With budgetary tantrums in the Senate and investigative play-acting in the House, the Republican Party is proving once again that it simply cannot be taken seriously.
This is a shame. I don’t share the GOP’s philosophy, but I do believe that competition makes both of our major parties smarter. I also believe that a big, complicated country facing economic and geopolitical challenges needs a government able to govern.
What we don’t need is the steady diet of obstruction, diversion and gamesmanship that Republicans are trying to ram down the nation’s throat. It’s not as if President Obama and the Democrats are doing everything right. It’s just that the GOP shrinks from doing anything meaningful at all.
The most glaring example, at the moment, is in the Senate. For four years, Republican senators lambasted their Democratic colleagues — with justification — for not approving a budget, one of the basic tasks of governance. Sen. John Cornyn(R-Tex.), and others regularly took to the Senate floor to announce the number of days since the body last produced a spending plan and to blast Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for this shocking failure.
Two months ago, Reid and the Democrats finally passed a budget. Since the House has already passed its version — the controversial plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — the next step should be for both chambers to appoint members of a conference committee that would iron out the differences. But Republicans won’t let this happen.
Specifically, far-right conservatives including Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky are refusing to allow the Senate to appoint its representatives to the conference. Yes, having demanded this budget for four years, Republicans are now refusing to let it go forward.
Some Republicans, that is. Establishment types such as John McCain of Arizona are apoplectic at the antics of their tea party-inspired colleagues, which McCain called “absolutely out of line and unprecedented.”
Cruz and the others are worried that a conference committee might not only work out a budget but also make it possible to raise the federal debt ceiling without the now-customary showdown threatening default and catastrophe. They believe that brinkmanship is the only way to stop runaway government spending, which produces massive trillion-dollar deficits, which add to the ballooning national debt, which . . .
Hold on, senator. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the deficit is shrinking rapidly and will fall to $642 billion this fiscal year. That’s still substantial, but it’s less than half the deficit our government ran in 2011. More important, if annual deficits continue to decline as the CBO predicts, the long-term debt problem begins to look more manageable. That’s good news, right?
What Republicans ought to do is declare a victory for fiscal conservatism and move on to the battle to have their priorities reflected in the budget — a promising fight, since the conferees appointed by the GOP-controlled House are hardly going to be flaming liberals. Instead, the party seeks not consensus but crisis.
This is no way for a 2-year-old to act, much less the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest deliberative body.”
And speaking of juvenile behavior, I would be remiss not to mention how Rep. Darrell Issa of California and his GOP colleagues in the House are embarrassing themselves by straining to turn Obama administration missteps into Watergate-style scandals.
The deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, resulted from a security lapse of the kind that every recent administration, unfortunately, has suffered. Since future administrations will have lapses as well, congressional oversight could be useful in at least making sure the specific mistakes of Benghazi are not repeated. But instead, House Republicans summon the television cameras and ask round after round of tendentious questions — without paying the slightest attention to the answers.
Similarly, on the question of how and why the IRS gave added scrutiny to conservative “social welfare” groups seeking nonprofit status, House inquisitors seem barely interested in what actually happened. “What did the president know and when did he know it?” was an appropriate question. But the follow-up — “Harrumph, well then, why didn’t he know sooner?” — isn’t much in the way of scandal material.
And concerning the Justice Department’s overzealous crusade to thwart classified leaks — and investigative reporting — it is amusing to watch House Republicans twist themselves into champions of the hated Lamestream Media. Who knew?
None of this is boosting the GOP’s poll numbers. I’ve got an idea: Why don’t they try doing the people’s business for a change?
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 30, 2013
One bonus for Republicans in the trifecta of pseudo-scandals ensnaring the Obama White House this month is that it distracted the party from its looming civil war. It’s even possible that the Senate immigration reform got as far as it did partly because wingnut radio talkers and Tea Party xenophobes were consumed by their hatred of Obama, and paying less attention to GOP immigration sellouts.
But with the easing of scandal fever on the Potomac, Republicans are back to fighting one another, and the week-long Senate clash between freshman Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John McCain over the budget is exposing the yawning gulf within the party once again.
Now that the GOP-dominated House and Democratic-led Senate have passed very different budgets, McCain has tried to argue for the formation of a conference committee that would try to reconcile the two. That might be a thankless, impossible task nowadays, but it’s nonetheless the way Congress has always worked. Democrats agree with McCain, and so do most Republicans.
