So far, it doesn’t look like the story of the Tsarnaev brothers is killing Republican support for immigration reform. John McCain and Lindsey Graham insisted that their identity makes reform all the more important. But Boston aside, if you pay a little attention you see signs that the right is getting a bit restive about all this reasonableness. There’s a long and winding road from here to there, but if the GOP does drop immigration, then it will essentially be a party of nothing, the Seinfeld Party, a party that has stopped even pretending that policy is something that political parties exist to make.
Yesterday in Salon, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein wrote up the following little discovery, which has to do with the numbering of bills. Historically, the party that controls the House of Representatives reserves for itself the first 10 slots—HR 1, HR 2, and so on. Usually, the majority party has filled at least most of those slots with the pieces of legislation that it wants to announce to the world as its top priorities. When the Democrats ran the House, for example, HR 1 was always John Dingell’s health-care bill, in homage to his father, a congressman who pushed for national health care back in the day.
Today, nine of the 10 slots are empty. Nine of the 10. The one that is occupied, HR 3, is taken up by a bill calling on President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. Even this, insiders will tell you in an honest moment, is completely symbolic and empty: the general expectation among Democrats and Republicans is that Obama will approve the pipeline sometime in this term, but that eleventy-jillion lawsuits will immediately be filed, and the thing won’t be built for years if at all, and nothing about this short and general bill can or is designed to change that. One other slot, HR 1, is provisionally reserved for a tax-reform bill, so at least they have settled on a subject matter, but if you click on HR 1, you will learn that “the text of HR 1 has not yet been received.”
This wasn’t true of even the GOP in earlier vintages. Newt Gingrich had an aggressive agenda, as we remember all too well, and even Denny Hastert filled most of the slots. (The Democrats of 2009 didn’t, for some reason, but obviously the Democratic Congress of 2009 was the most agenda-heavy Congress since 1981 or arguably 1965.) Today’s GOP can’t be bothered to pretend.
I became a grown-up, to the extent that I am one, right around the time Ronald Reagan took office. Lots of people say things like, “Gee, the Republican Party was really a party of ideas then.” I argue that that assertion is vastly overaccepted today. The central conservative “idea,” after all—supply-side economics—was and remains a flimsy and evidence-free lie that has destroyed the country’s economic vitality and turned our upper classes into the most selfish and penurious group of people history has seen since the Romanovs. Other conservative ideas of the time were largely critiques of extant liberalism or gifts to the 1 percent dressed up in the tuxedoes of “liberty” and “freedom.” I’ll give them credit for workfare and a few other items. But the actual record is thinner than most people believe.
Still, there was some intellectual spadework going on. And still (and this is more important), there were people in the Republican Party who tried to bring those ideas into law. The Orrin Hatch of the 1980s and 1990s was a titan compared with the Orrin Hatch of today. When I look at Senate roll-call votes and see that immovable wall of nays on virtually everything of consequence that comes before them, I wonder what someone like Hatch really thinks deep down, but of course we’ll never know. He is doing what the party’s base demands of him, and those demands include that he clam up and denounce Obama and not utter one sentence that could be misinterpreted as signaling compromise.
This brings me back to immigration. The Tsarnaevs may not have derailed things, but other cracks are starting to show. Last Thursday—before we knew who the Boston bombers were—Rush Limbaugh speculated that immigration reform would constitute Republican “suicide.” A Politico article yesterday made the same point—an analysis showed that if 11 million “undocumented residents” had been able to vote in 2012, Obama might have won Arizona and would even have made a race of it in Texas. This did not go unremarked in right-wing circles yesterday. The Big Bloviator himself weighed in: “Senator Schumer can taste this. He’s so excited. All the Democrats. Why would we agree to something that they are so eager to have?”
Immigration is the one area today on which a small number of Republicans are actually trying. Limbaugh’s position last week is a change from a couple of months ago, when Marco Rubio had him admitting that maybe the GOP needed to embrace reform. It’s not hard to imagine him and Laura Ingraham and others turning surlier as the hour of truth on the bill approaches.
