If the House ran America, what would America look like?
It would no longer have a far-reaching health-care law. The House voted to repeal that legislation in January.
It would no longer have federal limits on greenhouse gases. The House voted to ax them in April.
These and many other changes are included in an ambitious slate of more than 80 bills that have passed since Republicans took control of the chamber this year.
Most of these measures will die in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Still, they are a revealing kind of vision statement — the first evidence of how a tea-party-influenced GOP would like to reshape the country.
That vision is aimed at dismantling some Democratic priorities. The GOP’s philosophy holds that paring back an expensive and heavy-handed government bureaucracy would help restore the country’s financial footing and give private businesses the freedom to grow and create jobs.
After seven months, it is still only half a vision.
On major issues such as health care, climate change and bad mortgages, the House has affirmed that fixes are needed — if it can ever manage to repeal the old ones.
It hasn’t said exactly what those changes should be.
“The Republican Party is sort of united in terms of what they’re against. But there’s not a great deal of consensus right now in terms of what they’re for,” said Michael D. Tanner, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and an expert on health-care reform and recent GOP history.
This month, a divided Congress finally staggered into its summer recess. Its business has been split between the terrifyingly urgent — including standoffs that threatened a government shutdown and a national debt default — and the purely theoretical.
The theoretical part has come because neither the House nor the Senate is likely to approve big ideas dreamed up by the other. The Democrat-held Senate has reacted to this by withdrawing into legislative hibernation.
House Republicans have instead been passing bills that tell a story — about the country they want but can’t quite get.
“The new House Republican majority was voted into office to change the way Washington does business and make the government accountable to the American people once again. Our agenda has reflected these goals,” said Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.).
But even within the Republican ranks, there is a desire for more details about the party’s vision for replacing Democratic policies.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.) said the GOP must put forward its own solutions on issues such as health care, job creation and mortgage assistance. He said he is not convinced that there is a need to take on climate change in the same way.
“Being the party of ‘no’ . . . is an appropriate response” in some cases, Gowdy said. “It’s not appropriate when you’ve been extensively critical of someone else’s ideas” and have none to replace them, he said.
“For substance reasons, and for credibility reasons, we also need to have a comprehensive . . . alternative that goes beyond saying, ‘Your plan is bad,’ ” Gowdy said.
The best-known part of the House’s vision has to do with spending. The chamber passed a budget that calls for a Medicare overhaul that would force new recipients to buy private insurance after 2022. It also passed, with five Democratic backers, a bill that demanded a balanced budget amendment: essentially, a spending limit written into the Constitution.
But the House’s measures have gone far beyond the budget.
It has passed legislation to forbid new energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs and to punish shining a laser pointer at an airplane in flight. It voted to take away federal funding for National Public Radio and for public financing of presidential campaigns.
The House also took a stand against President Obama on the military campaign in Libya, rejecting a motion to approve U.S. involvement. And it voted to rein in Environmental Protection Agency efforts against “mountaintop-removal coal mines” by requiring the EPA to defer to decisions by state regulators.
On three major issues, the House seemed to acknowledge that simply repealing a Democratic idea might not be enough — and that it did not have its own solutions.
On Jan. 19, for instance, 242 Republicans and three Democrats voted to repeal the landmark health-care law.
In place of the legislation, Republicans had said they would craft their own solutions for problems involving high costs and the denial of coverage for preexisting conditions. Their slogan, outlined in last fall’s Pledge to America, was “Repeal and Replace.”
No replacement has occurred.
A bill that would limit liability in malpractice lawsuits has passed in committee. Other ideas are being developed, aides said.
On climate change, the EPA is requiring larger power plants and industrial facilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to obtain new permits.
But many in Congress worried that the effort would drive up energy prices and kill jobs. So in April, 236 House Republicans and 19 Democrats voted to make the EPA stop in its tracks.
In place of regulations, they approved only a vaguely worded “sense of the Congress” about climate change.
“There is established scientific concern over warming of the climate system,” the bill says. It adds that Congress should attack the problem “by developing policies that do not adversely affect the American economy, energy supplies, and employment.”
But how? When? The measure doesn’t say.
And it doesn’t need to, said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. He said his group thinks that simply repealing this legislation — and the health-care law — is enough for now.
“The big-government assault [has been] so damaging to the economy and the government. They’re doing the right thing by just trying to stop and reverse,” Phillips said.
Environmental groups have said that the House’s bill would leave the nation powerless to fight an escalating global problem.
“They clearly aren’t going to pass any legislation themselves that would address that pollution,” said Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The House also has voted to eliminate three federal programs meant to aid homeowners in danger of foreclosure. Two help modify loans to create lower payments. The third gives no-interest loans to borrowers who are in trouble. All have been criticized for moving too slowly and helping too few.
