax bracket. Sepp says now that those numbers up are pushed up to $400,000 and $450,000 respectively, small businesses will get a bit of a reprieve but not much.
“Moving this threshold up might take some of the edge, some of the sting out of the tax increases but it won’t entirely help job creators,” said Sepp, noting that the loss of deductions and the new health care surtax will apply to those businesses that file as individuals.
Despite the political rhetoric, Sepp points out all working Americans will see a tax increase because the two-year reduction in the payroll taxes expired in this legislation.
“That will be a surprise, an automatic two-percent reduction in most people’s paychecks, at a time when most folks are still skittish about the economy. Just look at the poor showing of the last retail shopping season for the holidays. This could not be worse timed,” said Sepp.
Greg Corombos of Radio America and Jim Geraghty of National Review discuss the very few good things in the fiscal cliff deal, lay out the many horrible details and philosophies that led to the compromise, and unload on the tortured process that got us here.