I will be impressed and more than a little surprised if the day comes and a majority of Republicans back an immigration bill. Passing such a bill is undoubtedly in their self-interest, as everyone has observed. What fewer have observed is that doing so is just not in their DNA. And life teaches us that genes usually get the better of reason.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 24, 2013
As soon as it became clear that the two suspects in the Boston bombing were legal immigrants from Dagestan, a mostly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform went on the attack.
Purposely outrageous Republican columnist Ann Coulter tweeted, “It’s too bad Suspect # 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now.”
Christian conservative radio host Bryan Fischer didn’t bother with nuance: “I think we can safely say that Rubio’s amnesty plan is DOA. And should be. Time to tighten, not loosen, immigration policy.”
And Republican senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), whose vote will help make or break any bill, made it clear that he feels the identity of the suspects should pause the momentum for reform.
“Given the events of this week, it’s important for us to understand the gaps and loopholes in our immigration system,” Grassley said. “While we don’t yet know the immigration status of the people who have terrorized the communities in Massachusetts, when we find out, it will help shed light on the weaknesses of our system.”
“How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” he continued. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.? How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?”
Critics of the bill have been trying to figure out a way to slow or stop reform for months. And the suspects in Boston may have finally given them the opportunity they’ve been hoping for.
The Republican establishment is so sure that immigration reform is necessary for the future of the GOP that they recommended it specifically as part of its “Growth and Opportunity Project” autopsy rebranding. Rubio took the lead and negotiated a compromise with a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that fit the president’s guidelines for reform while emphasizing the border security important to the Republican base.
Monday’s bombings slowed the rollout of the bill but an actual draft of the legislation was released late Tuesday.
Immediately far-right site Breitbart invented “MarcoPhones,” smearing Florida senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) with one of the right’s favorite attacks on President Obama during the 2012 election. It’s a claim as ridiculous and purposely mendacious as the Obamaphone slur — still, misinformation has a way of lingering on the right. Some Republicans criticized the site for cannibalizing one of their most popular politicians for pursuing an essential bill.
Despite the support from the party’s mainstream, Rubio’s attempts to sell the bill to Rush Limbaugh and other AM radio talkers didn’t go — to put it mildly — well.
Still most believed that this time was different — until the photos of the Boston bombing suspects led to a robbery and then a continuing manhunt that has the nation on edge.
As Americans winced at the violence, immigration reform’s opponents went on the attack.
One of the bill’s leading Democratic supporters, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), pushed back Friday morning.
“I’d like to ask that all of us not jump to conclusions regarding events in Boston or conflate those events with this legislation,” he said. “In general, we’re a safer country when law enforcement knows who is here, has their fingerprints, photos, etcetera, conducted background checks … Two days ago, as you may recall, there was [sic] widespread erroneous reports of arrests being made. This just emphasizes how important it is to allow the actual facts to come out before jumping to any conclusions.”
The notoriously anti-immigrant Steve King (R-IA) made the case just hours after the blasts that the bombing on Patriots’ Day should halt reforms, surprising no one.
Rubio immediately responded, “We should really be very cautious about using language that links these two things in any way. We know very little about Boston other than that it was obviously an act of terror. We don’t know who carried it out or why they carried it out, and I would caution everyone to be very careful about linking the two.”
Now that the link is more easily made, Rubio doesn’t appear ready to retreat. The junior senator from Florida has launched a site to defend the reforms and his spokesman says that reform should continue despite the events in Boston.
Both he and his opponents recognize that the key moment for immigration reform has arrived. Whoever takes control of the argument now will likely decide the fate of those 11 million people waiting for an answer from Washington.
By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, April 19, 2013
“A Government That Can’t Govern”: What Happens When One Party Is Perfectly Happy To Stay In The Minority
Over the weekend, our friend Jonathan Bernstein wrote an interesting post discussing the point, not uncommon on the left but nonetheless true, that the problem with our politics today isn’t “polarization” or “Washington” but the Republican Party. His argument is basically that the GOP is caught in a series of overlapping vicious cycles that not only make governing impossible for everyone, but become extraordinarily difficult to break out of. As the base grows more extreme, it demands more ideological purity from primary candidates, leading to more ideological officeholders for whom obstruction of governance is an end in itself, marginalizing moderates and leaving no one with clout in the party to argue for a more sensible course, and in each subsequent election those demanding more and more purity become the loudest voices, and on and on. John Hunstman would probably tell you that he would have had a better chance of beating Barack Obama than Mitt Romney (who spent so much time pandering to the right) did, but nobody in the GOP cares what John Huntsman thinks.