In March, the House decided to do away with them. The Congressional Budget Office said that doing so could save taxpayers $2.4 billion.
“None of the programs . . . have been successful,” Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), wrote in a statement.
By: David Fahrenthold, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011
The last two Wisconsin recalls ended in victory for two incumbent Democrats, leaving the Republicans with a 17-to-16 majority in the State Senate.
The Democrats prevailed handily last night — State Sen. Bob Wirch won in southeastern Wisconsin with 58 percent of the vote and Democratic Sen. Jim Holperin won in the northern part of the state with 55 percent.
The bottom line: Two Republicans were recalled from the Senate, while not one Democrat lost a recall race. Republican had hoped there would be a backlash against Democratic senators who left the state to prevent a quorum during the battles earlier this year over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to strip away the collective-bargaining rights of public employee unions. That backlash did not materialize.
What’s clear is that the fight has moved public opinion the Democrats’ way, but not as fast or as dramatically as the Democrats had hoped. Wisconsin’s premier progressive political writer, John Nichols, noted that Walker’s opponents “have prevailed in the majority of recall elections and claimed the majority of votes cast in what many saw as a statewide referendum on Walker’s policies.”
Nichols acknowledged that the Democrats’ majority in these races was narrow — roughly 243,000 votes to 239,000 — but he added that “Walker won these districts in 2010, and . . . Republican Senate candidates easily won six of them in 2008.”
So will there be a recall campaign against Walker? My hunch is yes, but Walker seems to be trying to blunt this prospect by sounding uncharacteristically moderate. And at least one moderate Republican in the State Senate could give Democrats the ability to block any further legislation that veers too far right. This could lower the political temperature and that, paradoxically, could help Walker slip by a recall.
But anybody who thinks that the country is still in the same mood as it was in November 2010 should consult these results. In Wisconsin, there was a backlash against a right-wing that overreached. National polls suggest the same thing is happening to conservatives in the House of Representatives. Wisconsin is not a right-wing state, and this is not a right-wing country. That’s the message of recall summer.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011
Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), since he launched his presidential campaign on Saturday, has paraded around the stat that “since June of 2009, Texas is responsible for more than 40 percent of all of the new jobs created in America.” “Now think about that. We’re home to less than 10 percent of the population in America, but 40 percent of all the new jobs were created in that state,” Perry says.
This stat leaves out a lot of the story. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has promoted the number, but “it acknowledges that the number comes out different depending on whether one compares Texas to all states or just to states that are adding jobs.” Between 2008 and 2010, jobs actually grew at a faster pace in Massachusetts than in Texas.
In fact, “Texas has done worse than the rest of the country since the peak of national unemployment in October 2009.” The unemployment rate in Texas has been steadily increasing throughout the recession, and went from 7.7 to 8.2 percent while the state was supposedly creating 40 percent of all the new jobs in the U.S.
How is this possible, since Texas has created over 126,000 jobs since the depths of the recession in February 2009? The fact of the matter is that looking purely at job creation misses a key point, namely that Texas has also experienced incredibly rapid population and labor force growth (due to a series of factors, including that Texas weathered the housing bubble reasonably well due to strict mortgage lending regulations). When this is taken into account, Texas’ job creation looks decidedly less impressive:
Clearly, there is no miracle for Texas here. While over 126,000 net jobs were created in Texas over the last two and a half years, the labor force expanded by over 437,000, meaning that overall Texas has added unemployed workers at a rate much faster than it has created jobs. And although states like Michigan have lost jobs (29,200 since February 2009), the state’s labor force has shrunk by over 185,000 since then. As a result, while there are fewer jobs, there are significantly less workers looking for them.
As Paul Krugman put it, “several factors underlie [Texas'] rapid population growth: a high birth rate, immigration from Mexico, and inward migration of Americans from other states, who are attracted to Texas by its warm weather and low cost of living, low housing costs in particular.” But they have little to do with Perry’s policies.
Now that certainly doesn’t make the situation in Michigan a good one, as contraction of the labor force is one side effect of the prolonged recession and unemployment there is still 10.6 percent. However if there is a real “miracle” here, it is North Dakota, which has seen over 27,000 new jobs and a labor force expansion of only 3,700, resulting in about 24,000 new jobs for workers who previously had none. But no one is proclaiming the “North Dakota miracle” and saying that Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R-ND) should be running for President.
By: Think Progress, August 17, 2011. Data for this post was compiled by Matt Separa, Research Assistant with the Economic Policy Team at the Center for American Progress Action Fund