Charlie Dent Can’t Say Why We Should Trust GOP on Jobs

By far the most important moment of the 15th district debate at the State Theatre came when Charlie Dent declined to explain why anyone should trust Republicans to create jobs.

Joe Owens pointed out that economists agree the recession began in December of 2007, during the Bush administration. Indeed jobs losses peaked during the Bush administration, before any policy Obama signed took effect. Why should anyone believe that Republicans know how to create jobs.

Dent didn’t have an answer. All he did was attack Democrats, but he had no apologies for his own record.

He claimed we have to have “faith” in private sector to create jobs.

Translation: We should sit on our hands and pray for jobs. The public sector shouldn’t use any of the many remaining tools in its toolbox to boost demand. I’m a Republican and I have a pithy political objection to government intervention in the economy, even when 10% of my distict is out of work.

Dent claimed John Callahan and the Democrats support a “statist approach.” He claimed that if the government gets more involved and spends more money it will not create jobs.

Translation: The policies that worked to get us out of the Great Depression won’t work now for some unspecified reason.

Dent claimed trillions of dollars are on the sidelines because of fear of future taxes and regulation.

Translation: I haven’t talked to any actual small businesses, and I am ignoring what they are actually saying.

It’s important to note that Dent himself doesn’t even believe the nonsense he says about stimulus spending not working. One of his own jobs proposals, here on the Morning Call voter guide, is to fast track military replacement purchases. That is an outright admission that we can boost employment by pulling government spending forward into the present, and pushing taxes back into the future. The same concept that works for body armor and weapons systems purchases also works for repairing roads and bridges, building trains, a new electrical grid, solar panels for public buildings, aid to state and local governments, etc.

Charlie Dent acknowledges that countercyclical spending boosts demand and lowers unemployment, and the only reason he isn’t voting for it is because he’s a Republican.

As I have been at pains to point out all year (read here and here), at a fundamental level the story that Charlie Dent is telling voters about the jobs crisis is flat out incorrect. The claims he is making about why businesses are not hiring are not borne out by any facts from the real world. It is huckster economics.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that none of his policy “remedies” come anywhere close to a viable jobs plan.

Dent did not answer Joe Owens’ challenge to Republicans’ credibility on jobs, so I will:

Republicans still think that George W. Bush had the right approach on jobs from 2001 to 2007. They still don’t understand why the economy tanked on his watch. The explanations have ranged from unpersuasive attempts to rebrand Bush as a liberal, to blaming his spending on less-right-wing policies like Medicare Part D or No Child Left Behind, to unpersuasively blaming poor people for the housing bubble. Other than that, Republicans tell us, Bush’s economic policies worked great, and we should just pick up where he left off.

Except Republican economic policy from 2001-2007 didn’t work great for anybody but the richest 0.01% of Americans.

Under Bush and a Republican Congress, we had the weakest jobs and income growth in the post-war period:

Overall monthly job growth was the worst of any cycle since at least February 1945, and household income growth was negative for the first cycle since tracking began in 1967. Women reversed employment gains of previous cycles. And for African Americans, the worst job growth on record was matched by an unprecedented increase in poverty.

Those are the results of the agenda that Charlie Dent is running on. And then throw in some painful spending cuts that will increase unemployment.

If that sounds like the kind of jobs record you would like to go back to, vote for Charlie Dent.

Charlie Dent Does Not Understand the Economy

I was going to do another play-by-play on the second 15th District debate, but after watching it, I think Nicole Radzievich’s report covers almost all the highlights, so you’d do fine reading that. Naturally there are some policy points to address. For this post I’d like to focus on Charlie Dent’s laughably incorrect diagnosis of the economy.

Dent’s opening statement was some of the most pig-ignorant sophistry I’ve heard from a Republican all year – a true classic. Take his statements on the economy:

Dent says the biggest issue is jobs, and cites the most recent jobs report as an argument for why Obama’s recovery approach isn’t working. He says there’s been a massive expansion of government (not true), that taxes have increased over the past two years (not true), and that the primary problem facing the economy is government getting in the way – the problem is on the supply side (not true).