But Cruz was having none of it, because he insisted sneaky Democrats might use the committee to raise the debt ceiling. He got support from Tea Party allies Mike Lee and Rand Paul, as well as Marco Rubio (trying to claw back the Tea Party credibility he lost by working on immigration reform). McCain reminded Cruz and his friends that their party controls the House. “So we don’t trust the majority party on the other side of the [Capitol] to come to conference and not hold to the fiscal discipline that we want to see happen? Isn’t that a little bit bizarre?”
Here’s where Cruz set himself apart, one man against a corrupt world. He responded to McCain on the Senate floor the next day: “The senior senator from Arizona urged this body to trust the Republicans … Let me be clear, I don’t trust the Republicans. I don’t trust the Democrats and I think a whole lot of Americans likewise don’t trust the Republicans or the Democrats because it is leadership in both parties that has got us into this mess.”
That made the senior senator from Arizona apoplectic. He accused Cruz and friends of trying to “paralyze the process.” He singled out Utah’s Mike Lee, who is not as bright a light as Cruz, for his ignorance of the way Congress works. Lee made the conference committee sound like a political brothel facilitating “backroom deals.” McCain shot back: “How do we reconcile legislation that’s been passed by one body and the other body? That’s what we’ve been doing for a couple hundred years. Perhaps the senator from Utah doesn’t know about that.”
Poor John McCain. He gave the world Sarah Palin, and Palin helped give us Cruz, Lee, Paul and Rubio. Still, Ted Cruz’s self-righteous grandeur puts him in a class by himself. He oozed condescension, openly mocking McCain, declaring that Senate Republicans would side with him on the budget impasse. “I will suggest to my friend from Arizona, there may be more wacko birds in the Senate than is suspected,” a reference to McCain calling Cruz, Paul and Justin Amash “wacko birds” earlier this year.
What’s clear is that we’ve reached a new state of warfare in the normally collegial Senate, where increasingly, a minority faction of the minority party has the power to grind everything to a halt. McCain blasted that point of view Thursday: “It’s not the regular order for a number of senators — a small number, a minority within a minority here — to say they will not agree to go to conference. We’re here to vote, not here to block things,” he said.
That’s clearly Cruz’s plan. Watching the supercilious Cruz mock the sputtering McCain, I was struck by how much he enjoyed preening for the cameras. All senators do, but Cruz stands out, with his proud contempt for Republicans along with Democrats. As he dreams of the White House, with barely five months in the Senate under his belt, look for him to play a leading role in the next debt ceiling battle.
In other news: Michelle Malkin and friends are calling me a racist for referring to Cruz as a “skeezy huckster” on Twitter yesterday as I watched him insult McCain. I admit it wasn’t my most elegant turn of phrase, but I wasn’t aware that “skeezy” or “huckster” were slurs associated with Hispanics/Latinos. Maybe that’s because I don’t travel in the same circles as Malkin. Can you say “projection”?
Still, they weren’t the most artful choice of words. If I had it to do over again, I would call Cruz a “supercilious con man.”
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 24, 2013
“On Orders From God And The Founding Fathers”: What Ted Cruz Means When He Says He Mistrusts Both Parties
Okay, class, here’s what should be an easy assignment:
What does it mean when Sen. Ted Cruz says the following on budget negotiations (per TPM’s Sahil Kapur)?
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday defended his objection to initiating House-Senate budget negotiations unless Democrats take a debt limit increase off the table, saying he doesn’t trust his party to hold the line.
“The senior senator from Arizona urged this body to trust the Republicans. Let me be clear, I don’t trust the Republicans,” Cruz said. “And I don’t trust the Democrats.”
On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) scolded Republicans for blocking negotiations. He was backed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
“Unfortunately,” Cruz said, “one of the reasons we got into this mess is because a lot of Republicans were complicit in this spending spree and that’s why so many Americans are disgusted with both sides of this house. … And every Republican who stands against holding the line here is really saying, let’s give the Democrats a blank check to borrow any money they want with no reforms, no leadership to fix the problem.”
Does it mean, as political reporters often blandly repeat, that “Tea Party” pols like Cruz are hardy independents who care about principle rather than about the GOP, and represent a constituency that is up in the air?
No, and I might add: Hell no! Cruz specifically and Tea Party members generally, for all their independent posturing, are the most rigid of partisans, and are about as likely to vote with or for Democrats as a three-toed sloth is likely to win a Gold Medal in the 100-meter dash. Yes, they often threaten to form a Third Party, but never do (why should they when their power in one of the two major parties is overwhelming and still growing?), and even more often threaten to “stay home” during elections, but in fact tend to vote more than just about any other sizable bloc of Americans.
So what’s with their inveterate Republican-bashing, if they usually vote and almost always vote Republican?
