In a recent Pew Poll, 80 percent of respondents said the president and Republican leaders were not working together to address important issues — and, by a two-to-one margin, said the G.O.P. was more to blame for gridlock.
Despite their minority status in the Senate, the people on the right side of the aisle have managed to muck up the works. Their obstructionist repertoire is so extensive that you almost need a field guide to their delaying techniques.
Here’s a start on that guide.
Filibuster Abuse: The practice of halting Senate deliberation is an old one, practiced by both parties, but the current Republican caucus has taken it to new heights. They have filibustered an unprecedented number of President Obama’s nominees. The District Court for Washington, D.C., perhaps the most important appeals court in the land, has four of its 11 seats vacant. The last time the Senate confirmed a judge was in 2006. The Republicans have filibustered all of Mr. Obama’s nominees because Republicans simply don’t want him to appoint any judges to a currently conservative court, which rules on appeals involving federal regulatory agencies, and which has exclusive jurisdiction over national security matters.
Boycotting: Also known as taking your marbles and going home, the most recent example came on Thursday, when Republicans refused to attend a meeting of the Environment and Public Works Committee, thereby blocking the nomination of Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. They claimed they were not completely satisfied with her answers to the more than 1,000 questions they dumped on her in the confirmation process. In addition to stymying Mr. Obama, holding up her nomination has the great virtue of hamstringing the E.P.A., which the right thinks shouldn’t exist in the first place. And that leads us to the next G.O.P. tactic:
Denial of services: Some government agencies require a certain number of members, or a permanent chief, to operate. If the Republicans don’t like those agencies, they simply make sure those positions never get filled. For instance, the National Labor Relations Board, which Republicans loathe because it protects workers, requires a quorum to take action. So the Republicans refused to confirm Mr. Obama’s nominees. Then they held fake pro-forma sessions during their vacations to try to prevent him from making recess appointments. He did that anyway and the Republican-packed D.C. appeals court (see above) ruled that the appointments were illegitimate — which could invalidate scores of decisions. The Republicans are playing this same trick with the Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in response to the wildly reckless actions that led to the financial collapse of 2008.
Investigate again and again and again: When Darrell Issa, took over the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform after the G.O.P. won the House majority in 2010, he said he wanted to hold “seven hearings a week times 40 weeks.” His supposed reason was that Mr. Obama is “corrupt.” That’s a frequent Republican talking point, but it’s so obviously ridiculous that I wonder if they actually believe it. In any case, the real reason is that endless “investigative” hearings cause trouble and distract administration officials from their actual jobs. The hearings on Benghazi, for example, have revealed none of the impeachable offenses that Republicans claimed would come to light. They have kept Congress and the administration focused on what happened in Libya eight months ago, which was awful, rather than on what is happening there today, which is awful.
Refuse to negotiate: Republicans in Congress used to complain that the Senate Democrats hadn’t produced a budget in the last four years. But recently the Democrats did just that. So the Republicans abandoned their old talking point and are now refusing to form a conference committee to reconcile the Senate budget with the House budget.
By: Andrew Rosenthal, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times, May 10, 2013
So we’re 10 weeks in, and the GOP’s sequester strategy is coming into sharper focus. If a cut affects Americans residing at the higher end of the socioeconomic ladder, move heaven and earth to make it right. But if it affects folks who may have less means … crickets.
So while everyone knows about the heroic efforts of Republicans to rein in flight delays and restart White House tours, we hear a lot less about those who are losing the assistance they need to send their kids to school, eat a hot meal or just make it until they find their next job.
And one is left to wonder: How did a country like America ever get here? The answer is that it’s all part of the GOP’s long game against government.
It starts with a perverse kind of policy math that says if a government cut creates an inconvenience we should do something about it. But if a cut takes away something that’s critical to your survival today or the life trajectory of your kids, well, you’re out of luck.
And the way the sequester plays out – moving slowly across the land, knocking a handful of people out of Head Start here, reducing unemployment checks there – is the perfect way to effectuate a plan as brutal as the one Republicans conceive. Spreading out the impacts keeps the outcry at manageable levels, and ensures that there is no one critical mass of objectors – until it’s too late.
And in the mean time, the GOP gets what it’s long wanted: The slow withdrawal of government from the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. Government will continue to do many expensive things if the sequester plays out as intended: protect the country; administer justice; subsidize some industries and not others. But it will be out of the “help people go as far as their hard work and talent will take them” business. That just won’t be its role anymore.