Therefore, everything will be better if we just cut taxes for rich people and corporations, and give the green light to polluters, predatory lenders, Wall Street, and insurance companies.

That will create a positive business climate that will reduce uncertainty. Clearly deregulating all those markets will make things safer and more predictable, just like Pennsylvania’s deregulated electricity market and the deregulated pre-crash market for derivatives – excellent examples of the stability and certainty we can look forward to from a Republican-controlled House.

Dent says the other main problem facing the economy is uncertainty. Businesses are afraid of future taxes, future health care regulations, and a “national energy tax.” Conservative budget analyst Pete Davis makes a more sophisticated version of this argument here, but even he admits that there’s no data evidence that uncertainty is what’s holding back business spending.

People who claim this is the problem need to start showing some data on uncertainty, because so far I haven’t seen a damn shred of evidence.

The main problem is weak sales, not fear of future taxes. That is what small businesses are saying nationally, and it is what small businesses are saying in the Lehigh Valley.

It is stunning that Dent is completely tuning out Lehigh Valley small businesses, and doubling down on his own incorrect political diagnosisis of the economy.

He cites the most recent jobs report, grasping for any evidence to support his views, what the jobs report shows is that the private sector is adding jobs, but too slowly to close the output gap. But even this growth is being undermined by public sector layoffs at the state and local level. When you lay off teachers, cops, firefighters (and yes, the dread bureaucrats), those unemployed workers can’t pay their bills, can’t pay down their debts, and most importantly, they spend less money on the products and services of private businesses.

Taxpayers are certainly not saving themselves any money by letting the states cut billions of dollars out of their budgets to level down spending to match temporarily depressed revenue. The central lessons of the jobs report are that the federal government cannot afford to continue to let states slash spending; that state budget cuts are a threat to growth; and most importantly that the recovery is stalling out, so we need the federal government to run a larger short-term deficit to get new money into the economy. Having more money will help people deleverage faster and spend more money in the private sector. That will give businesses more customers and will allow people to pay down their debts more quickly.

Conservative supply-sider Martin Feldstein has been consistently calling for more stimulus, as recently as this month. There’s a lot of work to be done and a lot of people sitting idle who are losing their skills who would love to do work in exchange for money. We should try to mobilize the the idle resources by putting them to work doing the stuff we need done. It’s also a good investment to build while labor, materials, and the cost of borrowing are very cheap.

Republicans think we shouldn’t build while it’s cheap, because that would increase the deficit, which would be bad – except when Republicans want increase the deficit by borrowing trillions for tax cuts for millionaires. Just like with TARP, Dent has no problem finding gobs of free money whenever rich people have problems. It’s ok to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out Wall Street, or to extend Bush tax cuts, but it’s not ok to borrow the same amount to bail out the labor market.

"Callahan Ducks Chamber of Commerce Debate"


Down in the polls, Callahan has supposedly clamored for more debate time, but he ducked a surprisingly good debate sponsored by the local tea party this Spring. Now, he’s running from a local debate on jobs and the economy at the very time that Charlie Dent is being endorsed by one of the nation’s leading small business organizations.

On Friday, John Callahan backed out of an Oct. 18 debate with Congressman Dent hosted by the Nazareth/Bath Area, Whitehall Area and Slate Belt Chambers of Commerce. Maybe he’s afraid that someone will question him about his own “simple jobs plan,” something he was unable to explain at the Lafayette debate.

As Bernie’s own post on the Tea Party debate illustrates, the only “Democrat” in attendance was oddball Senate Dem primary candidate Joe Vodvarka. As you can see from his statement of principles, also available in Bernie’s post, Vodvarka is a pretty run-of-the-mill rightwinger. As we saw today in the new NBC/WSJ poll, the tea party is just the rump conservative base, and hasn’t actually brought in many new people:

“These are essentially conservative Republicans who are very ticked-off people,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Peter Hart…

Mr. McInturff said the tea-party movement had not necessarily drawn new people into the GOP. Rather, he said, “a substantial chunk of the Republican Party is rebranding themselves.”

