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“Flying Under The Radar”: Senators Quietly Do The NRA’s Bidding In Spending Bill

Most lawmakers in both parties believe there will not be a government shutdown in two weeks, but to avoid one, Congress will need to pass something called a continuing resolution. It’s a temporary spending bill that will keep the government’s lights on through the end of the fiscal year. The House has already passed its version and the Senate is advancing its alternative.

Ordinarily, you might think the partisan disputes over the stopgap bill would be over spending levels and possible cuts, but as it turns out, the most contentious issue might be, of all things, gun policy. The New York Times reports that some unnamed lawmakers “quietly” added some “temporary gun-rights provisions largely favored by Republicans” to the CR.

The provisions, which have been renewed separately at various points, would prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from requiring gun dealers to conduct annual inventories to ensure that they have not lost guns or had them stolen, and would retain a broad definition of “antique” guns that can be imported into the United States outside of normal regulations.

Another amendment would prevent the A.T.F. from refusing to renew a dealer’s license for lack of business; many licensed dealers who are not actively engaged in selling firearms can now obtain a license to sell guns and often fly under the radar of the agency and other law enforcement officials, which gun control advocates argue leads to a freer flow of illegal guns.

A final measure would require the bureau to attach a disclaimer to data about guns to indicate that it “cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crimes.”

Keep in mind, it’s pretty tough to defend the provisions in question. What’s wrong, for example, with having gun dealers conduct inventories to make sure firearms haven’t been lost or stolen? I don’t know, but under a Republican measure in the temporary spending bill, the ATF would be prohibited from enforcing this basic regulation.

Also note, some of these ideas aren’t new — they’ve been temporary policies included in previous spending bills — but the new GOP-backed proposals make the policies permanent.

What’s worse, these provisions appear likely to pass because Senate Democrats see related measures in the House bill as even worse.

[A Democratic Senate] aide characterized the permanent provisions as a trade-off in negotiations that occurred late last year with House appropriators, who had sought to make additional gun-related riders permanent in the continuing resolution. Other riders — such as one banning the activities of the ATF from being transferred to another government entity, such as the more powerful FBI — are included in the Senate bill but not on a permanent basis.

According to the Senate aide, House appropriators also sought to include another provision that Democrats and the White House viewed as far more objectionable. […]

Although the Senate’s gun language was agreed to late last year — before the fatal shooting of 20 first-graders at a Connecticut elementary school — gun-control advocates and some Democratic members of Congress said the deal now looks like poor timing. They said it undermines a concurrent effort in both chambers to crack down on gun violence.

Third Way’s Jim Kessler, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), told Roll Call, “It shows that the NRA is always on offense and rarely on defense. Even in a very adverse situation for them, in which many in Congress and the White House are trying to do something constructive to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and crazy people, the NRA continues to advance its agenda.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 15, 2013

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Riding The Bench” John Boehner Still Waiting For Others To “Lead”

When it comes to power in Washington, John Boehner isn’t exactly a hapless schlub, at least not on paper. He’s the Speaker of the House, second in the presidential line of succession, and ostensibly the most powerful member of the legislative branch of government. He has a powerful megaphone, a sizable House majority, and the capacity to have an enormous impact on policymaking.

And yet, John Boehner believes leadership is something others should show. In his new Washington Post op-ed on the larger budget fight, the House Speaker is giving new meaning to the phrase “leading from behind.”

The problem, in large part, is that Democrats refuse to make the tough choices necessary to solve our long-term debt crisis…. [P]residential leadership is really what’s needed.

Needed for what? Well, according to Boehner, he’d like to see President Obama cut spending the way Republicans want, cut entitlements the way Republicans want, balance the budget the way Republicans want, and approve the Keystone XL pipeline the way Republicans want.

And if Obama disagrees, he’s not making “tough choices” and failing to show “leadership.”

Left unsaid: John Boehner, despite his power and authority, isn’t leading, doesn’t want to lead, has no intention of leading, and doesn’t even know how to lead — which is precisely why he keeps waiting for the White House and Senate to do the real work while Boehner waits patiently (or as evidenced by this op-ed, perhaps not so patiently) on the sidelines.

Let’s make this easy for the Speaker: (1) Name one budget issue on which you and your party are prepared to compromise; (2) Name one concession you and your party are willing to accept in exchange for a related Democratic concession.