There are two interconnected explanations. The first is that they want to make it clear that for them the GOP is not a tradition, or a roughly coherent set of attitudes, or a mechanism for civic participation and ultimately the shaping of public policies through democratic competition and cooperation: it’s a vehicle for the advancement of a fixed and eternal set of policies, mostly revolving around absolute property rights and pre-late-twentieth century cultural arrangements. Those who view the GOP as anything other or less than this sort of vehicle are deemed RINOs or “establishment Republicans,” and presumed to be in charge of the party, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
So when Tea Party champions or “true conservatives” or “constitutional conservatives” (three terms for the same people) say they’re not willing to sacrifice their principles to win elections, do they really mean it, and is that the difference between them and those “establishment Republicans” like John McCain that they are always attacking? No, not really. They want to win elections, too, but only in order to impose a governing order that they believe should be immune to any future election, immune from contrary popular majorities generally, and immune to any other of those “changing circumstances” that gutless RINOs always cite in the process of selling out “the base.” And that’s why they are willing to use anti-majoritarian tactics when they are in the minority, and anti-minority tactics when they are in the majority: the only thing that matters is bringing back the only legitimately conservative, the only legitimately American policies and enshrining them as powerfully as is possible.
So from that perspective, sure, they’re conservatives first and Republicans second. But this isn’t a “revolt” against the GOP, but a takeover bid, executed through primaries (e.g., Ted Cruz’s victory over “establishment Republican” David Dewhurst) and the power of money and ultimately sheer intimidation. Ted Cruz won’t “trust Republicans” until they’re all taking orders from people like him, who are in turn simply taking orders from God Almighty and the Founding Fathers.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 22, 2013
“The Media Has Cast Its Traditional Role Aside”: Washington Circus Steals The Spotlight From Where It Belongs
Can President Barack Obama put out the brush fires that are sucking the air out of his second-term agenda? Can he stop the spread of mini-scandals that are consuming Washington?
No, he cannot. The president could (unconstitutionally) shutter every Internal Revenue Service office and fire every staffer, from top-ranking executives to lowly administrative aides, and it would hardly matter. Republicans would simply change the terms of the debate and impeach him for destroying the 16th Amendment.
Official Washington is now all spectacle, all circus, all manufactured outrage abetted by a press corps addicted to controversy. Actual policies are slighted while political posturing takes the stage; simmering problems are ignored while canned contretemps and stale theater consume all the attention. That has been true for years now, but it just keeps getting worse.
There are serious failings at the heart of each of the sideshows currently consuming officialdom. The most egregious concerns the IRS, where bureaucrats singled out conservative groups for a vetting that veered into political harassment. That not only violates deep-rooted ideals of fairness and justice, but it also contravenes federal law. It raises the specter of the sort of political harassment carried out by Richard Nixon, who wielded the IRS as a bludgeon against his political adversaries, and by J. Edgar Hoover, who ordered tax audits of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
While IRS-gate reflects poorly on Obama’s leadership, there is not a scintilla of evidence that he had anything to do with it. Further, the president has responded with aplomb: He has forced the resignation of the acting head of the agency as the FBI launches a criminal investigation. (That’s about all the administration can do since federal rules insulate IRS bureaucrats from elected officials, all in an effort to prevent scandals such as those mentioned above.)
If Republicans doubt the president’s ability to impartially oversee an investigation of his own administration, they might appoint a special prosecutor. Instead, they have promised more hearings on Capitol Hill — more partisan spectacle, more canned outrage, more useless theater.
Though the national press corps sticks to its unwritten rule of blaming Democrats and Republicans equally for the mess our national politics have become, the facts show that responsibility cannot be equally apportioned. Democrats don’t eschew partisan mudslinging, but they are not very good at it. The GOP, by contrast, has raised it to an art form.
Take a look at the last two presidential administrations. Though Bill Clinton reigned over an era of peace, prosperity and a balanced budget, the GOP impeached him on charges that grew out of an adulterous affair. George W. Bush took the country to war on the wings of a lie, tortured detainees and wrecked the budget. Democrats pointed fingers and conducted investigations, but they did not impeach him.
The news media, meanwhile, breathlessly report every email, every accusation, every pointed finger. They parse political winners and losers. Will the Benghazi hearings damage Hillary Clinton’s chances for the presidency in 2016? Will the IRS controversy hurt immigration reform? Will the controversies heal Republicans’ internal divisions?
