The 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have lately been talking up a storm about inequality and wage stagnation, signaling that they expect the presidential race to turn on those issues. The question for Democrats: Will they effectively highlight the fact that the Republican economic orthodoxy lurking beneath the shifting rhetoric has not meaningfully changed in the least?

Today, President Obama speaks to the Democratic National Committee’s winter meeting, and his speech may signal how Dems may set about doing that. CNN reports:

Obama is expected to reclaim some ownership over an issue that is suddenly a hot topic among top Republicans — income inequality.
Recent comments from potential 2016 Republican presidential contenders about the growing gap between wealthy and working class Americans in the United States have not gone unnoticed at the White House….But aides to the President insist GOP leaders have flocked to the issue of income inequality only in an attempt to diminish Democratic claims to the nation’s improving economy. A White House official said Obama will use his DNC speech to call out Republicans for what he sees as hypocrisy.
“He will note that the Republican Party has noticed this progress, which is why they are attempting to cast themselves as the party of the middle class, even as they push policies that would undermine working families and exacerbate income inequality,” a White House official said.

It will be on Dems to highlight the actual policy contrasts between them and Republicans when it comes to the Great Wage Slowdown and Americans’ continuing economic struggles. Perhaps no GOP presidential candidate has been more ostentatious in flaunting his concern about inequality than Jeb Bush. But as Brian Beutler noted, the media reception of his recent economic speech betrayed a reluctance to strip away his rhetoric and look at the economic dogma underneath it, which remains as hostile as ever to redistributive solutions, and as beholden as ever to the idea that “the biggest structural force driving inequality is dependence on government.”

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman writes today that Scott Walker attended a recent dinner hosted by prominent supply-siders, a sign he is “pledging allegiance” to “party orthodoxy” holding that across the board tax cuts are a “magic” economic cure-all. Walker has also been dabbling in rhetoric about how the safety net under Obama has become a “hammock,” reprising the makers-and-takers worldview that damaged the 2012 GOP ticket. Marco Rubio, to his credit, has been talking about proposals to expand tax credits to families and working people, but he won’t say how he’d pay for them. Broadly speaking, conservative reform types are worried that the 2016 GOPers will feel pressure to hew to the same old dogmatic insistence that the way to shower everyone with prosperity is to cut taxes for the rich and watch the magic unfold, rather than developing a real middle class economic agenda.

By contrast, the outlines of the 2016 Dem agenda for combating wage stagnation and boosting opportunity are already reasonably clear. That agenda is unabashedly redistributive and built around activist government, though Democrats probably wouldn’t use those words: Higher taxes on capital gains and inherited wealth to fund middle class tax relief; investments in infrastructure and education, particularly subsidized community college; a minimum wage hike; universal child care and early education; national family leave and sick leave policies designed to enhance workplace flexibility; and so on.

Republicans have tried to rhetorically lay claim to inequality in part as a strategic answer to the improving economy. Whereas they previously were more focused on blaming Obama and big government for the sputtering recovery, now they are more focused on blaming Obama and big government for the failure of the admittedly-accelerating recovery to achieve widespread distribution. The challenge for Democrats will be to rebuff that effort and remind voters what Republicans really have to offer in economic terms. We’ll see what Obama says today.


* MEDIA SCRUTINY OF ANTI-OBAMACARE LAWSUIT INTENSIFIES: USA Today has now weighed in with a big piece taking a hard look at the King v. Burwell lawsuit, concluding that the standing questions around the plaintiffs are legitimate, the legal basis for the lawsuit is questionable, and the challengers are on the defensive. USA Today also raises the possibility that the Justices could be influenced by the increasingly questionable “atmospherics” around the case.

I still think there’s a decent chance the Justices side with the challengers, for reasons I’ve outlined here and here. But it’s good to see this lawsuit getting serious media scrutiny, which is revealing just how circus-like this challenge really is.

* PLENTY OF QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT ANTI-ACA LAWSUIT: Reuters has a long piece reporting on how the challengers’ lawyers worked hard to fast-track this lawsuit to the Supreme Court, apparently because they feared that the law would get too entrenched if too much time passed. (And you thought this legal challenge was all about enforcing the law as written!) The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute tracked down the plaintiffs, whose standing is now being questioned:

Through its libertarian links, CEI sought plaintiffs and enlisted four Virginians who claimed that their eligibility for subsidies subjected them to a burdensome insurance requirement.

This sort of searching out of plaintiffs is standard practice. But given that at least one of them claims not to remember how she got on this lawsuit, and seems unaware of its potential consequences, there are still outstanding questions about how it came to be.

 * CHRIS CHRISTIE LOSING DONORS TO JEB BUSH: The Post has an interesting piece of reporting on Chris Christie donors who are defecting to Jeb Bush. It’s the latest sign that Christie’s presidential ambitions have hit the skids (in the wake of his vaccine controversy) even as Jeb seems to have serious momentum in locking up establishment donor support. With a large chunk of GOP donors still uncommitted, however, I continue to think Scott Walker — who seems well positioned to unite the GOP base and establishment — is the one to watch.

* POLL FINDING OF THE DAY, GOP-IS-FINALLY-EVOLVING EDITION: I missed this yesterday, but it really bears mentioning. A new CNN poll finds that 63 percent of Americans now believe that gays and lesbians have a Constitutional right to gay marriage. Strikingly, while a majority of Republicans and conservatives (as usual) disagrees, 42 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of conservatives now recognize this right.

Presumably the country’s cultural shift will be a factor weighing on the Supreme Court when they decide whether there’s a Constitutionally protected right to marriage equality this spring.

* RAND PAUL HAS A NEW IDEA: The Hill reports:

Sen. Rand Paul is mulling attaching his Audit the Fed legislation to a vote to raise the debt ceiling, Paul spokesman Brian Darling told The Hill.

* AND RUDY GIULIANI ‘CLARIFIES,’ SORT OF: Rudy Giuliani managed to remind us all of his existence earlier this week by claiming he doesn’t believe Obama was raised to love America. He’s now clarifying, if you can call it that:

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism…I’m happy for him to give a speech where he talks about what’s good about America and doesn’t include all the criticism.”

Rudy: No criticism of America is ever legitimate. Also, Obama was taught to hate America by his white mother and white schools.