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“A Study In Contrasts”: Take A Moment To Think About How It Is We Chose People To Be Our Political Heroes

I’m about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.

What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker – but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.

As we’ve seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital just prior to the 2012 election.

It’s interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren’s web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long…all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for – going after Wall Street – she sponsored the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013,” which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.

Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.

Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?

I point all this out because I’d like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?

When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Jeb Bush’s Minimum Wage Radicalism”: The Abolition Of A Federal Minimum Wage Of Any Sort Is Now A Mainstream Republican Position

Every so often I feel the need to write the column that says: The one thing our political system needs more than any other single feature is a strengthened moderate wing of the Republican Party. I say this of course as a liberal, whose party registration is Democratic, which means you might think I’d say we need more liberals; and while I think that, I believe without question that having a strong moderate faction within the GOP would do far more to change our politics for the better than—yes—even having more Americans who think exactly as I do!

Having more liberals would if anything merely deepen the intensity of our civil war and produce more stalemate. The presence of a more muscular moderate Republican wing, however, would change everything. Then, there would be pressure on Republicans to adopt some sensible moderate positions, instead of what we have today, which is unceasing pressure to play this game of one-upmanship to see who can take the most reactionary, ignorant, and borderline racist position imaginable. Then, you’d have some Republicans from blue districts and states who would find it to be in their electoral self-interest to compromise with Democrats and vote for a Democratic president’s bill once in a while. Then, our political culture really would change.

And, then, people like Jeb Bush, the alleged moderate in the GOP presidential field, wouldn’t say jaw-dropping things like this, about the minimum wage, which he said Tuesday in (where else, somehow) South Carolina:

“We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this. This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure—I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it, people say, ‘Yeah, everybody’s wages should be up.’ And in the case of Wal-Mart, they have raised wages because of supply and demand and that’s good.

“But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education.”

Now it’s great that Wal-Mart and McDonald’s and Target and the others are voluntarily raising their minimum wages. One might argue that we’ve come to a particularly sad pass when the Walton family is doing more for its beleaguered workers than Congress can rouse itself to, but however you want to spin it, good for Wal-Mart.

But to take this little boomlet from what is still a small number of employers (although of course they do employ millions of people) and say that’s it, we should now have no federal minimum wage, is logical sleight of hand, and it’s a very radical position. A little background.

We first got a minimum wage in 1935. Then the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional (which could happen again, with this lot). Then it was passed again in 1938. We’ve had it ever since, although, as you probably know, it hasn’t gone up since 2009. That rise was the third and final phase of a 2007 law that raised the wage in increments. We haven’t had a new law to that effect in those eight years since.

It is true that in the 1980s, economists debated whether a federal minimum wage was desirable. Even The New York Times once editorialized against it, in 1987. At the time, economists thought it had deleterious effects on low-wage employment. Then, in the mid-1990s, the economists David Card and Alan Krueger studied this question  in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (the former had increase its minimum wage, while the latter had not), and they found no employment impact.

That changed the academic consensus. An increase was passed in 1996. Some conservative economists continued to spoon out the “job-killer” Kool-Aid, as indeed they still do, but evidence continues to support the idea that there is no serious job-killing effect.

The parties disagreed strongly about how much the wage should be increased, but at least they agreed on increasing it—the 2007 increase, for example, passed the Senate 94-3, and the House by 233-82. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 standard bearer, voted for the 2007 increase. And Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, ran on supporting a modest increase and even indexing the minimum wage to inflation, which Barack Obama also supported and which would prevent Congress from having to pass legislation on the question ever again—a pretty progressive position, really.

So the last two mainstream, establishment GOP candidates—the last three, counting George W. Bush—supported an increase. But now, the mainstream, establishment candidate is against it. And if the mainstream, establishment candidate is against it, where are the others going to line up?

And so, one more hard-right pirouette by a party that keeps finding new ways to radicalize itself. But this one is particularly shocking coming from Bush, because it means that the abolition of a federal minimum wage of any sort is now a mainstream Republican position. And remember: The minimum wage, if it had kept pace with inflation, would be around $13 today, so it’s already insanely low at $7.25.

Which brings me back to how I opened this column. If there were a moderate wing of the GOP, this is most certainly an issue on which we’d have bipartisan agreement. The position Bush has just embraced would be seen across party lines for exactly the radical pandering that it is. Indeed he would not have taken it. That would be a nice world, but the world we have is the one we have. And if Bush can take this position, completely out of step with his party’s conservative mainstream in recent history, then what else will he prove himself capable of?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2015

March 22, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush, Minimum Wage | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A House Divided”: Its Pretty Hard To Actually Govern In A System Designed To Require Compromise

The plan was to force President Obama to either sign a bill repealing his executive actions on immigration or veto it and shut down the Department of Homeland Security. But things didn’t work out that way.

