The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a little fun at the GOP leadership’s expense this week, mocking the Speaker and Majority Leader for their recent globetrotting. As Dems see it, these guys have more pressing matters at hand.
With House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor on separate overseas trips, Democrats are taking shots in their absence.
A new DCCC website — http://www.whereintheoworldisjohnboehner.com — pounces on the GOP leaders for their globetrotting during congressional recess, when Democrats say they ought be at work tax cut plan. Of course, globetrotting during congressional recess is a time-honored, bipartisan tradition, so the dig does lose some of its punch.
The House is scheduled to return next week and is expected to pick up where it left off — fighting over how to pay for a yearlong extension of the payroll tax break.
Boehner has been traveling in Latin America, with stops in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, while Cantor visited the Middle East, by way of Paris. (The image the Dems posted shows Cantor with a photoshopped beret in front of the Eiffel Tower.)
With Fox News and other Republicans raising a fuss last month over President Obama’s trip to Hawaii, I suppose it stands to reason that Dems are going to try to return the favor.
But I had a slightly different question: if the Speaker and Majority Leader are gallivanting around the world, doesn’t that mean Congress is in recess? Indeed, the L.A. Times report defended their travels by saying “globetrotting during congressional recess is a time-honored, bipartisan tradition.”
But I thought Republicans said Congress isn’t in recess?
For that matter, Eric Cantor’s own website told visitors this week that Congress “is not in session.”
It’s probably a tidbit to keep in mind during the debate over recess appointments.
By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Politica Animal, January 14, 2012
President Obama’s bold decision to ignore GOP obstructionism and make recess appointments at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board started off 2012 with a bang, inspiring long-deferred jubilation among liberals and paroxysms of outrage from conservatives. There’s an enormous irony here: After three ridiculous years in which conservatives unfairly and absurdly attacked Obama for impersonating a socialist tyrant, the president is suddenly acting like an actual leader — and now the right is really freaking out.
Here’s the nightmare scenario: What if Obama runs totally wild and uses his executive powers to fix the economy? He might, gasp, win reelection!
Sounds crazy, I know. But that’s exactly the sense of panic that emerges from American Enterprise Institute blogger James Pethokoukis’ excited-to-the-point-of-stark-terror post “January Surprise: Is Obama preparing a trillion-dollar, mass refinancing of mortgages?”
Citing speculation from Jaret Seiberg, an analyst at Guggenheim Securities, Pethokoukis paints a picture in which Obama recess appoints a replacement for the current acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Bush appointee Edward DeMarco. DeMarco’s job is to oversee the giant mortgage finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. DeMarco has long made it clear that he believes his primary job is to improve the financial bottom line of Freddie and Fannie, rather than employ the huge power the two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) exert over the residential mortgage market to make it easier for homeowners to refinance their mortgages and escape the threat of foreclosure. With DeMarco out of the way, so the theory goes, the Obama administration would have a free hand to push through a much more aggressive plan to help struggling homeowners.
That could lead to a mass refinancing program for agency-backed mortgages that would go well beyond the existing HARP program. That could hurt agency [mortgage-backed security] pricing and result in higher financing costs going forward. Yet it also could be a big boost for the economy and housing going into the election.
…[S]ome $3.7 trillion of mortgages would be refinanced. That’s right, this would be the Mother of All Mortgage Refinancing Plans. It would help roughly 30 million borrowers save $75 billion to $80 billion a year. As Mayer puts it: “This plan would function like a long-lasting tax cut for these 25 or 30 million American families.” … Talk about a political and economic game changer in this presidential election year. Obama could offer a trillion-dollar stimulus — as measured over a decade — that would directly and immediately impact tens of millions of Americans suffering from the housing depression. Cash in their pockets. Imagine the electoral impact on key states, such as Florida, suffering from both high unemployment and devastated housing markets.
If only. As a Federal Reserve white paper analyzing problems in the housing sector and reviewing potential solutions noted on Wednesday, 12 million U.S. homeowners are currently underwater on their mortgages. The steady flood of newly foreclosed properties hitting the market — expected to be a million per year in both 2012 and 2013 — exerts a relentless downward pressure on home prices. There are few things the Obama administration could do that would have a bigger positive effect on the overall economy than a really large-scale program of homeowner relief.
