It seems like common sense: if you're going to hire escorts and gamble
, don't put it on your work-issued credit card. Particularly if you work for the Pentagon, maybe? But no:
A Pentagon official briefed on some of the findings stressed that the federal government did not necessarily pay the charges; holders of the cards pay their own bills and then submit receipts to be reimbursed for expenses related to their government business.
"Did not necessarily"—something to look into, anyway. And, uh, if you're paying the bills and then being reimbursed for relevant work stuff, why complicate your bookkeeping by putting non-work expenses on that card?
The official said that the employees may have used the government cards for gambling and escort services in order to shield the charges from spouses.
Ohhh. I see. Seriously, at what point do you think "I'm going to hide that I'm gambling and hiring escorts from my wife by letting my employer know about it"? Get fired for gambling and escorts on your Pentagon credit card and I'm betting that the getting fired part will be one more awkward thing to explain to your spouse.
Because the review was an audit of the credit card system and not an investigation of particular individuals, the official said the likely result will be that the agencies and military branches most affected will be compelled to remind employees that the practice violates policy — and possibly the law.
Oh, COMPELLED. If they're gonna be compelled to do something, it must be pretty drastic. What's that you say? No, they're just going to have to remind Pentagon employees not to put escorts and poker chips on their Pentagon credit cards? Huh. Maybe it's also time to upgrade from an audit to an investigation?
One thing's for sure here, though, because one thing is always for sure when you're talking about American politics and the military: The Pentagon definitely needs more money from Congress ASAP.
Spare me, please. Jeb Bush has taken to the op-ed pages of the Chicago Tribune
to lecture us about poverty
Trouble is, from the War on Poverty to the persistence of liberal big city mayors, the same government programs have been in place for over a half-century — and they have failed. We have spent trillions of dollars in the War on Poverty, and poverty not only persists, it is as intractable as ever. This represents a broken promise. And it feeds the anger of Baltimore.
Intractable as ever, eh? Before the War on Poverty
, in the late 1950s, the poverty rate was over 22 percent. Then it went down, reaching a low of 11.1 percent in 1973. Poverty rates started to rise again in 1980, declined somewhat in the 1990s, going back down to 11.3 percent, and then started rising again. Tell me again, Jeb, how we need conservative solutions.
Here are some other things we know about fighting poverty:
Food stamps improve children's health and educational outcomes. The Earned Income Tax Credit boosts employment among single mothers. If you look at the government's Supplemental Poverty Measure, safety net programs cut poverty in half.
Here's something else: Raising the minimum wage would reduce poverty, yet Republicans—Jeb Bush's party—oppose doing so.
We have heard everything Jeb Bush has to say about poverty before. We have heard it so many times, from so many Republicans, and they are as wrong on the facts as they are self-righteous. We have heard the strategy, also embraced by Bush, of blaming teachers, and we have heard the code words he employs that translate to corporate profit.
Do we really need to ask if another Bush promising to be a "compassionate conservative" is the right choice?
Will Republicans cut Pell Grants and saddle students with more debt?
Congressional Republicans have passed a budget. Now the real fight starts. The budget is a statement of priorities, but how much money different programs actually get will be determined in appropriations. So that means that's where Republicans are going to really try to cut services
Americans depend on. The plan is ugly:
Republicans said the next step will be for the Appropriations Committee to start drafting spending bills that meet the newly approved framework, which means cutting $496 billion in non-defense spending over the next decade. The budget adheres to domestic spending caps included in the 2011 Budget Control Act, also known as the sequester, and uses nearly $40 billion in off-budget funds to boost defense spending to over $563 billion.
Senate Democrats plan to stand in the way of deep cuts to little things like Pell Grants, food stamps, and medical research, and what passes for good news, besides the presidential veto pen, is this:
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he doesn’t expect the deepest-cutting funding bills to even make it out of committee. Schumer said he expects Republicans to refuse to vote in favor of cuts to programs that benefit their constituents.
“It wouldn’t get to the floor,” he said. “[Republicans] wouldn’t vote for it and Democrats wouldn’t vote for it.”
Most likely, some Republicans will vote for all of the cuts and all Republicans will vote for some of the cuts, but the point is we're not looking at total unity on their side, either, for a very good reason: Many of the cuts Republicans are proposing would be really unpopular with voters. When these cuts are just talking points, Republicans can win over some voters to them. But when you start talking about cutting Pell Grants for real, as a thing that's happening rather than as part of a vague program of "trimming the fat" or whatever, suddenly people realize they don't like that so much.
