Josh Marshall

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Good for John Podesta, Clinton's former Chief of Staff! Podesta went on the This Week show this morning to go head-to-head with about ten minutes of witheringly-moronic questioning from Cokie Roberts. I don't know what else to call it. Podesta seemed to become visibly impatient, even angry with Roberts' questioning. When the transcript comes out, I give some details.

Roberts also apparently has little, if any, idea what's going on in the tax cut debate. Democrats agree on an across the board cuts in marginal rates? And the only debate is about size? Really? Does she do any reporting? Or is this just what she hears at cocktail parties?

This stuff defies critical analysis. Only vituperation can really do it justice.

And we'll be saying more about Sen. Arlen Specter and his outrageous claim that former President Clinton can still be impeached even after he's left office. I know most reporters say Specter is insufferable in person. But when did he become such a Tom DeLay-clone in public life?

Okay, tonight we're reporting directly from the official Talking Points sickbed. Anyone care to join me for another poke at the egregiously regressive GWB tax cut plan? Sure ya do. So here goes.

When faced with criticisms that the bulk of their tax cut plans go to the very wealthy, Republicans are apt to argue that it could hardly be otherwise since the great proportion of taxes are paid by the wealthy. Now there are all sorts of problems with this argument (which we'll say more about later). But for the sake of discussion let's accept the argument: which would mean that high-income earners would be entitled to a percentage of the tax cut bill equal to the percentage of federal taxes which they now pay.

Well it turns out that under the GWB plan high-income earners receive twice that amount. "The top one percent of the population," says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in a recently released analysis, "would receive about 40 percent of the tax cuts from the proposal, which is double the share of federal taxes that they pay."

So, in other words, the Bush tax cut plan is wildly inequitable even on the largely bogus terms conservatives say we should use when judging the fairness of tax cuts. Go figure.

And now to another subject.

A couple posts back I said that Jonah Goldberg seemed like a decent enough guy when I met him in person on C-Span, despite his Clinton-hating political views - most all of which I find execrable.

Well in response to that post I got a few … well, let's just say a few not-uncritical emails from normally adoring Talking Points readers.

This got me to thinking. Before I moved to Washington it was easier for me to insult individual conservatives in print because there was little chance I'd ever run in to them. On the other hand one of the biggest problems with the "Washington establishment" or "the inside-the-beltway mentality" or whatever you want to call it is that the journalistic community here is too incestuous. People know each other and they're afraid to criticize each other. And even more insidiously they become part of the same political milieu, with a shared set of political and values assumptions, and all the rest of it. And as I've written any number of times this is one of the greatest evils of our contemporary politics and political dialog, and contributes mightily to the persistent disconnect between politicians and journalistic elites and the public at large.

At the same time, though, there is a difference between levelling personal attacks and being willing to say that 9/10ths of what Cokie Roberts, for instance, says each Sunday on the This Week show is facile, protective of her class (the DC establishment/cave dweller tribe), and moronic -- which is all true.

Anyway there are clearly pitfalls to be avoided on both sides of the equation.

But look! Enough of this rumination. Clearly there is an appetite out there among the Talking Points readership to toss some obnoxious conservative to the wolves, no? Well, hey, come on, I'm happy to oblige. From my experience of one very unpleasant personal encounter with conservative blowhard (and columnist) David Horowitz, I am happy to attest, affirm and stipulate to the fact that he is just as big a cretin in person as the one he plays on TV and in print. So there you go. More details? Stay tuned.

One of the biggest adjustments that congressional Democrats have had to make in the last month is not having the Clinton White House there to churn out economic analyses of Republican proposals … pie-charts, data-sheets, how this or that proposal affects people in your state or your district.

