Josh Marshall made an interesting point in passing yesterday, asking whether conservative Republicans could achieve massive spending cuts through “old-fashioned majority votes.” Josh answered his own question: “Of course not.” The cuts on the table were only made possible by Republicans “threatening the health” of the United States.
I think this arguably one of the more important realizations to take away from the current political landscape. Republicans aren’t just radicalized, aren’t just pursuing an extreme agenda, and aren’t just allergic to compromise. The congressional GOP is also changing the very nature of governing in ways with no modern precedent.
Welcome to the normalization of extortion politics.
Consider, for example, the Republican decision to reject any and all nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, regardless of merit, unless and until Democrats accepted changes to the agency’s structure. Traditionally, if the GOP wanted to alter the powers of the CFPB, it would write legislation, send it to committee, bring it to the floor, send it to the other chamber, etc. But that takes time and effort, and in a divided government, this “old fashioned” approach to policymaking probably wouldn’t produce the desired result.
Instead, we see the latest in a series of extortion strategies: Republicans will force Democrats to accept changes to the agency, or Republicans won’t allow the agency to function. Jonathan Cohn wrote a good piece on this a couple of weeks ago, noting the frequency with which this strategy is utilized.
Republican threats to block nominees to the consumer board are at peace with their opposition to Don Berwick, Obama’s first choice to run the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services; to Peter Diamond, whom Obama tapped to sit on the Federal Reserve Board; and most recently to John Bryson, Obama’s nominee to take over the Commerce Department. It’s nothing short of a power grab by the Republican Party — an effort to achieve, through the confirmation process, what they could not achieve through legislation. And it seems unprecedented, at least in modern times.
Republicans effectively tell the administration, over and over again, that the normal system of American governance can continue … just as soon as Democrats agree to policy changes the GOP can’t otherwise pass.
The traditional American model would tell Republicans to win an election. If that doesn’t work, Republicans should work with rivals to pass legislation that moves them closer to their goal. In 2011, the GOP has decided these old-school norms are of no value. Why bother with them when Republicans can force through policy changes by way of a series of hostage strategies? Why should the legislative branch use its powers through legislative action when extortion is more effective?
It’s offensive when it comes to nominees like CFPB nominee Richard Cordray, but using the full faith and credit of the United States to force through desired policy changes takes this dynamic to a very different level. And since it’s working, this will be repeated and establishes a new precedent.
Indeed, it’s a reminder that of all the qualities Republicans lack — wisdom, humility, shame, integrity — it’s their nonexistent appreciation for limits that’s arguably the scariest.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, July 31, 2011
It sure is funny that, at basically the same time, state legislatures across the country began passing a slew of similar measures attacking collective bargaining, undocumented immigration and abortion, right? Just a weird coincidence, I’m sure, this sudden nationwide war on public employee unions and immigrants and women.
Hah, I am just kidding. We all know it’s because of lobbyists and the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is sort of a Match.com for state lawmakers and the nation’s worst industry lobbies. The Center for Media and Democracy’s ALEC Exposed project has a handy list of the hundreds of bills ALEC pushes in every state in the union, on subjects ranging from school vouchers to gutting environmental regulations to opposition to the National Popular Vote Compact. (Yeah, that one I don’t even get.)
Here’s how the ALEC process works: GOP state legislators go to fancy conferences where they sit down with lobbyists and right-wing activists and draft right-wing legislation together. They return home and introduce it without mentioning the source. The lobbies then throw some cash at the legislators working to advance their agenda. Then, these days, the bill passes, and everyone else gets around to getting outraged about it, long after their outrage would do much good. Repeat.
This is how incredibly similar anti-immigration bills end up passing, independently, in Arizona and Tennessee. This is how bills against public employee collective bargaining end up passing in Wisconsin and Indiana. This is the process behind state resolutions banning the establishment of “Obamacare.” Our biggest national wars are being fought, and largely won, in the statehouses, with liberal activists not even joining the fight until after they’ve lost it.
Liberals aren’t this good at local politics. Unions and low-income organizations like ACORN used to take care of lobbying and politicking at the state and community level, but, oh, look what’s happened to them. Defunded!
It took a while for Democrats to figure out that they should have their own Heritage Foundation, and so far, they seem to be taking just as long to decide to create their own ALEC. (Of course the Democratic ALEC will probably also push “school reform” and pro-telecom bills and whatever else rich Democratic donors want.)
As a result of that late adoption, the famous laboratories of democracy are now often the places where massive, monied interests — along with their odd allies in the religious right — can implement their political agendas piece by piece, instead of trying to get their dream bills through the U.S. Congress, where all the cameras and journalists are. The sudden death of the small- and midmarket newspaper certainly helps. Your average local TV news doesn’t really do sophisticated policy analysis.