There's no question there's going to be a big, long fight, though. One party will be fighting to inflict deep cuts on services Americans use every day and on investment in America's infrastructure, economy, and future. The other party will be fighting to prevent those cuts. And while Democrats aren't in a position to successfully wage an inspirational campaign to expand needed programs, I still know which side of the fight I'd rather be on.
This is why we like polling averages. The day after an NBC News/Wall Street Journal
poll showed that Hillary Clinton's overall favorable rating was now even at 42 percent favorable to 42 percent unfavorable, down from March, a New York Times/CBS News poll
finds her favorable rating improved
since March. According to the new poll, the percent of voters with a favorable view of Clinton has gone from 26 in March to 35 now, and the percent with an unfavorable view has ticked down a point from 37 to 36. By contrast, Jeb Bush is at nine percent favorable and 28 percent unfavorable, with most voters saying they either don't know enough or are undecided.
The poll also found that:
... the number of Americans who think Mrs. Clinton has strong qualities of leadership has risen by eight percentage points, to 65 percent from 57 percent, in that period. Still, Mrs. Clinton begins this campaign with fewer voters saying she possesses such qualities than did in July 2007, near the outset of her first presidential bid.
Still, 65 percent is not exactly terrible. And the New York Times
must be disappointed that, despite its best efforts:
... only 10 percent [of Democrats] said foreign donations to the foundation affected Mrs. Clinton’s decisions while she was the nation’s top diplomat. Just 9 percent of Democratic voters said they would not consider voting for Mrs. Clinton.
Take these results for what they're worth, and let the two-day "she's down! no, she's up!" of these two polls serve as a reminder not to take any one poll too seriously.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, at odds once again
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is working to up-end Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan to quickly pass fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Reid says he'll hold up that bill until the Senate first addresses highway funding and PATRIOT Act reauthorization—both of which have deadlines attached to them. Then, Reid says, once those important and time-sensitive issues have been resolved, he'll be fine with the Senate turning to Trade Promotion Authority (though he opposes that legislation). Republicans are ... unhappy with him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell implored his caucus to band together against Reid, sources inside the room said.
“It takes a bit of an adjustment to move from majority leader back to minority leader,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who has served as an emissary between Reid and McConnell. “Maybe Sen. Reid has got some adjusting to do. It’s the prerogative of the majority leader to set the schedule. … He should understand that.”
And it's the prerogative of the minority to hold things up and get in the way, as Republicans well know, that having been their specialty when in the minority. If there are 41 Democrats who don't want TPA to move forward until highway funding is no longer in danger of running out, they can make that happen. Republicans just want Democrats to play by different rules than they themselves play by. As usual.
With few exceptions, Senate Democrats—even some who may support TPA—are on Reid's side:
“The TPA has time. The highway bill and a couple of other things don’t,” [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein concluded. [...]
“Look, here’s the bottom line. We have two immediate deadlines: [Surveillance] and highways. If we get on trade, we’ll never get to them,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “What Harry has done makes some sense.”
Probably the bigger threat to Democratic unity on this is that President Obama very much wants TPA passed, and some Democrats who would stand firm against Republicans may be more vulnerable to pressure from the White House. That said, Obama also wants highway funding, which expires at the end of the month, right in time for construction season. So he at least has something to think about when deciding how hard to pressure Democrats to vote for TPA now, first, right away.
Whatever happens, Harry Reid continues to be a delight in his current role.
The Labor Department is moving ahead
with President Obama's eagerly awaited overtime pay expansion. That's good news, but we don't know yet how good. Currently, workers who make as little as $24,000 a year can be denied time-and-a-half if they're considered managers—even if most of the work they do isn't managerial. Obama has promised to raise that threshold to cover more salaried workers, but hasn't said how high it will go, and the fact that the Labor Department has finalized a plan doesn't change that. Yet:
The full proposal is now under review by OMB officials and won't be made public for at least several weeks. After it is published, there will be a review period during which interested parties can comment on the proposed rule. The details of the rule are eagerly awaited by employers and worker advocates -- not to mention overworked Americans -- since they will ultimately determine who receives time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.
Just 11 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime under the current rules. To cover the same proportion of workers who were eligible for overtime in 1975, the threshold would have to be raised
from $23,660 to $69,004 ($58,344 if you adjust for increased education). To adjust for inflation since 1975, the number would be $51,168. Any increase will be an improvement that means overtime eligibility for millions more workers—meaning employers can't save on wages by hiring salaried "managers" and expecting them to stock shelves 10 hours a day—but here's hoping the Obama administration has chosen a number that will get us back to 1975 by one measure or another.