There are a lot of more obvious (and, yes, more important) reasons why it's nice to have one of your own in the Oval Office. But this one turns out to be really important. That's made it all the more important for Democratically-inclined think tanks and policy shops to pick up the slack. And the doing more on this count than any other at the moment is the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. CBPP is turning out to be the number-crunching arsenal of the Democratic counterattack on the Bush tax plan. If you're interested in finding out all the details about Bush's plan their site has a series of briefing papers which give all the ugly details.

Some examples:

The one percent of the population with the highest incomes would receive between 36 percent and 43 percent of the tax cut, depending on the calculation used. The bottom 80 percent of the population would receive 29 percent of the tax cut.

Approximately 24.1 million children - 33.5 percent of all children - live in families which are excluded from the tax cut entirely.

While one-third of all children would not benefit from the Bush tax plan, more than half of black and Hispanic children would not receive any assistance. An estimated 55 percent of African-American children and 56 percent of Hispanic children live in families that would receive nothing from the tax cut.

White House officials have claimed that lower-income families would receive the largest percentage tax reductions. Such claims focus only on income taxes. Low- and moderate-income families pay more in other federal taxes - principally payroll taxes - than in income taxes. It is possible to eliminate a large percentage of the small income tax liability that many moderate-income families incur and register only a small impact on the total federal taxes that such families pay.

Again. This stuff ain't for the faint of heart. But if you really want to understand the details of what's going on here by all means check out their site. Start with this overview and then go from there.

For a much more bare-bones run down of the details see this graph from the Center for Tax Justice.

And to hear some of the Democrats' counter-proposals for a progressive, across-the-board tax cut see this floor speech that Joe Lieberman gave earlier this week in the Senate.

P.S. Next up, Talking Points reveals some new info on the Democrats emerging counter-attack on the Bush tax plan.

Ahh! How cool is this? If you missed Talking Points this morning on C-Span's Washington Journal you still have a chance -- and not just in the endless reruns on C-Span today. They have it available online if you've got Real Player installed on your computer.

It's Talking Points v. National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg, a pretty fire-breathing Clinton-hater, but actually a pretty decent guy on a personal level. (Am I just saying that to be polite online -- like I often do about other people? No, in this case, believe or not, it's really true).

And does Talking Points still keep flogging smear-gate? No doubt. No doubt.

You'd be surprised at how knocked on their heels Senate Dems have been acting for the last couple weeks while they've been waiting for Bush to send up his tax bill. But today's news that Senators Jim Jeffords, Olympia Snowe and Linc Chafee want to scale back the president's $1.6 trillion tax cut should let them all breathe a big sigh of relief.

(Keep in mind that Jeffords and Snowe are both close to John Breaux (D) and he may be a force behind this.)

Each of the three announced their opposition to Bush's bill in its current form with rationales quite similar, at least in their outlines, to the ones Democrats have been making: not enough left for domestic priorities, not enough help to those who need it most, too reckless in assuming those future surpluses will arrive.

Yet the real issue, the real dividing line, may be less over the size of the cut than over its structure. One thing that's left Dems struggling over recent weeks is a flood of polling data (some of which the Dems' commissioned for themselves and heard at their caucus meeting last week) all showing the same conclusion: Bush's campaign trail critique of Gore's targeted tax cut plan - that it 'picked and choosed' who would get a tax cut - was very effective. (Simply paying down the debt also no longer seems an effective argument against tax cuts.)

That's left Dems without one of their key tax policy weapons - Clintonite targeted tax cuts. So they've been trying to come up with ways of crafting an 'across the board' tax cut which doesn't play with marginal rates. The key in every case is giving everyone the same size cut (or close to it), but in dollar terms, not percentage terms -- which is much more progressive (and, yes, vastly more honest).

The best idea making the rounds is to give a rebate on payroll taxes out of your income tax. So say, for instance, that everyone gets to deduct a percentage of their payroll taxes from their income tax. That's across-the-board (everyone gets it) but it focuses the benefit on middle and lower income families, not the very wealthy, like Bush's plan.

Some of them are even catching on to the idea of pitching this as eliminating the 'work penalty' - like this article said a few years back.

