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October 13, 2015

Posts in "Kondracke"

September 15, 2015

CNN: Make the Next Debate About the Big Stuff

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

CNN moderator Jake Tapper can’t avoid questioning the Republican presidential candidates about the subjects that have dominated the GOP race so far — immigration, Planned Parenthood and Donald Trump — but in Wednesday night’s debate he ought to try to get answers on other issues that are much more important to American voters.

At the top ought to be: What, exactly, are you going to do to restore the American dream of economic opportunity for current workers and future generations? It’s all well and good for Jeb Bush to explain how his new tax plan will raise the U.S. growth rate to 4 percent and Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is just that. As Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., often says, U.S. workers face a different kind of economy than in the past because of technology and international competition. In fact, real wages have been stagnant for 20 years. That’s a diagnosis, not a prescription or a cure.

Being Republicans, the candidates will likely say the answers are to lower corporate taxes and stop over-regulating business. But according to the Government Accountability Office, large corporations actually pay at the rate of 12.6 percent, not the official rate (second highest in the world) of 35 percent. Thirty-five percent. Twenty of the biggest pay no federal taxes at all. Lots of corporations are beneficiaries of tax breaks and subsidies — “corporate welfare.” Will the candidates take on Big Oil, farm subsidies, hedge fund operators, sugar quotas and ethanol requirements the way they might attack welfare dependency? And, which regulations, exactly will be out: worker health and safety, clean air, clean water, mine safety, oversight of the banking system?

Trump will likely blame flat incomes on bad trade deals cut by “stupid” American leaders and say Mexican immigrants, when they aren’t raping and robbing, are stealing the jobs of American citizens. But if the U.S. raises tariffs on imports, what’s to prevent China and Mexico — and Canada and the European Union, our biggest trading partners — from doing the same, locking out U.S. exports and setting off a global trade war? And do Trump and other candidates favoring mass deportation of illegals expect American workers to clean houses, tend golf courses, pick crops and do odd construction work? Where’s the evidence they’ll do so? Immigration can’t be avoided in the debate, for sure. But Tapper and co-interviewer Hugh Hewitt ought to ask what it’s going to cost the U.S. — in money, global reputation and internal unity — to track down and drive out 11 million people. And Trump needs to be asked directly: Can you guarantee that all the people working on your golf courses and cleaning your hotel rooms are U.S. citizens?

What’s the role of investing in infrastructure in providing jobs, if any? According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. ranks 12th in the world in the quality of its roads, bridges, dams, airports, waterways etc. and the American Society of Civil Engineers says the U.S. needs to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020 to get up to speed. Are the GOP candidates willing to do that? How will they pay for it? And balance the federal budget, as they all seem to want to do? If they think that’s “wasteful spending,” do they want China to have better railroads than we do forever?

And what’s the role of education? The U.S. ranks 14th among nations in overall education performance. Average SAT scores have fallen to their lowest level in 10 years. What do the candidates propose to do about that?

A good general question would be: Do you agree with Trump that America is now a “hell hole” or with Bush that “we’re on the verge of the greatest time to be alive? Both of them ought to have to defend those statements.

But then there’s foreign policy. The GOP candidates can be expected to denounce Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear agreement and promise to tear it up if elected. But how will that retard Iran’s pursuit of a bomb? Won’t Iran just accelerate its program? If the candidates say they’d impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran to get a better deal, how would that work when European parties to the deal are already lifting sanctions? Is anybody ready to bomb Iran?

For those who’d rely on Kurds and Arab allies to deal with the problem, offering them weapons, air support and advice, suppose that doesn’t work, as it isn’t in Iraq? Do we wait till the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS, pulls a 9/11 before getting serious about it?

And Vladimir Putin: is he an enemy to be countered at every turn, Cold War style, or a troublesome character who might be maneuvered into constructive co-operation (say, against ISIS)? What’s the U.S. to do about Ukraine, for centuries a part of Russia’s sphere of influence? Do we risk war with Russia to protect Ukraine as we would a NATO member?

Who’s more of a danger — China, Russia, Iran or ISIS? Are we going to fight all of them at once? If not, what’s the strategy?

