Much of the political world’s attention has focused on the presidential campaign trail of late, and for good reason. Congress takes August off; President Obama has been on vacation; and his would-be successors have put on quite a show.
But as August nears its end, the White House remains quite cognizant of the challenges facing federal policymakers. Just yesterday, the president published a message on Twitter, explaining, “Amidst global volatility, Congress should protect the momentum of our growing economy (not kill it).” Obama added that the United States “must avoid” a government shutdown and austerity measures.
The message didn’t come out of the blue. Current funding for the federal government expires at the end of September, and though Republican leaders intended to make progress with talks over their summer break, there’s no indication that officials are any closer to a solution than they were in July. On the contrary, as was the case in 2013, some far-right members seem eager for a fight that would result in a shutdown.
And then, of course, there’s the debt ceiling. On the one hand, we received some good news on this front from the Congressional Budget Office this week. The Washington Post reported:
Congressional leaders may have more time to work out a deal this fall to increase the federal borrowing limit, after new projections from Congress’ scorekeeper showed tax revenues have been greater than expected this year. […]
In July, the Treasury Department estimated the government would hit its $18.1 trillion borrowing limit at the end of October. CBO, however, now projects the debt ceiling will not need to be increased until mid-November or early December, while noting there is a level of uncertainty when determining the exact date.
On the other hand, the delayed deadline won’t necessarily help. The Huffington Post reported:
[The debt-ceiling] deadline is nearing. And the mixture of an ongoing presidential campaign – which encourages lawmakers to play to their base – and the itching for more spending cuts from conservative groups suggests it won’t pass without drama. […]
Asked if he expected debt-ceiling fireworks, longtime GOP consultant Craig Shirley replied: “Without a doubt.”
In fairness, it’s important to note that GOP leaders want no part of this – House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell haven’t expressed any interest whatsoever in a replay of the 2011 hostage fight in which Republicans threatened to crash the economy on purpose unless President Obama met the GOP’s demands.
But as we’ve seen many times, party leaders often feel as if they have no choice but to follow. And in this case, amid economic uncertainty and market volatility, far-right Republicans see conditions that give them a twisted sense of leverage.
The broader timing doesn’t help, either. The race for the GOP presidential nomination will be pretty intense by the time December rolls around, and it’s likely we’ll see most, if not all, of the Republican field pushing the party to be as radical as possible – each candidate will try to prove to right-wing activists that they’re “tougher” than their rivals.
Buckle your seatbelt.
By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 28, 2015
“What Jeb Bush’s ‘Gaffe’ On Women’s Health Really Tells Us”: Congress Picking Health Providers Women Can Use Based On Politics
It must have been at least a week since we’ve had a major campaign “gaffe” (really, who can keep track?), so into that breach Jeb Bush bravely stumbled yesterday, seeming to dismiss the notion of spending too much on women’s health care, when he said “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.” Naturally, Hillary Clinton was all over him, guaranteeing that there would be many stories written about it.
As regular readers know, I take a broadly anti-gaffe position. The assumption of gaffe coverage, that a single extemporaneous remark reveals something fundamental and true that the candidate who uttered it was trying to hide until it slipped out, is ridiculous. If a candidate says something and then later explains that it wasn’t what he meant — as Bush has done — he ought to be forgiven, since all of us say things the wrong way all the time.
But there may still be something we can learn from any particular gaffe — in this case, about the dynamics of controversy and the way presidential candidates can get swept by their party’s currents to places they might or might not want to go.
Let’s start by putting Bush’s statement in context. In an appearance before the Southern Baptist Convention, Bush was asked whether, when it comes time to fund the government with a continuing resolution, Congress should “say, ‘Not one more red cent to Planned Parenthood’?” Here’s his response:
“We should, and the next president should defund Planned Parenthood. I have the benefit of having been governor, and we did defund Planned Parenthood when I was governor. We tried to create a culture of life across the board. The argument against this is, ‘Well, women’s health issues are going to be — you’re attacking, it’s a war on women, and you’re attacking women’s health issues.’ You could take dollar for dollar — although I’m not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues — but if you took dollar for dollar, there are many extraordinarily fine organizations, community health organizations that exist, federally sponsored community health organizations to provide quality care for women on a wide variety of health issues. But abortion should not be funded by the government, any government in my mind.”