This would be like if I faulted Charlie Dent for declining a debate hosted by Organizing for America, with only Democratic primary candidates, targeted at Democratic primary voters. It is obvious that this was an intra-right debate, hosted by conservative Bobby Gunther Walsh, aimed at conservatives and Republican primary voters, because it was before the Republican primary.

As for the October 18th debate, “backed out” implies that the Callahan campaign agreed to the debate, and then cancelled, which is simply false. The campaign has a scheduling conflict on the 18th.

The idea that Charlie Dent is the candidate who has been for more debates all along is ridiculous. First Dent whined about debating Jake Towne, then he refused to debate at Northampton Community College and straight up dropped off the debate at DeSales late on a Friday (and the newspapers never reported on it), and worst of all, he pulled strings behind the scenes to get the first debate chopped in half.

So why does Charlie Dent want this debate so much, but not the others?

I’ve heard from multiple sources now that Dent has been whining to Tony Ianelli that the Chamber hasn’t been out there shilling for him. So the Dent campaign found somebody who will shill for him – Frank DeRosa, Director of the Nazareth Chamber of Commerce, and known Republican partisan, who will coincidentally be the only moderator.

Dent knows his jobs record doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, so besides the obligatory news organization debates, he’s only agreeing to debate in tightly controlled settings stacked with Republicans. He thinks he has better chances of getting a gotcha moment from Callahan here and that’s why he’s going to the trouble.

Despite all the previous wrangling to avoid debates or change the rules, Dent has puzzingly offered to clear his schedule for just this one debate. If time isn’t an issue for the Nazareth Chamber debate, then why doesn’t he also have time for the NCC and DeSales debates?

Charlie Dent and John Boehner Have a Good Laugh About the Ethics Committee

The Callahan campaign has compiled a video of Charlie Dent and John Boehner laughing about how much they disrespect the House Ethics Committee – a bright contrast with Charlie Dent’s statements at the debate boasting about how important he thinks it is.

From the press release:

Congressman Dent Makes Joke of Ethics Committee

Caught on Camera At Exclusive Poolside Party, Congressman Dent Tells One Story in Front of Boehner and High Dollar Donors, Tells A Very Different Story to Everyday Voters

BETHLEHEM, PA. – What Washington politicians say when they think they’re off camera is often very different from what they say in public in front of voters.

“Congressman Dent is part of the problem in Washington DC,” said Justin Schall, Callahan for Congress Campaign Manager. “People have lost faith in their elected officials because of hypocrisy like Dent saying one thing to voters, but another when he’s hanging out by the pool with Republican Leader Boehner and his donors. Charlie has forgotten that it is his job to represent voters, not make jokes at their expense.”

Case in point, Congressman Charlie Dent recently held a poolside fundraiser with Republican Minority Leader John Boehner. During the event, which cost donors at least $500 each to attend, Dent and Boehner explained exactly how they feel about the Ethics Committee in Washington.

I think this is disturbing. As you will recall, the Republican culture of corruption was a significant driver behind the 2006 rout. Can anyone actually point to any evidence that the Party has taken meaningful action to clean out the riff raff? Because it looks to me like the exact same party. Republicans won’t say whether they will gut the Office of Congressional Ethics if they take power. They are capitalizing on the insane fundraising opportunities now available to them because of the Citizens United decision, raking in truckloads of corporate PAC money.

Charlie Dent on the Ethics Committee is a fox guarding the hen house. Earlier this year, the New York Times ran a two-page story on Pay to Play pork with Dent as one of the main characters. The reason Dent is laughing at the Ethics Committee is that he is getting away with Pay to Play funny business that should be investigated, but won’t for obvious reasons.

New Muhlenberg Poll Shows Dent Still Vulnerable, Under 50%

The new 15th district poll shows the race essentially unchanged from April, with Dent leading Callahan 49-38, compared to 43-31 in April, and Jake Towne pulling 3%. The pool of undecided voters has shrunk to 10%, so if Callahan is going to win, he’s going to have to drive up Dent’s negatives with Democrats.