As much as it troubles me to say so, Washington journalists have cast aside their traditional roles as trumpets of a substantive truth. They rarely uncover genuine abuses of power, cast a skeptical eye on untoward developments (such as the warmongering that led to the invasion of Iraq) or even explain the nuances of policy. Heck, they barely bother to inform the public when yesterday’s huge scandal becomes suddenly less, well, scandalous.
Take the budget deficits. Wasn’t it just two months ago that Republicans were insisting that the Obama administration was sending the entire nation to the poorhouse? What happened to those deficits?
As it turns out, they are shrinking, just as many mainstream economists had predicted. As the economy recovers, the federal government pays out less in assistance and takes in more in taxes.
You haven’t heard a lot of chatter about that or about the people hurt by the continuing cuts that were supposedly made necessary by that looming deficit. Many struggling Americans are finding their childcare options limited, their community clinics closed, their assistance for housing and meals shrinking — with little notice from official Washington. That’s the real scandal.
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, May 18, 2013
Is it any wonder that Americans dislike Congress so much? It shouldn’t be a surprise because our representatives in Washington ignore public opinion. Gun control is the perfect example. A clear majority of people favors a ban on assault weapons (57 percent favor and 41 percent oppose, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll). But members of Congress can’t even agree on universal background checks which just about every living and breathing American favors. (91 percent according to ABC News/Washington Post.)
On economic issues, Washington is completely out of sync with public opinion. Seven in ten (or more precisely 71 percent, according to Gallup) Americans favor raising the minimum wage to $9.00 per hour but Republicans won’t even let the increase come to a vote on the House floor. House Republicans won’t even consider raising taxes on rich people even though a majority of Americans favor an increase in the capital gains tax to reduce the deficit (that would be 52 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed, according to survey conducted for CBS News). On the other hand, only one in six (18 percent, again according to CBS News) Americans want to cut Medicare but the president and Congress want to cut the spending for a program which is the only thing that keeps millions of seniors financially afloat.
The debate over the federal budget is just another example of congressional indifference to public opinion. For years, the debate over the federal budget has mainly been about the federal budget deficit to the exclusion of any meaningful discussion about job creation. When President Obama formally introduces his budget for the 2014 fiscal year on Wednesday, it will be business as usual. We’ll have a lot of talk about deficits but little debate about jobs.
Everyone in Washington talks about the deficit but Americans outside our nation’s capital worry about jobs. Not that anyone in Washington cares but the public disagrees with the tone of the budget discussion in D.C. A new Marist College poll shows that Americans want Congress to focus on creating jobs (62 percent of them anyway) more than they want deficit reduction (only 35 percent want that). If that doesn’t work for you, the national Election Day exit poll showed that a lot more voters were worried about jobs (59 percent) than they were the deficit (15 percent).
A focus on jobs instead of the deficit is good politics for Democrats but also good policy. Government programs create jobs and put money into the pockets of middle class families. People with jobs pay taxes and buy things, which in turn creates more jobs, and higher tax revenues. The title of Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “Path to Prosperity” should be the “Path to Austerity” which in turn is the path to poverty. The economy had been creating a lot of jobs for the last few months until the sequester kicked in last month. But spending cuts sucked money out of the economy and the wind out of job growth.
Congress has gone rogue and working families are paying the price.
In his new book, “Who Stole the American Dream?” Hedrick Smith writes that the big business lobby has become so powerful in Washington that it can get Congress to do its bidding. Unions used to counteract the corporate lobby but pro business policies at the state and federal level have weakened labor. In 2010, businesses shelled out $972 million in soft money contributions to party committees compared to $10 million for labor. Business PACs contributed $333 million to only $69 million for labor committees.
Members of Congress can safely ignore public opinion because most of them represent districts where there is little or no competition. And if a member does have a tough race, he or she can always count on big business political action committees to bail them out with large campaign contributions or independent expenditure efforts.
That’s why we are cutting funding for education and moving to limit spending on Social Security and Medicare while Republicans hold spending on oil company companies ($4 billion a year) and tax breaks on corporate jets ($3 billion annually) sacrosanct.
Education is a lot more important to America’s economic future than subsidizing oil barons and corporate jet setters but you would never know it if you follow the economic debate in Washington. The sequester means that 70,000 fewer kids will be able to enter Head Start this fall. That’s 70,000 children who won’t get a much-needed head start in the new world of cutthroat global economic competition.
Let’s talk about basic American values like opportunity and democracy. America should be the land of opportunity but it is getting harder for Americans who grow up in low-income households to reach the middle class than it has ever been before. America should be the bastion of democracy but Congress no longer considers the views of the public it should represent.
By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, April 8, 2013