Have you heard about the “reformicons“?
They’re a group of center-right writers and policy wonks who hope to coax the Republican Party away from its recent addiction to ideological extremism, tactical brinksmanship, and a do-nothing/know-nothing approach to governing. They have interesting, smart proposals for reforming tax policy, health policy, education policy, welfare policy, energy policy, family policy, and labor policy (though, strangely, nothing at all to say about foreign policy). And over the past few months, some of the men contemplating a run for the White House in 2016 (Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and, as of last week, Paul Ryan) have begun to embrace their ideas — or rather to propose ideas of their own that seem to be broadly harmonious with the “conservative governing vision” held out by the reformers.
It would be very good for the reformicons to have a substantive influence on the GOP. I admire their efforts. I wish them the best of luck.
But they are bound to fail. At least in the near term.
Why? Because the base of the Republican Party — the voters who will turn out at the polls for the midterm elections this November and then decide on the party’s nominee for president in 2016 — isn’t clamoring for the reform of job-licensing requirements. They (or two-thirds of them) don’t support impeaching President Obama because they’re dying for health-care reform based on targeted tax credits. They (or three-quarters of them) don’t support House Speaker John Boehner’s lawsuit against the president because they’re furious at the White House for failing to offer enough anti-poverty block grants to the states.
The base of the Republican Party doesn’t particularly care about policy — unless the policy is tax cuts. Or policing the border, kicking out undocumented immigrants, and sending them dirty underwear.
From the moment Barack Obama took the oath of office, the base of the Republican Party has been gripped by a form of political psychosis, doing furious battle with ideological phantoms of its own creation, motivated by racial resentments and status anxieties that were once limited to marginal right-wing groups, but that thanks to tireless efforts of talk radio and Fox News now infect the minds of many millions of voters.
Among the most pernicious and self-destructive of these fantasies is the belief that the GOP lost to Obama in 2008 and 2012 because it nominated “Republicans In Name Only” (RINOs). If only the party had gone with a “true conservative” instead of the professional centrist John McCain and ObamaCare-architect Mitt Romney, the party would have won in a landslide.
There’s no empirical basis for rejecting the median voter theorem and supposing, instead, that the number of far-right voters surpasses the number of those in the ideological center. But no matter: a lot of grassroots Republicans believe it, and so a number of Republican politicians (foremost among them Frank Underwood — oh sorry, I mean Ted Cruz) accordingly treat it as cross between divine revelation and a self-evident truth.
As long as the Republican base and its would-be electoral champions use the RINO charge to police GOP ranks, there will be a strong incentive for presidential candidates to avoid embracing too much of the reformicon agenda — which in its details can sound an awful lot like ideas for, you know, reforming government rather than just cutting, slashing, and gutting it. Nothing could be more RINO, after all, than failing to see that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
But that doesn’t mean reformicon hopes are entirely misplaced. It’s just that reform is likely to take quite a bit longer than they seem to expect.
How long? As long as it takes for the party to nominate a genuine right-wing radical — and then watch him go down to defeat in a landslide to rival Goldwater in 1964 (38.5 percent) or McGovern in 1972 (37.5 percent). Only that kind of blowout will exorcize the demons that have taken hold of the Republican soul in recent years.
Believe me, I don’t relish this scenario playing itself out. The country would benefit immensely from the GOP waking up from its fever dreams. But getting there could be risky. In a two-person race, even a loony candidate has a chance of winning. Hillary Clinton will be a strong contender for the White House in 2016, but with Obama’s consistently soft approval ratings, world order falling to pieces on his watch, and the Senate in jeopardy of falling into Republican hands this November, she isn’t likely to be a shoo-in.
Still, the best chance for genuine Republican reform will be for the party to nominate a fire-brand who gets roundly and unambiguously repudiated by voters. That defeat, coming after two previous ones, just might provoke genuine soul-searching, and a dawning awareness that the GOP has gone down a dead end and can only find its way out by a dramatic change of direction. Think of liberals nominating New Democrat Bill Clinton after losing with Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael “Card-Carrying Member of the ACLU” Dukakis. Or Tony “Third Way” Blair leading the U.K.’s Labour Party to victory after 15 years in the wilderness under the Conservative Party of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Sometimes a political party needs to get knocked upside the head before it can come back to its collective senses.