We can certainly have a society that operates that way. There’s no rule against it. But what will America look like if the GOP gets it way?
On the one hand the amount of taxes some pay should go down. And those who are fortunate enough to be born into good life circumstances will have less competition to fear from those who are less well off – they simply will have less ways to get into a position to compete. Presumably that means wealth continues to collect at the upper ends of the socioeconomic structure, while more families fall to the bottom.
That’s not how the GOP would describe their approach, of course. But at some point we have to move past hysterical rhetoric about big government and get to the nuts and bolts of the policies they are attempting to effectuate under that banner. Now would be a good time to have that discussion.
It’s not only happening on the federal level. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made headlines by calling on his state’s universities to find a way to provide a college education for $10,000. Now I suppose we could conclude that the governor really is concerned about people who can’t afford a more expensive education, though there’s little in his record to support that notion. More likely, this is his semester sequester. Rather than finding ways for less wealthy students to get the same quality education as their more well heeled counterparts, Perry’s putting the onus on the universities to dumb down their educational offerings for a less wealthy track.
All of this, of course, turns the way most of us think about government entirely on its head. When elected officials run for office, they do so by articulating a philosophy about how to address the problems we face – as a community, town, city or country. We vote for them when we conclude their prescriptions fit with the way we would like to see the problems we care about approached. Over the history of this country, that process – electing people who’s views align with our own – has resulted in the construction of a state that is more muscular in some areas, less so in others.
Another way of saying: Head Start didn’t just emerge like some kind of algae bloom on the national treasury. We, citizens, saw a problem, that disadvantaged kids weren’t getting a very good education. We asked our representatives to do something about it. Head Start was one of the solutions they came up with. If public polling is any indication, we like it. And if research is any guide, it works.
But the sequester means Republicans don’t have to debate the merits of Head Start. Instead, they keep the debate squarely in the frame that suits them best: that government is too big, it doesn’t work, we can slash away and no one will be the worse for it. But of course they will.
So where does this all end up? My guess is programs that people rely on sustain deep cuts, which becomes an argument to cut them even more: Look! Their performance is inexplicably worsening! And in some cases we get back to a place approximating where we were when the programs were first initiated. Over time, news reports and research bubbles up showing the deplorable circumstances under which some folks live, go to school, etc. Stirred by our conscience and the better angels of our nature we decide something has to be done. And we turn to government. Because that’s what its there for.
And at that moment, a cycle of absurd sequester stupidity will have finally run its course.
By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, May 2, 2013
Today we learn that New York Times Magazine reporter Mark Leibovich has penned a book called This Town: The Way It Works in Suck Up City, exposing all the awfulness of our nation’s capital. As Politico reports, “Two people familiar with the book said it opens with a long, biting take on [Tim] Russert’s 2008 funeral, where Washington’s self-obsession—and lack of self-awareness—was on full display. The book argues that all of Washington’s worst virtues were exposed, with over-the-top coverage of his death, jockeying for good seats at a funeral and Washington insiders transacting business at the event.” Sounds about right.
In the past, I’ve offered Washington some gentle ribbing, employing colorful phrases like “moral sewer” and “festering cauldron of corruption.” In truth, D.C. is a complicated place, and like any city it has its virtues and flaws. But you don’t find many other cities where the inhabitants regularly write about how despicable the place is. Obviously, there’s “Washington,” an actual city where people live and work, and “Washington,” a rhetorical construct that embodies the things people don’t like about government and politics. But is Washington worse than anyplace else? It’s a tough call, but here are some reasons I think D.C. comes in for more of this kind of criticism:
Washington is small.
Part of the reason D.C. has no representation in Congress is that when it was established, it was thought that while the work of government would be carried out in the District, no one would live here. That may not be true anymore, but it’s still extremely small for the capital of the most important country on Earth, and that increases the extent to which it is defined by politics. There are other cities, like Los Angeles or Detroit, where one industry dominates. But with a little more than 600,000 people, Washington ranks No. 25 in population among U.S. cities, behind places like El Paso, Memphis, and Fort Worth. So even if the entertainment industry dominates L.A., there are still a few million people there whose work isn’t directly connected to it. Because D.C. is so small, it’s more dominated by its dominant industry than anywhere else.