If the answer to either of these is questions is a blank stare, then the Speaker of the House has no business calling himself a leader of anyone or anything.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 14, 2013

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Explain That Budget, Please”: Let’s Have Less Sanctimonious Talk About Your Principles And Vision Mr. Ryan

Today’s opening meditation, coinciding with the beginning of that annual speechapaloosa of the Right, CPAC, is from a belligerant remark made by Paul Ryan in an interview with National Review‘s Andrew Stiles, responding to incredulity that he’s back with more or less the same old budget for the third time:

Even some conservatives have questioned the idea of refighting old battles, as opposed to confronting the new reality with new solutions. But Ryan is sticking to his guns. “So just because the election didn’t go our way, that means we’re supposed to change our principles? We’re supposed to just go along to get along? We reject that view,” he tells National Review Online in an interview at his Capitol Hill office. “A budget is supposed to be a display of your vision,” he adds. “Our vision is a world without Obamacare.”

Ryan points out that Obama was not the only one who was returned to power in 2012; House Republicans maintained their majority. “We’re here, and we won our elections based on limited government, economic freedom, and we should not shy away from espousing those views,” he says.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard those words expressed by conservative ideologues so many times you barely register their content anymore: conservative principles, conservative principles, limited government, freedom, bark bark woof woof. Ryan may rely for his reputation in D.C. on a perception that he is some sort of genius-wonk, but the reason “the base” went nuts with joy when Mitt Romney lifted him to the national ticket last year is that right-wing activists believe he’s found a way to reflect their “conservative principles” in a blizzard of numbers.

But if you get out of the trance-state of believing everything Ryan says, and that his fans say about him, do his budgets actually reflect, or disguise, his “principles?”

Let me once again quote a key paragraph of Ryan’s speech last November at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner wherein he discussed his “vision,” which is a world not only without Obamacare, but without any real public safety net:

Not every problem disappears through the workings of the free market alone. Americans are a compassionate people. And there’s a consensus in this country about our obligations to the most vulnerable. Those obligations are beyond dispute. The real debate is how best we can meet them. It’s whether they are better met by private groups or by government – by voluntary action or by government action.

Think about this approach for a minute. Ryan begins from the premise that the free market will if left alone solve most social and economic problems; you don’t even get into the discussion of a public role until we’re talking about “the most vulnerable.” And once we are there, the conservative side of the argument is to press for “voluntary action” by “private groups”–i.e., public abandonment, perhaps with a tax credit and hearty good wishes, but abandonment all the same.

Is that what you get when you peel back all the numbers and look for Ryan’s “principles?” I guess so, since the numbers themselves are actually pretty opaque. Why won’t Ryan specify the impact his spending assumptions would have on non-defense discretionary spending? Why won’t he address what happens to the Medicare “premium support” payment if all the market magic he’s assuming does not radically reduce health care inflation? If his “vision” is that federal support for and regulation of the program we now call Medicaid is to whither away, why not say so? Why go through the subterfuge of a “block grant” if the idea is that states would eventually liberate the poor from dependence on this program as they compete to cut costs and reduce eligibility?

And why, in the third iteration of his budget, why does Ryan remain unwilling to specify the content of that vast magic asterisk he identifies as “tax reform?”

Sure, all these evasions can be justified on Machiavellian grounds, but I thought we were talking about a bold expression of “conservative principle,” a “vision” here, not some mendacious effort to sneak “principle” through the bedroom window!

But this should come as no surprise after a 2012 campaign in which Ryan outdid Romney in posing as the maximum champion of Medicare because he opposed reductions in provider payments even though he included those same reductions in his own budget, and is doing so again today. What “principles” did that Medagoguery reflect? What “vision” are we supposed to glimpse? A world in which wealthier people over 55–which also happen to be the most pro-Republican group of people in the electorate–are insulated from any budget cuts while mothers with children under the poverty line are asked to make “sacrifices?” Spell it out, Paul Ryan!

It’s not just Ryan, of course. Republican pols generally are reluctant to tell us how they envision the country’s future. This is why when they occasionally let the mask slip and attack the New Deal or “government schools” or the very idea of income taxes or popular election of senators or any limitation on property rights or any concept of reproductive rights or any “entitlement” to public resources among those people–they are greeted with a feral roar of recognition and joy from the activist base for telling it like it is.