Very dangerous woman
The elaborate show of right-wing paranoia
about the Clintons is ramping up:
During a May 4 appearance on The Dana Show, Loesch told Schweizer "there is always that concern for anyone who goes up against the Clinton machine that they could be Vince Fostered" and asked if he considered that possibility when "getting himself security." Schweizer replied: "Yeah, I mean look -- there are security concerns that arise in these kinds of situations."
Schweizer added that the security decision was made by his group, the Government Accountability Institute, and the "reality is we've touched on a major nerve within the Clinton camp. They are very, very upset, and they are pulling out all the stops to attack me in an effort to kill this book off."
Vince Foster is now a verb? In any case, Peter Schweizer and his doctors are the best people to know if he's suffering from the kind of depression that might lead him to commit suicide. If so, I hope he seeks help more aggressively than Vince Foster did, and avoids that fate. Because no, we're not going to be entertaining conspiracy theories about the Clintons and Foster's death, which was after all ruled a suicide repeatedly.
Schweizer's participation in that kind of talk certainly does highlight that he's not just a partisan but hails from the true Republican fever swamps. And "takes Vince Foster conspiracy theories seriously" is a great yardstick for measuring his general commitment to truthful reporting.
Here's a 2012 Republican debate. Now double it.
After the nonstop debatorama that was the 2012 Republican presidential primary, the party vowed to cut down on the number of debates in 2016. It's done that, going from 23 debates to 12. But what about the clown car that is the Republican field? How do you even get as many as 17 candidates on a stage, let alone give them time to say anything about their candidacy or positions? But how can Republicans decide who to exclude
, especially when you're talking about people who will not be shy about trumpeting—and fundraising off of—their grievances? The Republican Party has to find a measure that allows in the people they want to allow in and keeps out the people they don't want on their stage, but without looking like it's rigged.
In that pursuit, Republicans face a number of potential problems. There's the appearance-of-diversity problem:
[Ben] Carson, according to a number of party insiders, is all-but-guaranteed a spot given his relatively strong polling in the GOP field. The bigger issue is former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina—the only woman seeking the Republican nomination and also one of the party’s most ferocious Clinton critics—who barely registers in polling. Both announced their presidential candidacies on Monday.
Fiorina is polling below two percent, so it would be hard to justify having her in while excluding others, but not letting one woman into your giant club is not the greatest look for 2016.
Then there's the blowhard problem:
There’s also the matter of Donald Trump. The reality television star has formed a presidential exploratory committee but has yet to officially declare himself a candidate for the White House. Should he do so, many Republican insiders say it would be hard for the party to exclude him—voters find him entertaining and he has a large megaphone with which he could embarrass the GOP. “This sounds crazy, but it’s safer to just include him,” said one 2016 presidential aide.
Hahahahahahaha. I'm sorry, I've got nothing but laughter on this one. Especially the part where they're worried about Trump embarrassing them if he's not allowed into the debate more than they're worried about him embarrassing them by what he says from the debate stage. Although I guess the variously absurd and offensive things Trump would say in a debate aren't necessarily so different from the absurd and offensive things Ben Carson or Ted Cruz would say. It's just the reality television flair he'd say them with.
And then there were ... [counts on fingers] ... six Republicans running for president. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee announced his run Tuesday morning at an event in his doubly symbolic birthplace of Hope, Arkansas. Naturally, Huckabee's announcement featured the hottest and most relevant entertainment:
Tony Orlando, a music start from the 1970s, is performing a song in Hope he wrote for Mike Huckabee called "America is my hometown."
What, no Ted Nugent
? No Duggars?
Huckabee also signaled an entertaining campaign to come on his own merits:
“I never thought about using a firearm to murder someone” — Huckabee, 2016
Not to mention that "As president, I promise you that we will no longer merely try to contain jihadism, we will conquer it. We will deal with jihadis just as we would deal with deadly snakes." In short, this should be entertaining.
10:11 AM PT: Huckabee struggled with fundraising in 2008, but there are right ways and wrong ways to change that:
"I will be funded and fueled not by the billionaires, but by working people who will find out that $15 and $25 a month contributions can take us from Hope to higher ground," he said. And then he added, to laughter, "Now, rest assured, if you want to give a million dollars, please do it." It was mostly a joke. It also violated campaign finance law.
Har har. Super funny in a campaign cycle where Jeb Bush is delaying his official campaign announcement to allow him more time to legally ask for million-dollar contributions to his super PAC.