What Washington does affects everyone, and not always in a good way.
To get back to the Los Angeles comparison, even if you think, say, the offerings on the Disney Channel are part of a plot to turn our nation’s tweens into a bunch of morons (I’m convinced this is true, I just don’t know who’s behind it or what they hope to achieve), its dominant industry probably produces things you love, too. Detroit may be a mess, but they make cars there, and you’ve probably had a car you loved. Despite the fact that Washington has produced some terrific things like Medicare and the Clean Air Act, it’s also the fount of a steady stream of misbegotten policies and political nastiness. And D.C.’s most horrible people can have an impact on all of our lives. There are no doubt people just as vile in other places, but it’s easy to just laugh at some Wall Street jerkwad or a despicable Hollywood agent. That disgusting congressman, on the other hand, is making the laws we all live under.
Washington gets more scrutiny.
The fact that politics gets the deserved attention it does means that ordinary people hear a lot not only about the consequences of policy but the ugly process of making it. The production of a movie may involve just as much pettiness, squabbling, and backstabbing as the passing of a law, but it doesn’t get as much attention, because there’s a smaller and more specialized press that covers it, compared to the armies of journalists that swarm Capitol Hill and the White House. That means that most of the ugliness is on full display.
Nowhere else do more people fail upward.
The fact that connections matter more than merit in getting ahead is true to some degree everywhere, but not to an identical extent, and nowhere is it more true than in Washington. Anyone who has worked here has encountered multiple incompetent fools who nevertheless managed to keep getting jobs with more and more authority, where they do an incredibly crappy job, only to be hired for another job at an even higher level, where their lack of talent will be even more apparent. That’s because more than anywhere else, jobs, consulting contracts, and the like are distributed based on who you know. Again, this is true everywhere, but in Washington, connections seem to trump talent every time. That doesn’t mean Washington isn’t brimming with extraordinarily talented people, because it is. But based on my unscientific survey, it has more hacks enjoying undeserved career advancement than anywhere else.
Washington has more short-timers.
OK, I’m not sure this is true, and I don’t know if anyone has the data to establish it. But it does seem that a huge number of people come to Washington, spend a few years working in the politics industry, and then leave to go somewhere else. There are people who love it here, but in my experience, there are few who love it here so much that they can’t imagine living anywhere else, unless it’s because they want to keep working in politics. In contrast, you’ll find lots and lots of people in places like New York or L.A. or San Francisco or Chicago who think it’s the best place in the world and don’t ever want to leave, no matter what they do for a living. That transient population keeps D.C.’s character defined by politics, which is the part that never changes.
That’s my list; you could probably come up with some other things. So is Washington worse than anyplace else? Does it really have a higher concentration of dreadful people doing dreadful things? I can’t say for sure. But maybe.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 27, 2013
Have American liberals moved too far to the left? That’s long been the contention of conservatives contemplating liberal positions on a host of social issues, such as gay marriage and the legalization of undocumented immigrants. But opinion polls on these issues show that yesterday’s far-out liberal positions are quickly becoming today’s conventional wisdom.
A more nuanced conservative critique focuses on liberals’ support for a greater government role in the economy. To be sure, New York Times columnist David Brooks argued in a recent column, liberals have traditionally urged government to take up the slack in economic activity during recessions, but now, as the budget proposal of the Congressional Progressive Caucus shows, liberals believe that “government is the source of growth, job creation and prosperity” even when the economy has righted itself. The progressives’ budget, Brooks complains, proposes spending $450 billion on public works and sending $179 billion to the states so they, too, can provide more services and pave more roads. All this and more would be financed by increases in progressive taxation — draining the private sector of the capital it needs to grow, hire and produce prosperity.
Not surprisingly, liberal economists have jumped on Brooks’s arguments. Lawrence Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute argues that the economy is still performing so under par — $985 billion below its potential output if all our factories were going full tilt — that it needs a major boost from government-financed economic activity to increase production, employment and consumption. Coincidentally, the day after Brooks’s column was published, Gallup released a poll showing that 72 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, would support a major federally financed infrastructure repair program and a federal program creating 1 million jobs. Nearly 80 years after Franklin Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration, it seems the American people would like the government to re-create it.