The closest thing liberals even have to a state to experiment with is … California, with its property-tax cap and public rejections of gay marriage and marijuana legalization. (Right-wingers know better than to trust legislating to the popular ballot, even though they’re quite good at organizing and spending huge sums of money to win ballot measures.)
Oh, the record number of bills restricting access to abortion services nationwide? That one might just be the natural Republican enthusiasm for controlling women’s bodies. I mean, the right-to-life groups obviously jumped into action when the GOP came into power and lobbied for all of the 162 new restrictions on reproductive rights enacted since the start of the year, but I’m not sure any specific business lobby benefits from it.
By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 14, 2011
I confess that I have often picked on, made fun of, and generally disparaged Speaker of the House John Boehner only to now find myself feeling a measure of remorse for having done so.
It turns out that Speaker Boehner may be the only semi-reasonable man left in the Republican Party.
Yes, I know that Boehner has himself to blame for the role he played in opening the doors of Congress to the unyielding and unreasonable Members swept into office by the Tea Party rebellion in 2010. Yes, Boehner has spent far too many years cozying up to Wall Street and protecting the interests of big business at the expense of the middle class.
And just in case you’re wondering, I have not forgotten that John Boehner has long been quick to condemn the White House for the jobs crisis while doing absolutely nothing to assist in creating policy that would help solve the problem. Boehner has been a continuing impediment to growing American jobs by working with Obama on infrastructure legislation or any other valuable stimulus that could make a big difference for the many who are suffering from extended unemployment.
Still, you have to admit that it sucks to be John Boehner.
Imagine if you had to make decisions regarding the successful operation of your own home and your three year old, five year old and two year old each had a full vote in the decisions that are ultimately taken.
Say it’s time to buy the new family car. The two eldest of the three kids decide that the only sensible vehicle to purchase would be an ice cream truck filled to the top with Good Humor ice cream bars and, as an added option, comes with the happy song that streams from the scratchy PA system perched on the roof.
From the point of view of children of such an age, this choice makes total sense.
Yet, when the grown-ups must point out that such a purchase would neither be practical nor in the best interest of the family and cast their votes for a new, American made family minivan, it is left to the two year old to break the tie.
That can’t be good.
Welcome to John Boehner’s world – a world where he is the leader of a cadre of children who have yet to mature to the point where they warrant election to the post of school hall monitor let alone the halls of Congress.
As David Brooks wrote in his New York Times column earlier this week complaining about the GOP’s inability to just say yes to a good deal on the deficit-
That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.
The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.” Via New York Times
I don’t know about your experience, but what Brooks describes sounds an awful lot like my own kids before they were old enough to reason and make adult decisions.
If these immature Members of Congress were not enough of a problem for an old school deal maker like Boehner, the Speaker has to contend with a scheming GOP Majority Leader in Eric Cantor who waits behind every door with a dagger aimed squarely at his boss’s heart.
I wouldn’t bet against Cantor’s ultimate success in playing Brutus to Boehner’s Caesar as the Speaker remains caught between a Ba-rack and a Tea Party with nowhere to turn to get out of the mess.
Speaker Boehner knows the debt ceiling must be raised and has been willing to publicly say so as recently as this morning. He also knows that Congress must take great care to do nothing to further stifle the struggling economy just as he realizes all too well that he will need Democratic votes to get whatever deal he cuts with the President through the House as he won’t be able to count on his own Members.
This leaves Boehner to walk an impossible line between doing what he believes is necessary for the nation he is charged with governing and those who would ride the country into the ground in order to protect wealthy industries from losing a few unnecessary tax subsidies or, even worse, support keeping the economy mired in quicksand in order to better evict Barack Obama from the White House.
E.J. Dionne summed it up this way –
I’d actually feel bad for Boehner — an old-fashioned sort who’d normally reach for a deal — if he and his party had not shamelessly stoked the Tea Party to win power. The GOP is now reaping the whirlwind, and Boehner may be forced to choose between his country and his job. Via Washington Post
Unlike Dionne, I actually do feel badly for Boehner as he tries to make a deal and still hold onto his job. And I will feel more than badly for the entire nation should we find ourselves with Eric Cantor sitting in the seat of the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Whether you sympathize with the man or, like Dionne, believes he is just getting what’s coming to him, you have to to agree on one thing -
It truly does suck to be John Boehner.
By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, July 8, 2011
Freshman Republican Sen Kelly Ayotte is often asked what surprises her most about serving in the esteemed upper chamber of Congress. The earnest, 43-year-old conservative from New Hampshire has come up with an uncomplicated reply:
“I thought that we would vote on a lot more bills.”
She most recently offered this answer from her Senate office at 3:45 on a Thursday afternoon. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had just announced that the Senate was done voting for the week. Senators wouldn’t be needed until the following Tuesday.
In the lobby outside Ayotte’s office, a television tuned to C-SPAN was showing an empty Senate chamber. In offices up and down the hallway, aides were booking flights home.
