Congressman John Mica, the Florida Republican blamed for single-handedlyshutting down the Federal Aviation Administration, sounded like a beaten man when he called me Thursday evening.
The usually biting chairman of the House transportation committee spoke with remorse about the standoff, which put 74,000 people on furlough or out of work, delayed airport-safety projects and cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
“I’ve had a brutal week, getting beat up by everybody,” Mica told me, minutes after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal that would end the shutdown and avoid the cuts to regional air service that Mica wanted.
“I didn’t know it would cause this much consternation,” Mica said. “Now I’ve just got to get the broom and the shovel and clean up the mess.” Switching metaphors, he said he wanted “to unclog the toilet, but it backed up. So I don’t know what to do, what to say.”
One thing he’s going to do is make amends. He said he would introduce legislation Friday to pay FAA workers for their furlough days. “We just want to cheer all those workers who have been left out on a limb by this,” he explained.
Mica’s experience shows the high-risk nature of business in the new Washington, where even routine issues like FAA funding can become conflagrations. With no goodwill between the two parties, or the two chambers, ordinary disagreements mushroom into governing crises, with unpredictable results.
In the debt-limit standoff, Democrats capitulated to most Republican demands to avoid a default. In the FAA confrontation, Republicans pursued similar brinkmanship — but this time Democrats resisted, let the shutdown happen and, at least in Mica’s view, won the fight.
Mica started out with a sensible aim: He wanted to clean up years of messy funding for the FAA. Lawmakers hadn’t been able to agree on issues such as rural-airport subsidies and landing slots at Reagan National, so they kept the agency going with 20 stop-gap funding bills since 2007.
But Mica overreached. Letting his anti-labor ideology take over, he tried to use the FAA bill to overturn a decision by the National Mediation Board to rescind an old rule that had made it unusually difficult for airline workers to organize. Delta Air Lines furiously lobbied Congress to intervene.
Mica knew Senate Democrats would resist, so he tried to create a bargaining chit: He drafted plans to cut funds for small airports in the home states of Reid (Nev.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), chairman of the Senate transportation panel.
The Floridian publicly admitted his ruse. “It’s just a tool to try to motivate some action” on the labor rule, he told a group of airport executives last month, according to Aviation Daily. “I didn’t plan it to be this national issue,” he told me.
Senate Democrats, seizing on Mica’s admission that the bill was a “tool,” refused to deal. They let the shutdown happen and railed against Mica after lawmakers left for recess.
Reid accused him of taking “hostages.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer pointed out that the shutdown cost taxpayers more than the program Mica tried to cut. Privately, Mica’s GOP colleagues harshly criticized him.
The Orlando Sentinel, near Mica’s district, took the congressman to task and said it was “pathetic” that “members of Congress now are enjoying their summer vacations, while some essential FAA inspectors are working without pay.”
On Thursday, Democrats announced a plan to reopen the FAA and said they would use waivers from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to avoid Mica’s rural airport cuts. Mica, pronouncing himself thwarted, said he was stunned that Democrats took Republicans “by the short hairs,” as he put it. “Quite honestly we did not expect that.”
They should have. The 10-term lawmaker was operating under archaic rules. “In our business, you use your legislative tools . . . and put a little leverage on it,” he said. “How else do I do it? Am I going to send them a bouquet?”
But Mica, as much as anybody, created a culture of distrust, where staking out bargaining positions leads not to compromise but to warfare. And now he’s surprised?
“People don’t have to get so personal,” he said with a sigh. “A lot of people hate me now and think I’m the worst thing in the world for what I did.” It’s “this sort of gotcha,” he said, “that’s changed the dynamics of people working more effectively together.”
Hopefully he’ll remember that the next time he sticks it to the other side.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 4, 2011
If you can still remember the GOP position when the curtain first rose on Debt Ceiling Theater, you will recall that the Congressional Republicans had put forth two goals.