The poll assumes the electorate is is 48% Democrat, 43% Republican, and 7% Independent. But as Nicole Radzievich points out in the Morning Call:

Callahan’s garnering less support among Democrats — 63 percent — than Dent’s getting from Republicans — 76 percent.

I think the party loyalty numbers on both sides will ultimately ratchet up a bit as the race heats up, but Callahan only getting 63% of Democrats is still terrible.

That says to me that the Callahan campaign is not succeeding at getting the Democratic base excited about John Callahan’s candidacy, which of course makes sense when you look at the long list of missed opportunities where Callahan could have come out forcefully in favor of Democratic base positions, but instead embraced them reluctantly, belatedly, or not at all. At this point, Get The Base Stoked needs to be Job #1 for Callahan. As every pollster is talking about a sizable “enthusiasm gap”, a strategy that relies on taking base turnout for granted would be a huge mistake, in my view.

Ultimately, the most interesting part of the poll is Jake Towne’s effect on the race. When Towne is included, Dent leads Callahan and Towne 49-38-3, respectively. When Towne is not included, Dent leads Callahan 51 to 39. Towne’s 3% is coming right out of the Dent column. As Towne’s support grows, the more voters he pulls from Dent. No wonder the incumbent has been such a prima donna about Towne participating in the debates, and is probably why he weaseled his way out of the the full debate last Monday.

Towne makes several decent points arguing why this poll understates his support, and why he should be allowed to debate. The most persuasive data point is that voters between 18 and 39 make up only 11% of the sample.

That also seems a little low to me. It’s true that this age group is harder to poll because many only have cell phones, but ultimately I am willing to believe that the 2010 electorate is indeed this much older, whiter and more conservative than the one that turned out in 2008.

The poll also finds that a majority of voters (55%) still have never heard of Jake Towne, and 19% have not formed an opinion of him. That’s 74% of voters who need to get more information about Jake Towne, who they will be on their ballot in November. It takes a lot of work to get on the ballot. Towne says he had to get almost 7000 signatures. Hasn’t he earned the right to talk about his views on the issues with the other candidates? Are people really going to be better off for not hearing his positions?

15th District Debate: Question 4

To recap, for the debate series, I’m summarizing the candidates’ responses and their supporting arguments, and then offering my views and some more contest below.

Question 4: Will you vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker?

John Callahan I don’t know who’s going to be running for Speaker of the House. Regardless of who’s running for Speaker of the House, when I agree with my party, I’ll let them know. When I disagree, I’ll let them know too. I’m being elected to serve the District. Charlie’s not running against Nancy Pelosi, he’s running against John Callahan. There’s no Democrat or Republican way to fix a pothole. We don’t need Democrat or Republican solutions, but American solutions. Charlie will vote for John Boehner, which is a vote to privatize Social Security, and raise the retirement age.

Charlie Dent Callahan didn’t answer the question. The vote for Speaker is the most important vote we’re going to make in the next Congress. I will vote for John Boehner, or if something happens to Boehner, then Eric Cantor. Pelosi-led Congress is bad. $4.4 trillion in baseline spending. Voting for Pelosi is voting for card-check, taking away rights of workers. It is a vote for health care. It is a vote for stimulus. This is the biggest vote.

Jake Towne Nancy Pelosi gave $5-10,000 to Callahan. Towne doesn’t accept money from corporate PACs or lobbyist groups. Dent taken $101,000 from military industrial complex, which is just recycled tax dollars.

Jon Geeting I already posted about this, but it’s worth reiterating that Callahan’s response here is incoherent bullshit, and is deeply embarrassing to me as a supporter. It is simply not believable that Callahan, a Democrat, won’t vote for the Democratic Speaker. If he was worried that his response would be fodder for negative ads, he didn’t exactly dodge giving the other side attack ad material now did he?