Senator McConnell couldn’t get the 6/7 Democratic votes he needed to pass a bill that paired funding for DHS to repealing the President’s immigration actions and Speaker Boehner was unwilling to pass a stand-alone funding bill with primarily Democratic votes. So we got a one week reprieve before we do this all over again.

The good news is that we found out that neither Republican leader is willing to follow through with their threats to blow up hostages in order to force Democrats to give them what they want. So at some point, they’ll pass a bill that funds DHS.

Here’s the bad news:

After the Republicans gained control of the Senate and increased their margins in the House in the November elections, both Mr. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, promised to reverse Congress’s pattern of hurtling from crisis to crisis, even over matters like appropriations that were once relatively routine.

But in their first big test, the Republican leaders often seemed to be working from different playbooks, at times verging on hostility, with each saying it was time for the other chamber to act.

The funding stalemate bodes poorly for any larger policy accomplishments this year, leaving lawmakers pessimistic that the 114th Congress will be able to work in a bipartisan fashion on more complicated issues.

The Office of Management and Budget has said that a vote to increase the nation’s debt limit will be necessary by mid- to late summer, and lawmakers were also hoping to take up trade policy, as well as at least a modest overhaul of the nation’s tax code — undertakings that now look increasingly imperiled.

When you’ve spent the last six years convincing your base that your opponent is a tyrant who is out to destroy the country and that his party’s agenda is the tool by which he will do that, its pretty hard to actually govern in a system that is designed to require compromise.

I wouldn’t say that any of that is a big surprise to those of us who have been paying attention. But what is surprising – and will be worth paying attention to over the next few months – is the apparent hostility between McConnell and Boehner. I don’t think anyone saw that coming. But it does suggest that there is more than one fault line in this divided house.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, February 28, 2015

March 1, 2015 Posted by | Congress, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Deluded And Dysfunctional, The Republicans Have Lost The Plot”: They’ve Run Out Of People To Blame For Not Compromising

Recently, in an effort to embarrass Republicans pandering to their scientifically challenged base, Senate Democrats proposed a series of votes on climate change. While most Americans and the overwhelming majority of scientists believe climate change is real and people are the primary cause of it, Republican voters are evenly divided on whether it exists at all, and reject the idea that we are responsible.

One amendment, by the Democratic senator Brian Schatz, stated simply that climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to it. Republican senator John Hoeven offered a compromise: take the word “significantly” out. When asked why, he said: “It was about finding that balance that would bring bipartisan support to the bill.”

Reaching across the aisle in search of compromise and consensus is the professed goal of almost every candidate for public office in the US, particularly in recent times, when presidents have come to personify not unity but division. Over the past six decades, the 10 most polarising years in terms of presidential approval have been under either George W Bush or Barack Obama.

As a means, bipartisanship is, of course, an admirable goal: the more politicians are able to work together, put the interests of their constituents first and get things done, the better. The grandstanding, bickering and procedural one-upmanship that characterises so much of what passes for politics is one of the things that makes electorates cynical and drives down voter turnout.

But as an end in itself, bipartisanship is at best shallow and at worst corrosive. For it entirely depends what parties are joining together to do. This is particularly true in America, where constituencies are openly gerrymandered, both parties are funded by big money, and legislation is often written by corporate lobbyists.

Bipartisan efforts over the past couple of decades have produced the Iraq war, the deregulation of the financial industry, the bank bailout made necessary by that deregulation, the slashing of welfare to the poor, and an exponential increase in incarceration. As the hapless Steve Martin says to his hopeless travel companion, John Candy, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles: “You know, I was thinking, when we put our heads together … we’ve really gotten nowhere.”

Comity in the polity is overrated and should certainly not be mistaken for what is right or even popular. And even if it wasn’t overrated, bipartisanship is not always possible. Half of Republicans still believe the US did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, over half believe climate change is a hoax, and almost half do not believe in evolution. There is a limit to how much agreement you can reach with people with whom you disagree on fundamental matters of fact, let alone principle.

But if the parties cannot work together, they are at least supposed to work separately. What has become evident since Republican victories in November’s midterm elections, which delivered them both houses of Congress, is that they don’t just have a problem compromising with Democrats – they cannot even compromise with each other. For the past four years they have revelled in their dysfunctionality, using Obama as a foil. Apparently unaware that brinkmanship is supposed to take you to the edge, not over it, they have shut down the government and almost forced the nation to default on its debts through a series a spectacular temper tantrums.

As the Republican congressman Marlin Stutzman pointed out in a particularly candid moment 18 months ago, when Republican obduracy caused a government shutdown, “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

These hissy fits have invariably been aimed at forcing Obama to undo the very things he pledged to do if elected, and to which Republicans have no plausible, coherent response: during his first term that was Obamacare; now it is immigration reform. Opposition, in short, had become not a temporary electoral state but a permanent ideological mindset in which their role was not to produce workable ideas but to resist them.