P.S. Wow. That was pretty earnest, wasn't it? Next we'll do some pictures.

Ha! You thought that measly six minutes on Reliable Sources was cool. How 'bout this. Tomorrow Talking Points takes a turn on C-Span's Washington Journal from 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM (and presumably at odd times throughout the day).

P.S. The topic? News of the day with an as-yet-to-be-named right-winger.

Just came across this excellent and artful summing up of the White House gifts story by Geneva Overholser. Take a peek. You'll be glad you did.

Not long ago a very prominent conservative activist gave a talk to a private audience in which he explained one of the chief reasons conservatives wanted one of their own at the Justice department. The reason? To go after liberal and left-leaning political organizations with Justice's muscle. (Sorry to be so cloak-n-dagger about the details - it's a matter of shielding sources.)

Who's in their cross-hairs? The usual suspects. Unions, the NAACP, NOW, etc. They see this as payback for the (largely fanciful) 'persecution' they believe they've been subjected to by the Reno Justice Department and the Clinton IRS. What was striking about this statement was less the intention expressed than the openness with which it was expressed.

(Ironically, liberals may end up being the victim of conservatives' paranoia about the Reno Justice department. Got that? No? I'll explain later.)

Anyway, here's the first shot across the bow in the reliably lapdogian Washington Times. (The Times is where DC right-wingers go to try out new arguments before they take 'em to the bigs). The Times is reporting that "conservative critics" are saying the NAACP's tax exempt status should be revoked because the organization is too tight with the Democratic party.

We'll be hearing a lot more of this.

Hey, what happened to Talking Points?!?! What happened to the multiple daily updates? Did he go Hollywood after his big TV appearance on CNN?

Nope. Just on vacation. TPM returns Tuesday February 6th with posts galore. For the moment, be sure to see this article in the Washington Post on the upcoming tax policy debate. The first good one I've seen thus far - and hopefully a sign of things to come. Straight talk on tax policy means talking about the payroll tax - which is the main tax for the great majority of Americans. For the outlines of a possible progressive tax politics see this article from a couple years back.

Meanwhile a few boobs have convinced themselves that Bush's tax cut proposal is actually 'progressive' because its nominal cuts for low-income wage-earners are actually higher than the cuts for high-income earners. More soon on why they're such boobs.

Trust me, after my performance today on Reliable Sources my own show right after Spin Room is a done deal. Mark my word, it's in the bag.

Actually, I can barely remember anything that happened after Howie Kurtz introduced me. And it seemed like the whole thing lasted about nine seconds, even though I'm told the segment ran for six or seven minutes.

Kurtz led off with gusto. He laid out the White House vandalism story; described my rebuttal article in Slate; and then said something like: "Joshua Marshall, aren't you just shamelessly shilling for Bill Clinton?" (or something like that)  Hmmmm … As nearly as I could tell this got a chuckle from Bernie Kalb and Chris Caldwell (I think in sympathy, but who knows).

My first thought was to say, "But, of course ..." But then I thought, okay, okay … maybe that's not the best approach to take. Then I launched into it. And I have no idea what I said after that.

Just between us, Kurtz seemed a touch prickly. My theory is that maybe he ran into Andrea Mitchell at a Washington cocktail party and she told him to give me a good working-over as payback for the Slate piece. But who knows. (Actually, Kurtz was quite gracious off-the-air.)

But Bernie Kalb. I really like this guy. As a viewer of Reliable Sources I always figured Bernie for a bit of a curmudgeon. But he was great. Gracious, avuncular and he was wearing a turtleneck (which was very cool in my book). The whole thing went by so quickly that I can't quite remember why else I thought he was great. But he was great.

P.S. The show airs on Saturday at 6:30 PM EST and Sunday at 11:30 AM EST.

P.P.S. If you're interested in all the twisted details, here's the actual transcript -- it's the second-to-last segment.