So how realistic is the January surprise scenario? As with all good conspiracy theories, there are some grains of truth. DeMarco has definitely been obstructing the Obama administration’s efforts at housing reform. Even the usually mild-mannered Federal Reserve hints at this reality in its white paper. Sure, there would be a cost to a large-scale refinancing program, but the benefits might well outweigh the downside:
“Nonetheless, some actions that cause greater losses to be sustained by the GSEs in the near term might be in the interest of taxpayers to pursue if those actions result in a quicker and more vigorous economic recovery.
Protecting Fannie and Freddie’s balance sheet at the expense of the nation’s is penny-wise and pound-foolish, in other words. Why go to all the trouble and expense of bailing out the GSEs if not to use them to good effect?
However, that still doesn’t quite connect the dots between the appointment of Richard Cordray to run the CFPB and a possible recess appointment that would replace Edward DeMarco. First of all, the Obama administration’s efforts to reboot housing have been, at best, halfhearted, and their failure more properly should be blamed on the White House than a single agency administrator. (And late Thursday afternoon, Bloomberg News reported that the White House was denying it had any new refinancing plan in the works.) Secondly, the legal basis for shoving out DeMarco and replacing him with a recess appointment seems especially iffy. Cordray is considered an independent regulator — so, theoretically, he can’t simply be fired at will by the White House, (although his “acting” status does inject some fuzziness into the equation). According to reporting by Ezra Klein and Brad Plumer, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner explored the possibility of firing DeMarco, but ultimately found it unfeasible. Republicans are already threatening to sue the administration for the current batch of recess appointments; axing the existing director for the FHFA in pursuit of an election-year housing reform agenda could easily precipitate a constitutional crisis.
But then again, Republicans would only have themselves to blame for the chaos that would ensue if Obama did take the unlikely step of all-out war. In 2010, the Obama administration proposed North Carolina banking commissioner Joseph Smith as its nominee for FHFA director. But as with so many of Obama’s economic-policy-related nominations, Smith’s appointment by the Senate Finance Committee’s ranking Republican, Richard Shelby, was scuttled on the grounds that Smith was unlikely to resist Obama’s housing reform agenda.
So there is after all a direct connection between the Cordray recess appointment and the FHFA. Senate Republicans have routinely blocked Obama’s executive branch appointments, not because they have any particular problem with the quality of the people being proposed for the jobs, but because they want to block Obama’s reform agenda. It’s a travesty of government — and a made-to-order campaign platform. Want to know why the economy sucks? Because Republicans won’t let Obama appoint the people necessary to take direct action — whether that be at the Federal Reserve, or the FHFA, or anywhere else.
By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, January 5, 2012
Thank God for elections and election years. An election gives our president, who must face the voters in November, permission to think and act like a partisan. It’s long overdue.
President Obama has boldly made key recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Republican strategy has been to destroy these agencies by failing to confirm appointees. In the case of the new CFPB, that meant nobody in charge to make key decisions to make the new bureau operational. In the case of the NLRB, it meant the lack of a quorum would paralyze the agency altogether.
In naming Richard Cordray to head the CFPB, the president has called the Republicans’ bluff. This was the agency that Elizabeth Warren invented and dearly hoped to lead. Republicans made clear they would block her appointment. When Obama passed her over in favor of the less-well-known Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General and also a strong consumer advocate, Republicans blocked his confirmation, too.
The selection of Cordray, an activist very much in the spirit of Warren, is in many ways a tribute to her leadership in fighting both for a strong consumer protection agency and a strong leader to head it. Cordray is that leader. Consumers will finally have an agency to keep watch for abuses that do not only harm small borrowers but aggregate to major threats to the financial system. Had there been a consumer bureau in the Warren spirit a decade ago, it would have noticed that sub-prime loans were not only ripping off homeowners but threatening to take down the economy.