Political junkies, even relatively casual ones, have long known that as soon as she stepped back into partisan politics, Hillary Clinton's favorable ratings would drop. During her time at the State Department and in private life, Clinton was an extremely popular figure, but we knew that would take a hit once she was under attack by Republicans and represented a choice on the ballot. The question was how big a hit and how she would compare to leading Republican candidates, and a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal
has some preliminary answers
In the new NBC/WSJ poll, Clinton's favorable/unfavorable rating stands at 42 positive, 42 negative (even) - down from 44 percent positive, 36 percent negative in March (+8).
Still, that break-even rating exceeds the fav/unfav scores for Republicans Marco Rubio (22 percent positive, 23 percent negative), Scott Walker (15 percent positive, 17 percent negative), Rand Paul (23 percent positive, 28 percent negative) and Jeb Bush (23 percent positive, 36 percent negative).
In head to head match-ups, Rand Paul comes the closest to Clinton, trailing by just three points while Bush and Rubio trail by six and Walker by 10. And then there's this:
The Latino Vote: In new NBC/WSJ poll, Hillary leads both Jeb (66%-28%) and Rubio (63%-32%) among Latino voters
I guess Marco Rubio isn't a magic solution to Republican problems with Latino voters, after all. Gee, who could possibly
have foreseen that
Obviously, Clinton's name recognition is much higher than that of the Republicans, so they have more room to define themselves positively or be defined negatively by opponents. But so far, the drop in Clinton's favorables is no more than you'd expect given the relentless Republican attacks she's already facing, and her likely Republican opponents don't look poised to catch up with her—not to mention that they have to climb over each other to get to the nomination to begin with.
Remember when she already testified to committees in both the House and Senate about Benghazi?
The back-and-forth over when and about what Hillary Clinton will testify to the House Benghazi Committee continues. Because of course it does, what with Republicans wanting to drag out the process as much as possible in an ongoing attempt to create scandal. The big question these days is whether Republicans are more interested in talking about Benghazi itself or about Clinton's emails. House Benghazi Czar Trey Gowdy tried to get Clinton to submit to a private interview on the emails before
a public Benghazi hearing, only to have her say no thanks, she'd rather do both publicly
and at the same time:
David Kendall, Clinton's lawyer, said Clinton would testify once on both topics, on a day designated by the committee during the week of May 18th or later.
"On such day, she will stay as long as necessary to answer the committee's questions, but will not prolong the committee's efforts further by appearing on two separate occasions when one will suffice," Kendall wrote in a letter delivered on Monday.
The likely Republican play is to start out with hours of questions on Clinton's emails, then declare her answers on that topic inadequate and refuse to ask her about Benghazi as time runs out, "forcing" them to call her back to talk about the ostensible subject of their entire committee. Gowdy has made clear that since Clinton did not personally vet every single one of her emails and decide which to turn over to the State Department, but had a lawyer do it, he won't accept her personal assurance that everything relevant was turned over. David Corn writes:
Clinton is trying to avoid being so cornered. On Monday, Kendall sent a letter to Gowdy, asserting there was no need for two rounds of testimony. "Respectfully," he wrote, "there is no basis, logic, or precedent for such an unusual request." Clinton, he added, was prepared to come before the committee and stay as long as necessary to answer all queries about the Benghazi attack and her emails. Kendall reminded Gowdy that Clinton has already testified about Benghazi before other House and Senate committees (which, by the way, have found no wrongdoing or conspiracies on her part). In a not-so-veiled jibe at Gowdy, Kendall noted that Clinton "believes that the Members of the Committee are able to decide how much they will focus on the tragic deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including what can be done to keep those who serve our country safe—and how much they will focus on how she e-mailed."
After all this parrying, the question is, does Gowdy want to have Clinton testify about the what transpired in Benghazi (and Washington) and proceed with the investigation—the House GOPers have already spent more time investigating Benghazi than Congress devoted to the Iran-contra scandal—or does he want to play cat and mouse with Clinton far into the election cycle?
Let's take that as a rhetorical question. Benghazi was always an excuse for Republicans to go looking for a scandal to attach to first President Obama and then Hillary Clinton. In a move many voters will remember from previous episodes between Republicans and the Clintons, the initial investigation has now turned up something else—Clinton's emails—that Republicans are hoping will be juicier campaign fodder than Benghazi. Because let's face it, the only voters who care about Benghazi are voters who were never in a million years going to vote for Hillary Clinton.