There’s one point Bernstein makes that shows just how serious this situation is: “Perhaps the biggest cause is the perverse incentives created by the conservative marketplace. Simply put, a large portion of the party, including the GOP-aligned partisan press and even many politicians, profit from having Democrats in office. Typically, democracies ‘work’ in part because political parties have strong incentives to hold office, which causes them once they win to try hard to enact public policy that keeps people satisfied with their government. That appears to be undermined for today’s Republicans.” It’s often noted that some people on each side benefit when the other side is in power. For instance, magazines like this one. When there’s a Republican in the White House, liberal magazines tend to get more subscribers, as liberals get angry at the President and become more interested in reading about everything he’s doing wrong. The same is true of conservative magazines when there’s a Democratic president. The boosting of certain people’s fortunes when the other side is in power stretches through ideological media to some political figures. For instance, Dennis Kucinich became a national figure not long after September 11 when he started giving speeches criticizing the War on Terror, tapping into the frustration many people on the left felt.
So George W. Bush was very good for Dennis Kucinich, and you’ll notice that once Barack Obama was elected, Kucinich faded from view. But Kucinich never had the ability to push the Democratic party along a particular path. The people on the right who benefit from being out of power, on the other hand, are much more influential within the party. And today, there are many people within the GOP who like the current situation pretty well. It isn’t that they have no governing agenda that they’d implement if given the chance, but just obstructing the Democratic agenda is going quite well for them. Rush Limbaugh and Rand Paul and even Mitch McConnell are perfectly happy with how things are going for them right now. The basic urge to get power runs up against all the incentives now built into the GOP that make getting power more difficult. Officeholders could change their tune a bit and make the Republican party more popular, but they’re not going to do it if it means they’re more likely to get booted in a primary.
So we could find ourselves endlessly trapped in the situation we’re in now. Democrats keep winning presidential elections because the Republican Party is repellent to a majority of Americans. The geographic distribution of the American population nevertheless makes it possible for Republicans to hold on to the House, and at least control enough of the Senate to grind things to a halt by filibustering everything (and Democrats are too frightened to change the filibuster rules). With the exception of the occasional bill here and there that Republicans get intimidated into letting go through, governing pretty much ceases, with the exception of whatever the President can accomplish via regulation and executive agency actions (those agencies that the Republicans don’t manage to hamstring, that is). And there you have it: a government that can’t govern.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 8, 2013
A funny thing happened on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show yesterday. The Republican host was complaining about a Washington Post report on sequestration cuts hurting cancer patients in the Medicare program, and told his listeners to ignore the news. “All of this is manufactured and made up,” Limbaugh said. How does he know? Because the sequester didn’t include “any cuts in Medicare,” he added.
And then Limbaugh got a call from a conservative oncologist — in this case, a physician who apparently shares the host’s worldview and has no use for the Washington Post — who conceded that the report is, in fact, accurate, forcing Limbaugh to change the subject.
Sequestration cuts are affecting Medicare — though not as much as some other programs — and as Sarah Kliff explained, cancer clinics really are turning away thousands of patients as a result of the Republican spending cuts.
Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.
Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them.
Kliff talked to one Long Island oncologist who said he and his staff held an emergency meeting earlier this week and decided they would no longer see one-third of their 16,000 Medicare patients. “It’s a choice between seeing these patients and staying in business,” Jeff Vacirca, chief executive of North Shore Hematology Oncology Associates said.
But if Medicare was supposed to be shielded from the sequestration policy, how is this happening? It has to do with how medical offices are reimbursed for medications that need to be administered by a physician — such as those given to cancer patients.