The reason Callahan gives is even sillier. He says “there’s no Democrat or Republican way to fix a pothole.” That may be true, but the idea that there are many other problems that can be resolved through nonpartisan technocratic fixes is naive and deeply mistaken. There certainly is a Democrat way and a Republican way to make tax policy. There is a Democrat way to fix Social Security, and a Republican way to privatize it. 

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that good-faith negotiating between the parties is not politically possible. Obama’s health care plan was closer to Romney-care than the single-payer system I favor. Half the stimulus was ineffective tax cuts. Cap and trade was the Republican alternative to a carbon tax less than 4 years ago. Despite these major policy concessions by Obama to the right, there was never one Republican vote available for any of these policies. The problem is 100% about politics. The right thing for the Democratic candidate to say is:

The economy is improving, but too slowly. I think Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama are leading us in the right direction, and that John Boehner and Charlie Dent still support George W. Bush’s economic policies. George W. Bush didn’t create any jobs, but Charlie Dent wants to go right back to the economy we had in 2007, that didn’t work for anybody but the wealthiest Americans.

I think Charlie Dent’s values and his understanding of the economics behind the jobs crisis are dead wrong, but his view of how the political system works is absolutely correct. There are 435 representatives in the House. Think about how hard it is to get 8 people to agree on a movie, and then think about how hard it would be to get 220 self-interested legislators to agree on a bill. The Senate is where individuals and their personalities matter. The House is more like herding cats. When control of the House is this close, uou are not voting for Charlie Dent or John Callahan. You are voting for John Boehner’s Bush retread agenda or Barack Obama’s progressive agenda. Backward or forward. Those are the choices.

Dent happily admits that a vote for Dent is a vote for Boehner. And you should know that John Boehner is not making policy with your best interests in mind:

House Democrats were preparing late last year for the first floor vote on the financial regulatory overhaul when Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio and other Republican leaders summoned more than 100 industry lobbyists and conservative political activists to Capitol Hill for a private strategy session.

The bill’s passage in the House already seemed inevitable. But Mr. Boehner and his deputies told the Wall Street lobbyists and trade association leaders that by teaming up, they could still perhaps block its final passage or at least water it down.

“We need you to get out there and speak up against this,” Mr. Boehner said that December afternoon, according to three people familiar with his remarks, while also warning against cutting side deals with Democrats.

That sort of alliance — they won a few skirmishes, though they lost the war on the regulatory bill — is business as usual for Mr. Boehner, the House minority leader and would-be speaker if Republicans win the House in November. He maintains especially tight ties with a circle of lobbyists and former aides representing some of the nation’s biggest businesses, including Goldman Sachs, Google, Citigroup, R. J. Reynolds, MillerCoors and UPS.

They have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaigns, provided him with rides on their corporate jets, socialized with him at luxury golf resorts and waterfront bashes and are now leading fund-raising efforts for his Boehner for Speaker campaign, which is soliciting checks of up to $37,800 each, the maximum allowed.

Some of the lobbyists readily acknowledge routinely seeking his office’s help — calling the congressman and his aides as often as several times a week — to advance their agenda in Washington. And in many cases, Mr. Boehner has helped them out.

Recall that Boehner thought the financial regulation bill was too strong, even though the real problem is that it probably didn’t go far enough. You may not think it solved the problem, but no one can honestly suggest that we would have gotten a tougher financial reform bill from Republicans.

Boehner has said that if he takes power, he will push to privatize Social Security and raise the retirement age, which is just another way of cutting benefits. Charlie Dent has said that he supports private accounts, which everyone knows is the Republicans’ favorite euphemism for privatizing Social Security.

Even if you think Charlie Dent is personally moderate, which I strongly disagree with, voting for him empowers a far more nutty crew of extremists who are simply unfit to hold public office.

15th District Debate: Question 3

So everybody’s clear on what I’m doing here, I’m summarizing the candidates’ arguments with the data points they use to support them, and then contributing my personal arguments below them, in the interest of helping people sort out who’s right.

3: Why do people feel disconnected from their government?