The GOP candidates are all going to blame Obama for everything that’s wrong with the nation and the world. Tapper and Hewitt ought to say: Stop right there — elections are about the future, not the past. We want to know what you are going to do about the world you might inherit. And be specific.


Who’s In? 2016 Presidential Candidates

A Significant Reassessment of the GOP Race

August 11, 2015

Who Will Republicans Come Around to in 2016?

Republican presidential candidates arrive on stage for the Republican presidential debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. From left are:  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie;  Florida Sen. Marco Rubio;  retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; real estate magnate Donald Trump; former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul; and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.  AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Which one of these 10 men will be the GOP’s 2016 nominee? (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

This is the quadrennial Republican silly season, when candidates without a prayer of election get their moments in the limelight, sometimes topping the polls before crashing.

After adopting crazy enthusiasms — Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Pat Robertson, Michele Bachman, Herman Cain and the ever-present Mike Huckabee — the party almost always ends up nominating its most electable candidate. The process is often ruinous, of course, forcing the nominee to adopt positions in the primaries that render him unable to win the general. Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” position on immigration in 2012 is the best example.

Full story

May 14, 2015

Will GOP Let Clinton Capture Latino Vote? | Pennsylvania Avenue

Immigration reform activists in front of the White House march and chant following President Barack Obama's speech on his executive action on immigration policies last November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Immigration reform activists march and chant following President Barack Obama’s speech on his executive action on immigration policies last November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A plan is circulating on Capitol Hill and among immigrant advocate groups to give Republicans in Congress the chance to get something constructive done this year on the fractious issue — and perhaps undercut Hillary Rodham Clinton’s shrewd (and cynical) effort to lock down the Hispanic vote in 2016.

The plan is the work of Rick Swartz, founder of the National Immigration Forum and longstanding campaigner for left-right policy solutions on environmental, trade, tax and agricultural issues. He’s advocating — not for the first time — that Congress pass a “small bill” solving part of America’s immigration problem, recognizing that comprehensive reform has zero chance of enactment anytime soon.

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April 30, 2015

Great Questions | Pennsylvania Avenue

Ross Douthat wrote a brilliant column — as he often does — Sunday on The New York Times op-ed page raising the question: What will the next Republican president (if there is one) replace Barack Obama’s dangerously inept foreign policy with?

As a matter of fact, the Times op-ed page was filled with good questions: Nicholas Kristof’s asked how American kids will ever compete in the world economy when they’re so far behind in math. And Maureen Dowd’s asked nothing less than what will become of the human race in the age of robotics.

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April 24, 2015

Return of the Reformicons | Pennsylvania Avenue

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rubio has identified with some of the Reformicons’ proposals.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Last year, a group of mainly young conservative intellectuals made a splash with a document titled “Room to Grow,” attempting to outline policies that would address the problems, anxieties and worries of the middle class. The so-called Reform Conservative Movement — “Reformicons” for short—got favorable attention from The New York Times Magazine for its attempt to make the Republican Party “the party of ideas.”

Unless you’re a reader of the lively journal National Affairs, edited by Reformicon leader Yuval Levin, you might have thought the movement had gone into hibernation, though a number of 2016 GOP presidential wannabes — notably Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — have identified with some of its proposals, especially making college more affordable and reforming K-12 education. “Room to Grow”also contained proposals for family friendly tax reform, health care affordability, safety-net and regulatory reform, and infrastructure and energy policy. We’ve yet to see much uptake of those ideas either by the Republican Congress or the presidential field. The latter group, Bush excepted, seems preoccupied with pandering to the basest instincts of the GOP base. Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have reversed themselves on immigration reform. And there’s a mass rush, Bush again excepted, to denounce Common Core educational standards which were originally invented by the nation’s governors and are now seen by the Tea Party (in de facto collusion with the teachers unions) as an President Barack Obama/Bill Gates takeover of the minds of America’s children.

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April 15, 2015

The Opportunity Challenge | Pennsylvania Avenue

Scottsdale, Ariz. — Last October, a conspiracy got hatched in Beaver Creek, Colo., to change the future of America — for the better. Its goals got unveiled at an education innovation conference I attend here every year co-sponsored by Arizona State University and the high-tech investment banking firm GSV.