The New York Daily News reported today:
The so-called sequester cuts will force three-quarters of the thousands of cancer clinics nationwide to start referring Medicare patients to hospitals, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology and other cancer treatment groups, which have appealed to the White House and Congress for help.
Elderly cancer patients are being hit hard because their drugs are among the handful of pharmaceuticals that were affected by the sequester cuts.
Medicare reimbursed oncologists for the cost of chemo drugs, plus 6%. But under the sequester, the federal government is now providing only 4% on top of the drugs’ cost, which can run $900 to $15,000 for a full course, depending on the cancer.
That 2% difference may not sound like much, but given the costs involved, it’s an enormous pay cut for the cancer clinics, which some are now saying is a prohibitive new expense they can’t afford.
Ted Okon, director of the Community Oncology Alliance, told Kliff, “If you get cut on the service side, you can either absorb it or make do with fewer nurses. This is a drug that we’re purchasing. The costs don’t change and you can’t do without it. There isn’t really wiggle room.”
Note, this doesn’t mean the sequester is necessarily cutting off cancer patients, but rather, it means these patients are being told by their local oncology clinics that they’ll have to seek care at hospitals — where the care will be less efficient and more expensive.
In case anyone’s forgotten, it’s within Congress’ power to simply turn the sequester off. The whole thing could take five minutes. But for now, congressional Republicans have ruled out the possibility of turning it off, and have also ruled out the possibility of a compromise to replace these brutal spending cuts.
With each passing day, we learn of increasingly drastic consequences associated with the policy.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 5, 2013
Reflecting on the Republican National Committee’s “Growth and Opportunity Project,” Dave Weigel noted that the blueprint “is less a program of reform than a rough blueprint about how to marginalize the nutters.”
That’s clearly true. The structural reforms are intended to “marginalize the nutters” in terms of their electoral influence; the rhetorical reforms are intended to “marginalize the nutters” in terms of public perceptions of the party; and the policy reforms are intended to “marginalize the nutters” who are pushing Republicans to embrace an even more radical policy agenda.
At times, Reince Priebus and his report aren’t subtle on this, specifically criticizing “third-party groups that promote purity.”
With this in mind, the simmering intra-party “civil war” between the Republican base and the party establishment is intensifying, right on cue.
“It looks like a system of the establishment, by the establishment, and for the establishment,” said conservative P.R. executive Greg Mueller, a veteran of Pat Buchanan’s campaigns. [...]
Davie Bossie, head of the conservative group Citizens United, fretted that the proposals would mean conservative grassroots candidates, already outmatched organizationally and financially against the GOP establishment on the presidential level, “even less opportunity to break through.”
“I don’t think that is a good thing for the party and I definitely don’t think it’s a good thing for the conservative movement,” said Bossie.
Rush Limbaugh wasn’t happy, either, saying Republican leaders have been “bamboozled” by focus groups. “They think they’ve gotta rebrand and it’s all predictable,” the radio host said. “They gotta reach out to minorities. They gotta moderate their tone here and moderate their tone there. And that’s not at all what they’ve gotta do. The Republican Party lost because it’s not conservative.”
This is probably going to get worse before it gets better — and for a party in transition, it’s a fight that’s probably unavoidable.
Priebus’ plan is not necessarily going to be what the party does in the near future. The RNC’s membership will need to debate and approve any changes, and that will take place over the course of several months, starting in April at the party’s spring meeting in Los Angeles. One assumes those meetings will be quite lively, with the fights playing out in public.
And here’s the kicker: that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the Republican Party really does need to have these fights. At the presidential level, the GOP has lost the national popular vote in five of the last six elections. The electorate has elected a Democratic Senate majority for four consecutive elections. The party hasn’t been this unpopular since Watergate; its ideas are struggling for public support; and with no real leaders, it’s not even clear what the party’s core beliefs are in several key areas.
There are still about 19 months before the midterm elections and nearly three years before the party begins choosing its new standard bearer. This is, in other words, an ideal time for the party to have a knock-down, drag-out fight over what the party intends to be.
It won’t be pleasant, and some party contingents won’t be pleased with the results, but it’s arguably a worthwhile endeavor for the party’s long-term health.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 19, 2013