That’s what I’ll be waiting for — and what the reformicons have no choice but to hope for.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, July 30, 2014
Six federal judges ruled Tuesday on the legality of subsidies being provided for low-income subscribers under so-called Obamacare. The two with solid Republican credentials found the program illegal.
With all due respect to these members of the esteemed federal bench, I have to question whether they really went to law school – or, if they did, whether they ever tended a class in legislation. Because if they did, they should have been aware of two fundamental principles of legislative interpretation: (1) courts should defer to the obvious intent of the legislature; and (2) they should also defer to the interpretation of legislation provided by the administrative agency charged with its enforcement.
The statute provides for health exchanges in the states to run the program, and provides a back up for federal exchanges to administer them when the states decline to participate. The statute includes a provision that allows the Internal Revenue Service to provide tax subsidies to those enrolled in the “state” exchanges.
It is clear that Congress never expected 36 states (mostly those controlled by Republican governors or legislatures) to opt out. It should be equally clear that Congress never intended to deny subsidies to those citizens living in opt-out states.
But the two Republican judges sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, blindly adopted the bizarre argument of the law’s challengers that under a literal reading of the statute only state enrollees were entitled to the subsidies.
On the same day, another federal appeals court sitting in Virginia unanimously ruled the other way. In that decision, Judge Andre Davis ridiculed the argument adopted by the two majority judges in D.C. He wrote that “[plaintiffs want to] deny to millions of Americans desperately needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction of a federal statute whose manifest purpose… could not be more clear.” But that was precisely the “tortured, nonsensical” position taken by the D.C. duo to the dismay of their colleague, the senior judge on the D.C. Circuit, Harry Edwards.
Then comes the Chevron doctrine. Chevron is a long-standing doctrine established by the Supreme Court that it was the obligation of courts when interpreting statutes to give deference to the interpretation of the statute by the administrative agency entrusted by Congress with its implementation.
In this instance, it was the Internal Revenue Service which had primary responsibility for implementing the health care subsidies. But the D.C. majority ignored the IRS interpretation.
To be fair to the D.C. majority, there is another doctrine which they chose to follow. It is called “textualism,” and its primary exponent is Justice Anton Scalia, the legal guru of conservatism. And this principle seems to say implement the clear terms of the statute no matter how absurd – or “nonsensical” – the result. But as Scalia’s critics like to point out, he generally invokes that principle only when it brings about a result he is ideologically comfortable with.
Obviously, these cases will have to be reconciled by the United States Supreme Court. And, fortunately for the millions of persons entitled to health care subsidies in the 36 states with federal health exchanges, Scalia’s “textualism” does not have a lot of adherents, even among his conservative colleagues on the high court.
By: Frank Askin, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School-Newark; The Huffington Post Blog, July 30, 2014
“None Dare Call It Impeachment”: We Will Look Back On This Moment In Washington As The Week That Irony Died
Let’s talk about something cheerful. How about impeachment?
Hey, it’s been a depressing month for news. If you want to look on the bright side, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.
The possibility of actual impeachment is not something that keeps Barack Obama up at night. Modern history suggests there’s nothing Congress could do that the American public would hate more. Yet impeachment talk has been bounding around the Republican right for ages. The South Dakota Republican Party passed a resolution calling for impeachment at their annual convention this year. (We all know the famous saying: “As South Dakota goes, so goes North Dakota.”) Sarah Palin brings up impeachment virtually every day. Some members of Congress use it to energize the crazy base.
For instance, Representative Ted Yoho of Florida once posted a list of arguments for impeachment on his campaign website. I am mentioning this in part because it’s always fun to write “Ted Yoho.” Also because I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to note that during his previous election season, Ted Yoho told a church group that he wished the right to vote was limited to property owners.
Last week, the Democrats started picking up the impeachment banner in the form of pretending to take the Republican threats seriously. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said it would be “foolish to discount the possibility.” Democratic fund-raisers sent out warnings of impending impeachment danger to their own base and were tickled by the enthusiastic response.
Now, Republican leaders are desperately trying to change the subject. The House speaker, John Boehner, called impeachment talk “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” Karl Rove claimed Obama was trying to create a “constitutional crisis where none exists.”