The Beaver Creek gathering was attended by 140 educators, entrepreneurs, foundation executives and investors and moderated by “Good to Great” business strategy luminary Jim Collins. The group came up with the ambitious and idealistic goal insuring that every American child has an equal opportunity to participate in the future, regardless of income or ZIP code.

That’s obviously not the case today; 75 percent of children born in the top quarter of the income spectrum graduate college, but only 8 percent in the bottom quartile. Seventy percent of those kids never make it into the middle class.

The Beaver Creek conspirators agreed that tackling the lack of equal opportunity is essential to undo what you could call “the Great Stall” in the life prospects for most Americans. Gross domestic product per capita doubled from 1950 to 1975, but it’s been flat ever since. Median household income is below what it was in 1999. The baby boom generation ranked first in the world in high-school completion and third in college completion; millennials rank 10th and 13th, respectively. And income inequality has tripled since 1975.

How to reignite opportunity in America? The Beaver Creek group settled on 10 pillars of action, of which I think the most important are:

1. Give every child access to quality early learning. Neuroscience has established that 85 percent of human brain development occurs during the first five years of life, but the U.S. devotes 98 percent of education spending to the years after age 5. Children who are regularly read and talked to by adults — mostly middle class and above — have heard 30 million more words by the time they reach kindergarten than kids who aren’t. Fifty-two percent of poor kids are not ready for school. Quality pre-school can be done better and cheaper than Head Start does it. Congress ought to block-grant Head Start money to the states and let them figure out how to spend it better.

2. Improve leadership training for public school principals and show them how to match the top-performing schools in the nation, public, private and charter. America needs a West Point for principals.

3. Give kids mentors. The national ratio of students to counselors in 500 to 1, and having a mentor doubles the chance that a child will go to college.

4. Accelerate the use of technology in classrooms. U.S. schools still operate on the “industrial model” of the early 20th century — a teacher talking to students sitting at desks. New technology (on display in abundance in Scottsdale every year) makes it possible to tailor lessons to individual students, track their progress, connect with their parents, make learning fun and help teachers share ideas. Log onto to see.

5. Make it possible for people to keep learning their whole lives. It’s not true that “college isn’t worth it.” A majority of jobs in the new American economy requires post-secondary education. Most young people will change jobs 15 times over their lifetimes. And innovative institutions such as Arizona State have developed programs to offer credentials and degrees almost entirely online.

6. Invest much more in brain research — the last frontier of science — to match teaching methods to learning differences.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is making it a pillar of her 2016 presidential campaign that every child should have the opportunities her granddaughter will have. Republicans ought to accept the goal and compete with her to reach it — undoubtedly using different methods. The Beaver Creek group has shown the way.

Morton Kondracke was executive editor of Roll Call and wrote Pennsylvania Avenue from 1991 to 2011. He is co-authoring a biography of Jack Kemp due out in September.

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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February 4, 2014

Go ‘Small’ on Immigration | Kondracke

Next to achieving Middle East peace, the hardest thing in the world seems to be passing a law to repair what everyone agrees is a “broken” immigration system. But there’s a chance, if Republicans and Democrats think not big but small.

The just-unveiled House Republican leadership document, “Standards for Immigration Reform” has part of a good idea — don’t even consider a “comprehensive” bill like the Senate’s bipartisan monstrosity.

Comprehensive reform would be great in theory — and might have been possible as either George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s first order of business — but right-wing anti-“amnesty,” “enforcement first” forces won’t allow anything to pass that isn’t punitive, restrictive and enormously expensive.

And that’s what the Senate bill is. It will cost probably $100 billion to build a wall across the whole Southern border and set up a national electronic status verification system covering every worker in the country.

And, it will invite illegal residents to identify themselves to authorities, then run through possibly 16 years of hoops to get a shot at citizenship, while failure to get through a hoop (say, proving continuous employment) could mean deportation.

Even the House GOP “step by step” approach isn’t likely to get through Congress. Partly that’s because some Republicans don’t want to interfere with the party’s anti-Obamacare, election-year message. Meantime, libertarians (and civil libertarians) fear that requiring every American to carry a national “biometric” ID card is Big Brotherism. And, ultra-restrictionists in the party think that giving any legal status to the undocumented is “amnesty.”