First, an agreement whereby every dollar permitted to be borrowed by a raise in the debt ceiling would be matched by a dollar of cuts in the federal budget; and Second, there could be no tax increases as a result of the process.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is now offering up a plan that ostensibly meets the GOP demands by proposing a $2.7 trillion cut in federal spending to be matched by a like increase in the debt ceiling – with no tax increases or revenue boosts required.
That certainly sounds like a win for the GOP, doesn’t it?
Maybe it is – maybe it isn’t.
If the Republicans take the deal, they will accomplish a few important things.
For starters, in a country where few people read beyond the headlines and often believe what they are told by Fox News, a GOP declaration of victory would likely hold up – even if that victory proves to be little more than a cosmetic win.
Such a deal would also leave many on the left dispirited, believing that the President and the Democrats – by allowing the GOP to wriggle off the hook on revenue increases – will have, once again, caved to the opposition. This would threaten to split the Democrats at the worst possible time as we head into an election year.
But the devil is always in the details – and the details very much skew to the Democratic Party perspective.
Much of the cuts in the Reid plan are tied to reductions in spending on our two wars along with discretionary spending cuts. By structuring the cuts in this way, Reid is creating an incentive for the war supporters in Congress, and the President, to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan once and for all.
Accomplishing this would likely be perceived as a ‘win’ by many American voters who think it is time to bring these wars to a conclusion. Of course, those who are focused on achieving true and well defined cuts to our federal budget would likely see this maneuver as an example of budget trickery intended to create the appearance of a cut where no cut is really is going to take place if we continue our battles overseas.
More importantly from a political perspective, none of the budget reductions in the Reid proposal touch the entitlement programs that are sacrosanct to both the left and the rank-and-file members of Democratic Party, not to mention – if the polls are to be believed- Independents and many Republicans.
Finally, the Reid proposal provides a large enough raise in the debt ceiling to take us beyond the 2012 elections.
While the failure to get any revenue increases would, no doubt, be a black mark against the Democrats and the President, the Reid proposal would permit the Senate Democrats to argue that they succeeded in solving the debt ceiling crisis without impacting on entitlements – something the President was clearly ready to do in trade for revenue increases.
Preserving entitlements will make a lot of people happy and very possibly balance the anger of those who want the Democrats to hang in there until they accomplish some revenue increases by cutting corporate subsidies from the tax code and raising the rates on the wealthiest Americans.
The deal would also preserve to the Democrats the substantial political advantage they gained through the public revulsion to the Ryan budget plan and its dramatic impact on Medicare and Medicaid.
All of this puts the Republicans in a tricky spot.
If they accept Reid’s deal, they can claim a victory and go home.
But they will know that they really have won very little beyond the appearance of a win and some continued protection for the wealthy by holding off any tax increases – for now. Remember that the Bush tax cuts once again expire at the end of 2012. Should Obama win the election – and bring along some Congressional Democrats with him -the story could be very different than it was when Obama was forced to leave the Bush cuts intact in 2010 in order to protect the unemployment insurance payments so badly needed by the millions of out-of-work Americans.
Because of the questionable value of such a deal to those in the Tea Party Caucus, the group that very much appears to be in the driver’s seat these days, the Reid proposal could be a non-starter, forcing Boehner to, once again, pass up a compromise opportunity.
If Boehner is forced to say no, it would seem impossible for the Republicans to avoid blame after having passed up yet another effort on the part of the Democrats to compromise – this time by offering the GOP what they say they wanted in the first place.
You can also expect Democrats to be quick to point out that the war savings Reid is offering in his deal also show up as a budget cut in the Ryan budget – making it look all the worse for the GOP who would appear willing to claim war savings as budget cuts in their own budget but refuse to consider them valid when offered as part of a deal in this instance.
Harry Reid may be showing us that there is more to his strategy skills than what has previously met the nation’s eye.
Stay tuned. There is a long way to go.