I shouldn’t have to point this out, but I guess I do: abortion is not funded by the government, by law. Saying “abortion should not be funded by the government” as an argument for forbidding women to get health services from Planned Parenthood is like saying that because some supermarkets sell beer, food stamps shouldn’t be able to to be used at supermarkets, even though food stamps can’t be used to buy beer. I promise you that Jeb Bush knows this perfectly well.
I went over this yesterday, but briefly: Most of the federal money Planned Parenthood gets is in the form of Medicaid reimbursements for health services, things like gynecological exams, cancer screening, the provision of contraception, and so on. So “defunding” the organization means telling women that they can’t go to Planned Parenthood clinics, but have to go somewhere else. Whether Congress ought to be picking and choosing the health care providers women can use based on politics is at the heart of this issue.
Now on the dollar amounts involved: For the record, between Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and other programs, the federal government spends well over a trillion dollars a year on health care, so it’s a little puzzling that Bush would find half a billion dollars for women’s health, or a fraction of a fraction of a percent of that total, to be some kind of extravagant amount. But maybe he was just thinking it’s a lot for one health care provider. Maybe he thinks Planned Parenthood is a smaller operation than it actually is. Maybe he has bought the Republican propaganda that Planned Parenthood is an abortion operation that does a few other things on the side, when the truth is that abortion services make up only three percent of their activities.
Whatever the case, this much is clear: Bush is now aboard the “defund Planned Parenthood” train in a serious way. This isn’t a new position for him, but he probably wasn’t planning on making a big deal out of it before some anti-choice activists released secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the transfer of fetal tissue for research. Once that ball got rolling, talk among conservatives quickly turned to whether Republicans would actually shut down the government to defund the group. That’s forcing the presidential candidates to take a loud, emphatic position to show primary voters that they’re good conservatives. Bushs comments also seemed to endorse shutting down the government over this issue, but that’s not quite clear, so we’ll have to wait for him to get asked that question more specifically — which he probably will before long.
To be clear, I’m not saying Bush was forced by events to take a position he didn’t want to. He has a long and strong record of opposition to women’s reproductive rights in general and to Planned Parenthood in particular. But it does show that the campaign agenda isn’t in the candidates’ hands, and I’m sure there’s someone working for him who suspects that this could be a problem if he becomes the Republican nominee. After all, in 2012 President Obama hammered Mitt Romney (see this ad, for instance) for taking exactly this position on defunding Planned Parenthood, and ended up beating Romney among women by 11 points.
Bush’s position now is both similar and different from the one Romney found himself in four years ago. Romney had been a moderate Republican governor, then had to convince primary voters he was a hard-right conservative, then struggled to convince general election voters he wasn’t a hard-right conservative. Bush, on the other hand, was a genuinely hard-right governor who now has to convince primary voters of that truth, and many of those voters don’t yet believe it. But in the general election, he’ll face the same problem Romney did. And if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, you can bet there will be more ads like the one I linked to, where women look into the camera with a mixture of sadness and anger and describe how Jeb Bush just doesn’t get them and isn’t on their side.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 5, 2015
“Another Shutdown Psychodrama”: Why The GOP’s Threat To Shut Down The Government Over Planned Parenthood Will Fail
So here we are again: Republicans want to make a policy change, but since doing so will be difficult through the ordinary legislative process, they are threatening to shut down the government to get what they want.
This time it’s about Planned Parenthood, long a target of conservative loathing. Galvanized by selectively edited videos made by conservative activists trying to make it seem as though the organization is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, Republicans in Congress are now trying (as they have before) to “defund” Planned Parenthood. The White House says it will veto any budget bill that does that.
In response, at least some conservatives have reverted to a time-worn tactic: Shutdown! Ted Cruz says if that is what it takes to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, so be it. Some of his allies in the House seem to agree. Conservative pundit Erick Erickson demands, “If Republicans are not willing to make this their hill to die on…the Republican Party needs to be shut down.”