Ironically, Obama has set new records for border enhancement, deportations and “silent deportations” using federal databases to deny employment to the undocumented. He’s getting grief from Latino activists and his liberal base — but zero credit from Republicans.

He and Democrats certainly aren’t going to support a bill — such as House Republicans seem to be moving toward — that denies illegal immigrants any chance to become U.S. citizens, creating a “second class” system some have likened to apartheid.

A better answer is to think even smaller: to find elements of immigration reform with enough appeal to pass, without elements that might sink the whole process.

For instance: agribusiness and the United Farm Workers agree on the AgJOBS Act, a bill that would enable undocumented farm workers now in the U.S. to earn green cards and would allow in foreign guest workers who’d have to go home when the crops are picked.

Both Democrats and (many, if not most) Republicans agree that young people brought to this country as children and raised as Americans ought to be able to become citizens. So the DREAM Act ought to make it as part of “small” reform legislation.

Both parties also agree we need more highly skilled workers and should allow foreign science graduates to stay in the U.S. if they choose.

And, to satisfy “enforcement first” types, the package could include experiments in biometric identification for guest workers and persons coming in on visas — plus an electronic status verification system to track them, but not IDs and electronic tracking for every person in the country who applies for a job.

Granted, this “small” reform package would not address the plight of most adults here illegally. It’s terrible that they have to live their lives “in the shadows,” but the polarized American political system just can’t solve their situation now.

The bottom line: Congress should get a few sensible, necessary things done. Fix part of what’s broken. Politically, that will be hard enough.

January 29, 2014

Despite Obama’s Rhetoric, the State of the Union Is Not Strong | Kondracke

Delivering his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama was vigorous, earnest, positive, non-confrontational, occasionally funny and determined to get things done.

But the word that kept popping into my head as I listened was: sugar-coating.

From the jobs numbers he cited (“8 million … over the past four years”), to education performance (a “graduation rate at its highest level in more than three decades”), to deficits (“cut by more than half”), to Obamacare signups (“more than 9 million”), to Iran’s nuclear intentions (“Iran is not building a bomb.”), to prospects for Afghanistan (“After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future.”), Obama tried to put the best possible face on the State of the Union, which he called “strong.”

He was evidently trying to convince Americans that he does not deserve to have a 43 percent approval rating (his lowest ever), that nearly two-thirds of voters (63 percent in the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) are mistaken to think that the country is off on the wrong track and that it’s wrong that (according to Quinnipiac) only 46 percent think he is honest and trustworthy and 48 percent say he is not a strong leader.

He tried to assert his leadership, saying: “America does not stand still and neither will I. So, wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”

But while the list of things he could do was positive, it was nowhere near what it would take to address what he rightly, but late in the day, called “the defining issue of our time” — the failure of the modern U.S. economy to guarantee upward mobility and opportunity to the vast middle class.

Obama has no specific plans to do the things that might turn that trend around — tax reform that closes loopholes and lowers rates, an entitlement overhaul that shifts benefits from old people to young, a de-regulated and de-bureaucratized infrastructure and energy agenda. He mentioned such plans in only general terms, and omitted entitlement reform completely.

The truth is, the state of the union is not strong and a worried public knows it. The economic recovery is weak — only 74,000 net new jobs created last month when 250,000 a month are needed. In education, the nation’s 15-year-olds rank 28th on world science tests and 36th in math. Deficits are down, but the gross national debt is still more than 100 percent of gross domestic product and is on a rising trajectory. Iran has not given up its capacity to make a nuclear weapon and the United States figures to be just another foreign power that failed to tame Afghanistan.

Regardless what sugar he applies, Obama’s fortunes depend on how his signature program — Obamacare — turns out. And the signs are not good. Yes, people can get insurance regardless of pre-existing conditions and young people can stay on their parents’ policies until they are 26. But sign-ups under Obamacare skew old and sick, menacing the private insurance market. And millions of people are either losing their old insurance policies, seeing their premiums sky-rocket or both. Obama did not suggest any fixes.

He avoided blaming Republicans for his failures, but he’s not going to get much cooperation from them this year — maybe on immigration, but probably not. And at the rate things are going, he may face both a Republican House and a Republican Senate after this year’s elections. Obama tried to be upbeat, but the realities of his situation are down.

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