In the case of the NLRB, the agency, which protects the right of workers to organize or join a union free from employer harassment, would have been totally paralyzed. The Republicans said as much. Here’s what Obama said, in naming Richard Griffin, Sharon Block, and Terrence Flynn to vacant seats on the NLRB:
When Congress refuses to act and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as President to do what I can without them. I have an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. I will not stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people they were elected to serve. Not when so much is at stake. Not at this make-or-break moment for the middle class.
Well said. These actions define a president who is leading, not searching for futile compromises. It exposes both the Republican obstructionism, the unprecedented tactic of destroying agencies by refusing to allow confirmations, as well as the Republican hostility to agencies that defend regular Americans against powerful corporate elites.
Predictably, the Republicans, having invented new forms of obstructionism such as the use of the filibuster on ordinary legislation and not special cases, as well of refusal to consent to routine extension of the debt ceiling, now cry foul when Obama uses a constitutional provision, the recess appointment, which has been conventional for presidents of both parties. Their contrivance of a fake nominal session when Congress is actually in recess is shameless. The more of a fuss they make, the more they out themselves as defenders of the one percent.
As in the case of the extension of the payroll tax cut, this conciliatory president seems to be warming to the concept of maximizing partisan advantage, particularly when the Republicans hand him opportunities on a platter. Just to make sure that message did not lost, Obama chose Cordray’s hard-pressed home state of Ohio for his announcement of the appointment, and painted Republican obstructionists as allies of Wall Street.
The citizenry loves a fighter far more than a punching bag. The right hates Obama. In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, he might as well earn that hatred.
By: Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect, January 5, 2011
A “Wholly Legal Decision”: The Senate Cannot Take Away President Obama’s Recess Appointment Power By Pretending To Work
As ThinkProgress predicted yesterday, congressional Republicans did not wait long to whine that President Obama’s wholly legal decision to recess appoint Richard Cordray is unconstitutional. According to a blog post written by Speaker John Boehner’s staff, the Cordray appointment is unconstitutional because Obama defied an imaginary time-limit on his recess power and failed to respect the Senate’s decision to pretend that it’s actually doing something:
President Obama today made an unprecedented “recess” appointment even though the Senate is not in recess – “a sharp departure from a long-standing precedent that has limited the President to recess appointments only when the Senate is in a recess of 10 days or longer,” according to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
It turns out that the action not only contradicts long-standing practice, but also the view of the administration itself. In 2010, Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal explained to the Supreme Court the Obama administration’s view that recess appointments are only permissible when Congress is in recess for more than three days.
First of all, Boehner needs to learn to count. For constitutional purposes, the Senate has been in recess since December 23. Although a single senator has opened a pretend session that lasts about half a minute — what is known as a “pro forma” session — every three days since then, these pro forma sessions have no impact whatsoever on the president’s recess appointment’s power. As Steven Bradbury and John Elwood, two key constitutional advisors during the Bush Administration, explained in 2010:
Historically, the recess appointments clause has been given a practical interpretation. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 67, the clause enables the president to keep the government fully staffed when the Senate is not “in session for the appointment of officers.” . . . [A 1905 Senate report] cautioned that a “recess” means “something actual, not something fictitious.” The executive branch has long taken the same common-sense view. In 1921, citing opinions of his predecessors dating back to the Monroe administration, Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty argued that the question “is whether in a practical sense the Senate is in session so that its advice and consent can be obtained. To give the word ‘recess’ a technical and not a practical construction, is to disregard substance for form.”
The Senate, of course, does not meet as a body during a pro forma session. By the terms of the recess order, no business can be conducted, and the Senate is not capable of acting on the president’s nominations. That means the Senate remains in “recess” for purposes of the recess appointment power, despite the empty formalities of the individual senators who wield the gavel in pro forma sessions.
Moreover, even if the Senate could stave off a recess by convening in the Neighborhood of Make Believe, it is simply not true that three days must pass before the president’s recess power kicks in. Though it’s true that Katyal once said that “I think our office has opined the recess has to be longer than 3 days,” an off-the-cuff comment by the Deputy Solicitor General does not have the power to change what the Constitution actually says. As the highest court to consider issue explained, “[t]he Constitution, on its face, does not establish a minimum time that an authorized break in the Senate must last to give legal force to the President’s appointment power under the Recess Appointments Clause.”
By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, January 4, 2011