So it goes these days on Capitol Hill, a place of many headlines and much drama but not a whole lot of legislating.
The 112th Congress is on pace to be one of the least productive in recent memory — as measured by votes taken, bills made into laws, nominees approved. By most of those metrics, this crowd is underperforming even the “do-nothing Congress” of 1948, as Harry Truman dubbed it. The hot-temper era of Clinton impeachment in the 1990s saw more bills become law.
There is no shortage of explanations for the apparent lack of legislative success. Political observers see hyperpartisanship and perpetual campaigning that makes once-routine steps politically perilous.
Experts cite the rise of a brand of conservatism that aims for a government that governs least. Historians note that it’s not unusual for Congress to take a breather after a period of hyperactivity like the one Washington completed last year.
Lawmakers have a long list of politically tinged reasons: Republicans who control the House blame Democratic leaders in the Senate for refusing to hold votes that might prove problematic for members up for election next year; Democratic leaders in the Senate blame Republicans in both chambers for not working with them on legislation that has a shot of winning a presidential signature.
Perhaps the only group seeing a bright side is the Democratic minority in the House, which supports virtually none of the bills voted on in that chamber but doesn’t have to worry about them ever becoming law.
President Obama called out Congress when he argued last week that members have to “be here” to make progress on its top priority: negotiating a deal on the debt that can pass the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate.
But it’s not necessarily time spent in Washington where this Congress is falling behind. It’s how little it accomplishes when it’s here.
“I put it this way: no harm done yet,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills). “But nothing accomplished yet — with a lot of ominous things that still may happen.”
To be sure, lawmakers are grappling with big issues, such as the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the government’s debt ceiling. Action on that front, however, has been behind closed doors in on-again off-again budget negotiations. Nearly all other major priorities — tax reform or a 2012 budget — have been delayed while lawmakers work on a deal.
And so the legislative trickle has slowed to a drip. From January until the end of May, the last date for which comparable statistics are available, 16 bills had become law — compared with 50 during that period last year, or 28 in 2007, also a time of divided government.
The Senate has taken 84 “yea and nay” votes and the House 112, roughly half the number as in 2007. The Senate by the end of May had confirmed just over half the administration’s nominees; recent congresses typically have been near the end of the list by this point.
The bills that have passed this year largely have been extensions of expiring laws. Also on this year’s list was a must-pass deal to keep the government from shutting down, which essentially was a piece of unfinished business from the previous Congress.
Then there were three laws naming public buildings, a resolution appointing a member of the Smithsonian Institution and one extending the life of the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission.
The inertia might be best observed at the Senate Budget Committee.
When Ayotte was named to the committee after Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) abruptly resigned in April, it was a coveted “get” for a conservative who won office by promising to cut spending. She came out of her first planning meeting with a list of proposals, only to hear Reid say Democrats would not introduce a budget until after the deficit talks.
“I got appointed. I was excited about it. I had one good meeting and then it was done. That’s been my experience on that committee,” Ayotte said. The committee has not met since April 5.
But it’s not just Democrats putting a drag on legislative activity. Republicans on Thursday boycotted a hearing on a series of free trade deals, derailing what was considered a bipartisan effort.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) held his own protest to highlight the Democrats’ missing budget. Although Democrats say a budget plan is coming next week, Johnson used a procedural move to keep Reid from scheduling a vote on a resolution authorizing military involvement in Libya — the rare issue likely to find bipartisan agreement.
The “tea party” freshman, who says he’s used to working in business “where you focus on accomplishing things,” said he realized he was stalling “a very important issue.”
“But the fact of the matter is it simply doesn’t address the fact that we’re bankrupting this nation,” he said.
Much of this has been taken in stride by folks who’ve been around for a while.
“If you’re not comfortable with delay, frustration and impatience, get out of the Senate,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). “It’s the nature of the institution, but I think we’ve taken it to an art form.”
At the other end of the building, the House isn’t exactly breaking records.
The 50 bills it has passed in the first five months of 2011 represent the lowest such number in more than 15 years. Republicans’ anti-Washington rhetoric translated into a schedule intended to keep lawmakers out of Washington. The result has been fewer days in session and fewer votes.
Reid, borrowing the critique usually aimed at him, recently complained that Senate bills — a patent reform measure and reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration — had fallen into the “big black hole” of the House.
In fact, each side is piling bills on the other’s doorstep while they wait for a deal to come out of the debt talks.
That package could prove that legislative activity doesn’t necessarily correspond to substance.
“Obviously, if they reach some kind of deal that results in a sweeping change in the scope of government and the tax rates, they don’t have to do much else to go down as a consequential Congress,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. “Most everywhere else, their influence is puny.”
With an Aug. 2 deadline, it may take much of the summer to find out. After that, both bodies leave for a long summer break and return after Labor Day.
By: Kathleen Hennessey, Staff Writer, Chicago Tribune, July 3, 2011