“Do you think anyone in Washington in the G.O.P. is serious about impeachment?” demanded the radio host Glenn Beck. “Do you think one person? Have you spoken to one person? No one. So who wants it? The president does.” Actually, as Kendall Breitman pointed out in Politico, Beck had called for impeachment his very own self about a year earlier.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the majority party was busy showing the nation its serious side by voting to sue President Obama for violating the Constitution. Look, everybody has their own way of demonstrating that they’re sticking to the business at hand. Republicans are upset about the president’s attempt to deal with problems by executive order when Congress fails to address them with legislation. Obama’s record when it comes to executive orders is actually rather paltry compared with some of his Republican predecessors. Nevertheless, the Republicans have many, many complaints, all of which involve mention of the founding fathers.
You could not help but suspect that if Speaker Boehner had it to do all over again, he’d never have brought this idea up. Democrats cheerfully urged a really, really long debate on the subject, but the Republican-dominated Rules Committee decided that the whole thing should be dispatched with as quickly as possible. So fast, in fact, that it gave the lawsuit against the president the same debate time as a bill on deregulating pesticides.
The Republicans focused on — yes! — the founding fathers. It was, said Representative Candice Miller of Michigan, a battle against “tyranny, Mr. Speaker. Tyranny.” She is the leader of the Committee on House Administration, the only woman to lead a House committee under the current leadership. We will not dwell on the fact that Miller’s committee is basically in charge of housekeeping.
Meanwhile, the Democrats kept bringing up the I-word. “I sincerely believe that you are trying to set the stage for a despicable impeachment proceeding,” said Representative G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina. Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the House Rules chairman, denied that suing the president was a step on the slippery slope to impeachment. He did that by defending the impeachment of President Clinton, which was, of course, so exceedingly successful that Clinton now is the most popular individual in the nation except perhaps for Boo the World’s Cutest Dog and the hamster that eats tiny burritos.
Rather than suing the president for everything he’s ever done, the Republicans tried to improve their legal prospects by picking a particular executive order. They settled on the one postponing enforcement of part of Obamacare that requires businesses to provide health coverage for their employees. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?” demanded Boehner.
“Not a single one of them voted for the Affordable Care Act,” said Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “They spent $ 79 million holding votes to kill it. And now they’re going to sue him for not implementing it fast enough.”
We will look back on this moment in Washington as The Week That Irony Died.
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 30, 2014
Christy Martin is a legendary boxer. Since she started out at age 21, Martin has won 49 of her 57 total fights, with 31 KOs. She’s also a survivor of domestic abuse who was nearly murdered by her ex-husband four years ago. It’s the latter that brought her to Washington this week. In 2010, Martin was stabbed three times by the man she says had been threatening to kill her for 20 years. After stabbing her repeatedly, her ex-husband James Martin shot her and left her for dead. Martin survived by flagging down a passing car and begging to be taken to the hospital.
“As I lay there, I could hear the gurgling. I knew my lung had been ruptured, but I wasn’t dying fast enough,” Martin told MSNBC on Wednesday. “So he came back 3o minutes later and shot me with my own 9mm.”
Martin is just one of the women in Washington to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a law that would tighten gun restrictions for domestic abusers in dating relationships and stalkers. A bill sponsored by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act — would close existing holes in background check laws that allow domestic abusers and stalkers to own guns.
The data on the correlation between domestic violence and gun deaths makes the gaps in policy frighteningly clear. More than 60 percent of women killed by a firearm in 2010 — the year Martin was shot — were murdered by a current or former intimate partner. The presence of a firearm during a domestic violence incident increases the likelihood of a homicide by 500 percent.
What Congress — particularly Republicans in Congress — has before it right now is an opportunity to enact meaningful gun reform that will save women’s lives. Around 50 women’s lives every month, to be precise. They’ve had and blown this opportunity before, when mass shootings have galvanized public support for common-sense proposals to keep people safe from deadly gun violence. The same support exists for restrictions that limit violent offenders’ ability to access guns. As Laura Bassett and Emily Swanson at the Huffington Post noted this week, Republican voters break with the National Rifle Association when it comes to restrictions on stalkers and domestic abusers:
More than two-thirds of GOP voters (68 percent) said they would support or strongly support a new law stripping guns from convicted stalkers, according to a new poll by The Huffington Post and YouGov. Fifty-nine percent of Republican voters, and two-thirds of voters overall, support expanding gun restrictions for convicted domestic abusers to include non-married dating partners.
The NRA has said it strongly opposes both proposals, which the Senate will consider on Wednesday in its first-ever hearing on gun violence against women. The gun lobby sent a letter to senators last month urging them to vote against Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) legislation to ban convicted stalkers and abusive dating partners from possessing guns. The letter claims that the bill “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.”