By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, July 25, 2011
There are a lot of good articles running through what happened between Thursday night, when a deal seemed likely, and Friday evening, when the talks fell apart. New reports suggest that Boehner is trying to prepare a deal by tomorrow evening, to prevent the markets from dropping Monday. So here’s the short version of what just happened, and where we’re likely to be going:
On Tuesday, the Gang of Six proposed a deal that would raise tax revenues by $2 trillion — which showed there was support among Senate Republicans for a deal that raised taxes by about $2 trillion. On Thursday, congressional Democrats rebelled over reports that the deal Boehner and Obama were negotiating had only $800 billion in new revenue, and it wasn’t even clear how those would be achieved. That night, Obama called Boehner looking for about $400 billion more in revenue to have something he could sell to Democrats. That would have brought the deal from $800 billion in revenue to $1.2 trillion in revenue. He didn’t get a call back until the next day at 5:30 p.m. — by which point the call was unnecessary. Boehner had already told the media that he was leaving the talks.
Republicans are emphasizing that the White House went from asking for $800 billion in revenue to $1.2 trillion. The word you’re hearing from them is “reneged,” but the White House emphasizes that negotiations were ongoing, and both sides were asking for more as they tried to figure out what they could both agree on and pass through Congress. Boehner, for instance, wanted further cuts to Medicaid, a trigger that would repeal the individual mandate and the Independent Payment Advisory Board if the entitlement cuts didn’t come through, and a tighter cap on discretionary spending. “They make it seem like the president made some ultimatum on $1.2 trillion in revenue,” says a senior administration official. “He didn’t. He said, ‘If you can’t do this, let’s figure out what we can do.’ ”
The “what we can do” would probably have been to ratchet back the entitlement cuts. Or maybe another solution would have been found. It’s hard to say because Boehner didn’t come back with a counteroffer. He simply left the negotiations.
But let’s zoom out on where the negotiations left off. Spending cuts would have totaled about $3 trillion, with a bit less than a trillion dollars of that coming from entitlements and other forms of mandatory spending. Revenue increases — none of which would have come from raising marginal tax rates — would have been between $800 billion and $1.2 trillion. The package would have extended the unemployment insurance and payroll tax cut provisions passed in the 2010 tax deal. All in all, that’s about a trillion dollars less in revenues than the Simpson-Bowles/Gang of Six deals advocated, and about $2.6 trillion less in revenue than simply letting the Bush tax cuts expire in 2012.
There’s a question as to whether this was the very best deal Republicans could get or simply close to it. But it’s hard to believe that it was so bad that it ended the talks. What seems likelier is that Boehner spent some time between Thursday and Friday talking to his members and found that his party simply didn’t support a deal with the White House. For one thing, a deal would include some amount of revenue, and that was a hard sell under any circumstances. For another, letting the president look like a dealmaker would potentially dim the GOP’s chances of retaking the White House in 2012. As my colleague George Will put it Thursday, a deal “would enable President Obama to run away from his record and run as a debt-reducing centrist.”
And so Boehner walked. Fundamentally, this looks like the same calculation that ended the last round of talks over a 4 trillion deal. What’s different this time is Boehner’s plan B: The Speaker of the House appears to believe that a deal struck between congressional leadership would perhaps be easier to sell to his members. Since it’s hard to see Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid making deeper concessions than Obama did, it’s hard to see why that would be true, save that the deal might not look like such a victory for the White House.
Perhaps taking the benefit for Obama off the table will be enough. I’m doubtful. It’s more likely that what we’re really doing now is wasting time until the markets plummet and Boehner’s members decide that a deal is better than no deal. And there’s a very good chance that the first major show of market concern could come tomorrow night, when the Asian markets open. Boehner is hoping to present a plan by then, but a plan is very different from a deal. A plan is something politicians can come up with. A deal, we’re increasingly finding, is something that we need the markets to force.
By: Ezra Klein, Columnist, The Washington Post, July 23, 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