For the record, most of the money Planned Parenthood receives from the federal government comes from reimbursement for health care services through Medicaid. Precisely zero goes to abortion services; by law, no federal funds can go to abortions. So when Republicans say they want to “defund” Planned Parenthood, what they’re talking about is taking away medical services — breast cancer screenings and the like — from poor women.
I’m not going to go too deeply into the videos, other than to say that nothing in them shows that the organization did anything illegal. The worst anyone has been able to say is that the “tone” used by Planned Parenthood officials was callous. You can object to fetal tissue research if you like, even though it’s done with the consent of patients and can yield valuable medical insights, but there’s no evidence that Planned Parenthood isn’t complying with the laws that cover how that tissue can be used.
Until Barack Obama became president, most government shutdowns happened for one reason: because Congress and the president couldn’t agree on a budget. Sometimes the issues were broad, like cuts to domestic spending, and sometimes they were more specific. But they were usually connected in some rational way to the perceived necessity for a shutdown, in that there was disagreement on how to spend the money that will keep the government operating.
But Republicans in the Obama era have been nothing if not creative thinkers when it comes to policy procedures and norms. And in this area, their innovation was to say, “We have a policy disagreement with the other side, but we can’t get our way through the normal channels. So how about if we shut down the government until we get what we want?”
There’s one important fact about this threat that you’d think Republicans would have learned by now: It always fails. The public doesn’t rally around the shutdowners’ cause, because it violates a basic sense of how policy-making ought to operate. Congress can bicker and fight, but the way it makes decisions is that legislators vote on things, and the side with more votes wins (except for proposals that are filibustered, but that’s a different story), subject to the presidential veto. If you lose through that process, you’ve lost, period. Even if you were right on the merits, the system’s rules are longstanding and familiar enough that they seem fair, since everyone understands the rules and agrees to live under them.
But relying on a shutdown is like a baseball team that’s trailing at the start of the ninth inning, so they hide all the balls and say they won’t return them until they’re declared the victor. It just doesn’t seem right.
And it isn’t just that Republicans can’t get enough public support for the shutdowns — more importantly, they don’t actually get what they want. In 2013, they shut down the government in an attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act, you may have noticed, is still around. In 2014, they nearly shut down the government in an attempt to stop Obama’s executive actions on immigration. That failed there, too (though some of those actions have been held up in the courts).
It should be noted that the congressional GOP leadership is smart enough to say they’re not interested in another shutdown psychodrama. But if they’re in a tough spot, besieged by their more conservative members — not to mention outside groups and pundits — there’s no denying the part they’ve played in making this a regular demand of conservatives. It was the congressional leaders who devised the strategy of opposing Barack Obama on everything and filibustering every bill of any consequence. They’ve happily gone along with the hysteria on the right that says that Obama isn’t just a president they disagree with, but an enemy of America who seeks to destroy everything we hold dear. They’ve encouraged the belief that compromise is always, and by definition, an act of betrayal.
Given all that, is it any surprise that whenever a new issue comes up, at least some on the right think it’s a hill worth dying on? Shutting down the government might be doomed to fail, but I suppose it feels like fighting.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 3, 2015
“Four Days Til Stupidity Erupts”: Contradicting The Narrative That The GOP Was All Grown Up And Muzzled Its Tea Party Faction
So the expiration of appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security approaches in just four days, and there’s no sign yet that Republicans are going to be able to figure out how to back down from their demands for cancellation of the President’s executive actions on immigration without looking weak to the Almighty Base.
This is all kinds of stupid for a number of reasons, including (a) the conflict with GOP Chicken Little rhetoric over homeland security threats; (b) the fact that the portion of DHS that actually enforces immigration laws would be largely unaffected since it operates on fees rather than appropriations; (c) as of the moment, the offending 2014 immigration executive order has been suspended pending judicial review; and (d) this gives Democrats a huge, huge political gift while contradicting the dominant media narrative of 2014 that the GOP was all grown up and had muzzled its Tea Party faction.