Jake Towne Most people don’t believe their representatives are representing them at all. Describes open office plan: whenever constituents call, their feedback will be recorded on the website. Whenever Towne votes, he’ll tell you how he voted and why he voted. Towne says members of Congress don’t tell you why they vote on anything.

John Callahan As mayor I get to connect with the community, and that’s missing in Washington. When you look at the process and the enormous amount of corporate special interest money, no wonder people don’t feel they have a voice in Congress. Charlie Dent has accepted $1.7 million in corporate PAC money over his career. The important question is, are you representing the interests of the majority of people in your district, or corporate special interests? Citizens United allowed limitless contributions [for ads] for corporations, and undid 30 years of election law. The last thing we need in elections is more money. An organization in Philly is spending $500,000 on Dent, and we don’t know who their donors are – could be oil, banks, insurance companies. Charlie Dent voted against the DISCLOSE Act that would increase donor transparency.

Charlie Dent I’ve been attacked by MoveOn, SEIU, unions, trial lawyers and I’m not whining about it. People are upset when they see health care laws being jammed through with very little consideration, Cornhusker kickbacks, turning Medicaid into a 49-state program, a cap and trade bill that is a national energy tax. They don’t like sausage-making. Callahan, the trial lawyers, and the unions badmouth businesses on one end, and ask them to create jobs on the other. You can’t love workers and hate employers. Angry rhetoric has forced trillions of dollars to be sitting on the sidelines – not just corporations, but small and mid-sized companies. They are right to be afraid of Washington. I’m on the House ethics committee.

Jon Geeting Towne has some good ideas here, and I would love to see more politicians do a better job of explaining their votes and taking seriously their responsibility to pedagogy. The vast majority of voters have zero understanding of policy, especially economic policy. They take their cues from politicians they like, media personalities they like, and influential friends and neighbors who they talk about politics with. So politicians have a big role to play in shaping opinions, and it would be great to see them engage more with peoples’ questions in public and online forums where it’s harder for them to spin people. By the same token, it’s always going to be very easy for politicians to spin people who are forming opinions based on heuristics in this way, so I’m not sure how much this really helps.

Callahan’s point about being accessible as Mayor is a nice talking point, but there’s no way to scale that up in Washington. You have way more constituents, so each one gets less time with you, and most get none. Unless we make Congressional districts much smaller, or slow down time to create more hours in the day, a Congressman is always going to be less accessible than a Mayor.

That said, Callahan has the best point of all the candidates on this question, about the role of special interest cash in the system. People rightly think that banks, and oil companies, and health insurance companies are going to win all the time, because that is who funds Congressional campaigns. Indeed, Charlie Dent is a perfect example because his voting record lines up perfectly with the priorities of his corporate sponsors. But ultimately, I would put less emphasis on the amount of money being donated, and more emphaisis on the time crunch problem.

Because lawmakers are constantly campaigning as a necessity, they are constantly on the phone dialing for dollars and talking to donors. Since this is how they spend most of their time, they are naturally going to be most responsive to the interests of those donors. The rest of the time they are meeting with lobbyists. If we had a public financing system, lawmakers could spend fewer hours talking to donors, and more time reading up on policy and talking to the rest of their constituents.

Dent’s talking points here are 100% garbage. The ACA wasn’t “jammed through with very little consideration.” It is RomneyCare plus cost controls. The mandate-exchange-subsidies approach has been fleshed out over decades by economists and health experts, policy shops in both parties, notably by the Heritage Foundation. The Cornhusker Kickback, needed to secure Ben Nelson’s vote since no Republican votes were available, was stripped out of the bill and does not now exist, so Dent’s lied about that. Cap and trade is not a “national energy tax.” And most emphatically, policy “uncertainty” is not what is holding back businesses from hiring. The cause is weak sales, as confirmed by Kamran Afshar, the economist who the Chamber of Commerce pays to give them accurate information about the LV business environment.

Ultimately the best answer to this question, the one most supported by the evidence from political science, is that trust in government fluctuates with the economy. When the economy is doing well, people trust the government more. When the economy is doing poorly, people trust the government less. The only ideology that matters to most voters is real disposable income.