But there’s a bigger problem with the conservative contention that government stands athwart the private sector’s capacity to create jobs and prosperity: It fails to acknowledge that the private sector no longer creates jobs and prosperity like it used to, completely apart from whatever effects governmental policy may have on job creation. Entirely on their own and well before Obamacare was a gleam in anyone’s eye, employers began cutting back or altogether dropping health coverage and retirement benefits for employees. Nor have government regulations compelled employers to increase the share of company revenue going to profits (which is at its highest level in decades) and reduce the share going to wages (which is at its lowest level in decades).
The U.S. corporations that make up the Standard & Poor’s index of the 500 largest publicly traded companies get almost half their revenue from sales abroad, according to a 2011 S&P analysis, and, despite all the hoopla about bringing manufacturing back to the States, much of their production is going to remain abroad. The rise of machines has, we all know, taken its toll on employment too. U.S. corporations are sitting on $1.7 trillion in cash, with share values and profits that render most of these businesses’ leaders happy campers. Even if the U.S. economy continues to fall far short of full employment, and even if the rate of workforce participation continues to decline, these businesses can still sell their products all over the world. Unlike in the 1930s, the shortfall in domestic consumption does not present them with a crisis but with perhaps nothing worse than a missed opportunity.
In short, the economy is working for our economic elites. The massive changes they would have to make to investment strategies and the division of corporate revenue so that the economy worked for the majority of the American people are nowhere on the horizon. The great growth machine that once was the U.S. private sector ain’t what it used to be — which is one reason each recession since 1990 has been longer, deeper and more intractable than the last. That’s the new economic reality in this country, and that’s what the budget of the Congressional Progressive Caucus responds to. It’s not that liberals have been prompted to move leftward through the readings of ancient socialist gospels or by smoking some stash left over from the ’60s. It’s that the economy has reached a dismal stability far short of its full employment potential or renewing the promise of widespread prosperity, and government investment is required to make up the difference. If anyone is smoking something, it is conservatives who foresee a rebirth of prosperity if only the private sector is left alone.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 21, 2013
Although everyone from President Barack Obama to House Speaker John Boehner has lamented the negative impact of the $85 billion budget sequestration, at least two major Washington figures are thrilled about the severe cuts. For Charles and David Koch, the sequester accomplishes the goal that motivated the billionaire brothers to help launch the Tea Party movement in 2010: weakening the federal government. And now that the cuts have begun to take effect, the Koch brothers are reveling in their success.
Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing dark money group founded by the Koch brothers in 2004, sent out an email to supporters over the weekend claiming credit for sequestration. The email, from AFP President Tim Phillips, claims, “While Speaker Boehner and the GOP deserve credit and thanks for taking a gutsy stand, it’s important to realize what an incredible impact AFP activists like you” have had in convincing Congress to slash the federal budget across the board.
“These combined efforts helped spread a message across the country that enabled House Republicans to take heart and do the right thing knowing that conservatives had their back,” Phillips continues. His full letter, which also brags that USA Today “recognized the effectiveness of AFP activists and gave us the opportunity to articulate the importance of sequester cuts,” can be read here.
The Koch brothers are also taking to the airwaves to keep up the pressure for even more cuts. Public Notice, to which Charles and David Koch donated $8 million between 2009 and 2011, released a new ad Tuesday minimizing the impact of the sequester — and encouraging the government to make even deeper cuts.
“President Obama calls sequestration a ‘meat cleaver’ that will ‘eviscerate’ government services,” the ad’s narrator ominously charges. “What is sequestration? A three-percent cut in government spending. Three cents out of every dollar the government spends. We’re more than $16 trillion in debt, and the government wastes billions each year on duplicate programs.”
“Americans have made tough choices and cut back. Washington refuses,” the ad concludes. “Call Washington and ask them why it’s so hard to cut spending.”
The ad — which ignores the fact that government spending under President Barack Obama has grown at a slower rate than it did under any president since Dwight Eisenhower was president in the 1950s — will reportedly run until March 15.
Charles and David Koch’s enthusiasm for the sequester isn’t hard to understand. Although the cuts will have a devastating effect on society’s most vulnerable, they will likely boost Koch Industries’ bottom line. The budget sequester is expected to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory efforts, and Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has warned that “under sequestration, funding reductions would decelerate the nation’s transition into a clean energy economy.” Both outcomes would seem to be very good news for the oil billionaires.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, March 5, 2013