Point this out to your average conservative activist and you’ll generally hear mumbling about the Constitution, various forms of denial that anyone will care, and/or the classic ex post facto argument that being stupid on a government shutdown didn’t keep Republicans from doing very well in 2014. I guess the prospective argument would be that Republicans can and should keep doing egregiously stupid things until they lose an election, which could happen in a little over nineteen months. What you won’t hear are many predictions this strategem will actually work to change public policy. So it’s all about posturing, and that’s never a good sign for a serious political party.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 23, 2015
“GOP To DHS; Governing Is Hard”: Republicans Are Edging Ever Closer To A Totally Predictable Shutdown
Weeks after winning the Senate, soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a nice thought:
“We will not be shutting the government down or threatening to default on the federal debt,” he said.
With less than two weeks before yet another government shutdown, chaos remains and dysfunction is still normal.
The latest manufactured drama is over funding for the Department of Homeland Security, which is scheduled to expire on February 27.
The scenario should sound familiar:
Much like the government shutdown over defunding Obamacare, House Republicans are refusing to pass any bill that funds DHS that doesn’t contain a provision overturning the Obama administration’s executive orders on undocumented immigrants and Senate Democrats are refusing to debate any DHS funding bill that has this language.
(Nevermind, the bill would be vetoed the minute it hit the president’s desk. This isn’t about the winning—it’s about the game.)
The result is a partisan stalemate in which neither side will blink.
And once again, this was all by design.
This showdown was set up at the end of 2014 with the debate over “the Cromnibus,” the controversial budget bill that funded the government for most of 2015.
Many conservative Republicans were loath to agree to any measure that funded the government didn’t overturn the executive orders.
Democrats refused to go along with anything other than a bill that funded DHS and omitted the executive order language.
The language would go beyond the controversial executive order that Obama issued in 2014 to allow 5 million undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States and also apply to the “DREAMers,” a subset of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States while they were underage and have clean criminal records. DREAMers were allowed to stay in the United States in an executive order that the administration issued in 2012.
To avoid another government shutdown, a compromise was reached before lawmakers went home for the holidays.
Most of the federal government would be funded for a year but the DHS would only receive sufficient appropriations to last through the end of February.
The idea was that conservatives could force their standoff on immigration then and surely, no one would want to let the government agency responsible for keeping the United States safe go dark.
But, of course, that is not the case.
To add more futility to their cause, the DHS will keep on running even without being funded. Workers in key agencies like the Border Patrol and the Transportation Safety Administration are considered “essential” and will report to work regardless—they just won’t be paid to do their jobs.
While many other DHS employees could be furloughed, this limitation prevents a shutdown from turning into an immediate crisis and reduces the cost.
On Sunday, House Speaker John Boehner seemed ready to embrace a potential shutdown and unwilling to consider a compromise.
He told Fox News, “The House has acted. We’ve done our job.” Boehner then said, “Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.”
But it’s not just Senate Democrats who think shutting down the DHS is a bad idea. Senate Republicans—John McCain, Jeff Flake and Mark Kirk, to name a few—also have expressed problems with using the DHS as a way to tweak the president.
The impasse is also handing Senate Democrats a powerful political weapon.
In a statement last week Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid said, “The Republican Congress is a mess, pure and simple. Democrats are happy to help our Republican colleagues resolve their problems but the first step is for Republican leaders to do the right thing and pass a clean bill to fund Homeland Security.”
The political dilemma for Republicans is that while a shutdown plays well with their base, it gives them relatively little leverage.
Most key functions of the DHS will be funded regardless and the result of past GOP brinkmanship is that Republicans are likely to bear the burden of the blame for any shutdown.
It also creates peculiar consequences in the 2016 presidential race as well.
It combines two delicate political issues of immigration reform and a government shutdown into one package and places more moderate GOP hopefuls in a bind.
Do they want to let what Republicans universally believe is an unconstitutional executive order by the Obama administration stand or do they want to be put in a position of cutting funding to the DHS in the aftermath of a wave of Islamist terror attacks against American allies and interests.
The result is a familiar dysfunction.
Democrats won’t yield on Obama’s executive orders—a move that would risk undermining one of the most important actions of the president’s second term and lead to the potential deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.
Republicans can’t alienate their conservative base yet again by compromising on what has become such a point of principle.
This latest episode might frustrating in the short term but, like the last shutdown, it has a predictable end:
It’s not a question of whether Republicans will cave and fund the DHS, but when.
By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, February 17, 2015