It remains to be seen what action Congress will take, and what the GOP will do in the face of strong support for change. They may just do what they’ve done before: ignore the issue. “There are so many people that just don’t realize what’s going on behind closed doors in their neighbor’s home. There are so many people who don’t understand domestic violence,” Martin explained on MSNBC. “It seems like if it’s not happening in our own home, then it’s just not happening.”
“Keeping guns out of the hands of abusers and stalkers will take more than a Senate hearing and carefully worded statements that say all the right things,” former Arizona representative and gun violence survivor Gabby Giffords wrote of the measure. “It will require our leaders to show some courage and stand up for common-sense laws. It will require some hard work. And it will require overcoming the power of those in Washington who continue to fight against these laws.”
By: Katie McDonough, Salon, July 30, 2014
Paul Ryan, the perennial media darling and the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012, has released an anti-poverty plan that has been widely hailed by a group of conservative policy enthusiasts known as the reformicons. According to Ross Douthat, The New York Times‘s house reformicon, the plan represents new and exciting conservative thinking, reflecting the “growing contrast between the policy ferment on the Republican side of the aisle and the staleness and/or small-ball quality of the Democratic Party’s ‘what comes after Obama?’ agenda.”
The problem with this argument is that none of Ryan’s ideas are new, and many of them are the antithesis of exciting.
Yes, the Ryan plan contains some ideas that are genuinely good. Its calls for major criminal justice reform are salutary — mass incarceration is fiscally wasteful as well as wasteful of human lives, and seeing an endorsement from a prominent Republican public official is reason for cautious optimism. It’s easier to propose cuts to corporate welfare in white papers than in the congressional sausage-making process, but to do so is unobjectionable. And proposing reforms to local regulations such as licensing requirements are at least defensible in some cases. None of these ideas are new, but originality is overrated — there is the potential basis for agreement here.
The core social welfare proposals of Ryan’s plan, however, fail both the originality and goodness tests. The plan does, at least, avoid the direct, savage cuts to discretionary spending that were a hallmark of Ryan’s previous budgets. Ryan’s proposal entails converting a great deal of federal anti-poverty spending into block grants to state governments, which would be free to experiment with those funds. There is, to put it mildly, nothing novel about this idea. Going back to conservative southern Democrats in the New Deal, conservatives have advocated giving states more discretion about how to use federal money.
But more to the point, in addition to being very old, the block grant idea is terrible. As the economist Max Sawicky notes, spending through block grants has the effect of creating disincentives for states to spend adequate money on poverty, while also undermining the political basis for maintaining the programs. In addition, giving the states discretion has tended to involve withholding spending from the “underserving” poor, who tend to be overwhelmingly people of color. The intrusive paternalism the Ryan plan encourages is also unattractive.
The notion that “let them eat states’ rights” is a new and exciting idea is particularly perverse given some other recent developments. To the widespread applause of Republicans, a panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals read the Affordable Care Act as not providing subsidies to people purchasing health insurance on federally established exchanges. According to defenders of the decision, this was not a drafting mistake; they say Congress intended to only make the subsidies available on state-established exchanges, but were surprised by how few states went along.
As a reading of the ACA, this argument is absurd — clearly Congress anticipated that some states would not establish exchanges, which is why the federal backstop was created. Virtually nobody involved in creating the ACA believes that the law was designed to create federal exchanges that wouldn’t work. It is fair to say, however, that some Democrats were surprised by how many states proved unwilling or unable to establish their own exchanges.
But consider the implications of this. The latest conservative legal argument against the ACA boils down to: “you screwed up — you thought the states actually wanted to provide people with health care!” And the Supreme Court re-writing the ACA in 2012 to make it easier for states to reject the Medicaid expansion has also been a catastrophe, with Republican statehouses inflicting easily avoidable pain and suffering on millions of people to prove their anti-Obama bona fides.
So — why is devolving anti-poverty policy to the states supposed to be a great idea again?
Indeed, the experience of the ACA is a compelling repudiation of the idea that giving states more discretion over social policy is a good idea — or that Republicans at the state level genuinely care about helping the poor and the needy. Many statehouses are opposed to federal anti-inequality measures in principle, and even less hostile ones have proved administratively inept. Anti-poverty policy in the U.S. needs more federal intervention, not less.
By: Scott Lemieux, Professor of Political Science, College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y; The Week, July 30, 2014