When they won the Senate as well as the House, they were supposed to work together to produce Republican legislation that Obama would be forced to veto, definitively exposing the real source of the gridlock. In fact, they are simply imploding under the weight of their own obstinacy. They’ve run out of people to blame for not compromising with them. So now they’re blaming each other.

“The Republicans are like Fido when he finally catches the car,” the Democratic senator Charles Schumer told the New York Times. “Now they don’t have any clue about what to do. They are realising that being in the majority is both less fun and more difficult than they thought.”

Their current internal feud was prompted by Obama’s executive order for modest immigration reform, which was enacted last November. It aims to prevent the deportation of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, provide many with work permits, and shift the focus of immigration control to deportations of convicted criminals and recent arrivals.

The Republican-controlled House, where funding bills must originate and legislation can be passed by a simple majority, has voted for a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill that would eviscerate Obama’s reforms. But to get the bill through the 100-seat Senate they need 60 votes. Senate Republicans have only 54 seats and Democrats, who are unanimously opposed to the bill, keep filibustering it.

In a functional party the Republican Speaker, John Boehner, would work out what changes he could make to the bill to give the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a fighting chance of getting the requisite majority to pass legislation they could both take credit for. Instead, Boehner has offered McConnell not compromise but commiserations. “He’s got a tough job over there; I’ve got a tough job over here. God bless him, and good luck.”

The House has sent the same bill to the Senate twice. The Senate has failed to pass it several times. In effect, they’ve treated the Republican-controlled Senate no differently to how they treated its Democratic predecessor, with similar results. Reflexively, House Republicans have their bottom lip extended and at the ready. “We sent them a bill,” representative Michael Burgess told Politico, “and they need to pass it. They need to pass our bill.” A tantrum is not far off. “Politically, [McConnell] needs to make a lot of noise,” says representative John Carter.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, roll their eyes, count to 10 and wait patiently for the noise to give way to reason. “We can go through the motions, sure, but I don’t think we’re fooling anybody,” said Republican senator Jeff Flake about the prospect of another doomed vote. “Because we need [Democratic] support to get on the bill.”

If they don’t find a solution by 27 February, then the DHS will be shut down and Obama won’t have had a thing to do with it. The true source of the gridlock over the past six years will be clearer than ever. The emperor will be out there, twerking, in the buff.

“It’s not an issue of commitment, it’s a matter of math,” said the Republican senator John McCain – perhaps failing to realise that math, like science, is no competition for blind faith and bad politics.

 

By: Gary Younge, The Guardian, February 9, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Senate As A Gangster’s Paradise”: Guess Who The Two Republican Senators Are With “Gang” Records As Long As Your Arm?

When I read articles like today’s piece in The Hill with the headline “Senate Republicans feud over whether to keep nuke option,” I feel a quick burst of the cynicism hormone. Aside from confusion over the term “nuclear option” (which means adoption of filibuster rules by a majority-vote rules resolution, not the rules themselves), we’re given the unlikely impression that GOPers are agonizing over showing themselves as hypocritically inclined to reverse the loudly expressed objections they made when Democrats provided for majority-vote approval of executive and non-SCOTUS judicial nominations:

While many expressed anger over last years’ move by the Democrats and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to unilaterally change the rules through a procedure known as the “nuclear option,” some say the new rules should be kept in case a Republican wins the White House in 2016.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Republicans will take their time reaching a decision.

“A lot of our guys still feel very strongly about just the wrongness of what [Reid] did and the position it’s put everybody here in the Senate in,” Thune said.

“Now we’re having to go through a fairly lengthy process to figure out, in the majority, how we want to proceed.”

Yeah, well, or you’re trying to display an agonized uncertainty before you do the predictable thing of making life easy for a future Republican president, with the knowledge that during the next two years a Senate Republican majority makes filibustering Obama’s appointees unnecessary.

But this does give me slight pause:

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both said keeping the new rules would be dangerous

Graham said that, while some Republicans are “salivating” over the possibility of being able to more easily confirm their picks under a Republican president, removing the filibuster destroys incentives “to go across the aisle and pick up a few votes.”

This is code for “removing the filibuster eliminates the need for bipartisan ‘gangs’ to navigate the confirmation process.” Guess who the two Republican senators are with “gang” records as long as your arm? Yep, it’s the Amigos.

Now if you are a believer in bipartisanship as an end in itself, that all sounds fine. But if you think maintaining the filibuster not only makes governing very hard but empowers deal-cutting oligarchs producing logrolling abominations, then maybe you are less happy with the Senate as a Gangster’s Paradise.

In any event, if Republicans are determined to keep the limited majority-vote rules in place, and particularly if they are interested in expanding them, they ought to be able to–ironically, given Graham’s rationalization for keeping the Good Old Rules–“go across the aisle and pick up a few votes” from progressive Democrats committed to eroding the filibuster by any means necessary.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans, Senate | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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