That is precisely what Paul Ryan won’t do. So love him or hate it, but let’s have less sanctimonious talk from him and his conservative fans about his “principles” and “vision.” He’s hiding both.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 14, 2013

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Making A Difference”: Scott Prouty Is No Samuel Wurzelbacher

So I kept thinking as I watched Ed Schultz’s interview last night with Scott Prouty—as we now know, the man who made and leaked the 47 percent video—I kept trying to check my impulses by asking myself: Now, suppose this were Fox, and suppose Scott Prouty had secretly taped Barack Obama saying that corporate leaders were heartless mercenaries who cared nothing about their employees or America, and suppose that that had helped cost Obama the election. What would I be thinking about him?

I admit easily and breezily that I would have disliked him and would have spent the hour probing for weaknesses and points of possible attack. That’s how it goes in this business.

However, I also say this: I don’t think I would have found many. Prouty was intelligent, judicious, and thoughtful. He seemed completely sincere (I say seemed since I don’t know the man). He knew exactly what he was doing. Weaknesses were few to nonexistent.

Let me put it this way. In my post yesterday, I fretted about the onslaught he was about to experience from the right. But as I Google his name this morning, I see nothing from the right-wing media. If you’ve ever done such a search on a topic that the right-wing press has jumped on, you know that the first page and sometimes the first two pages return you nothing but conservative media. So they aren’t piling on the guy, so far at least. Long experience teaches me: When they go dark is when they know they can’t win.

So here’s how it happened. Prouty had worked for a while for this high-end caterer. He brought his camera to the event because he thought there might be opportunity afterwards for picture-taking sessions with the candidate (which never materialized, and which made him think Romney was sort of a jerk). He started recording the speech just to capture it. Obviously, he had no idea Romney was going to say the things he said. And then Prouty started listening.

Interestingly, the thing that bothered Prouty wasn’t so much the 47 percent remarks, although he had enough news sense in him to know they were dynamite. What bothered him were Romney’s remarks about a factory in China Bain had bought, a factory whose grounds were surrounded by fencing and barbed wire to keep the young female workers in. Romney spoke about it in a way that struck Prouty as disingenuous and unfeeling, and he got mad.

He went home and did some Googling. He learned that Romney had profited from outsourcing. He saw an article on the factory by David Corn. He spent two weeks pondering whether to take it public, thinking through the moral and legal consequences, whatever they were. He finally looked himself in the mirror and said fuck it. Here we go. He got in touch with Corn.

He said last night he’s a registered independent, but he’s clearly a liberal-minded person. He said he was proud Obama is the president. He decided to give the interview to Schultz because Schultz is uniquely devoted in the TV universe to class issues. So whatever his registration, he’s on a side. Fine. He decided to help that side—or more accurately, to stop the other side.

It was Romney’s appearance on Fox on March 3 that made him go public now. Romney’s self-serving interview clearly infuriated him. The greatest thing he said during the whole hour went something like (I can’t find a transcript yet): You know, Romney could still be making positive contributions. He could go to one of those communities where Bain closed a factory, that town in Illinois say, and say he’s sorry about what happened, start a fund or a foundation to help people there. Yes, he is right. But yeah, sure. Can anyone picture Romney doing that? It would be an admission that his life’s work was something less than wholly admirable, which is an admission he shows no signs of being able to make.

I kept thinking while I was watching the left’s accidental hero of 2012 of the right’s accidental hero of 2008, Joe the Plumber. The Republicans and the right used Samuel Wurzelbacher, who was neither named Joe nor was a (licensed) plumber, as a convenient cudgel against Obama, and Wurzelbacher was delighted to play along, reveling in the fame that came his way as a result of his frequent Fox appearances during the 2008 campaign.

Prouty, by contrast, never sought notoriety during the campaign, and even now, well, he’s being hailed today, and properly so, but I’d be very disappointed and frankly quite surprised if he becomes some kind of slatternly MSNBC fixture who shows up to mouth half-coherent DNC talking points as Wurzelbacher has on Fox, and run a crappy and stupid race for Congress. Prouty sounded last night as if he wants to seize on this opportunity to do the kind of work he cares about and help working people or union people in some way. Wurzelbacher was a show horse and a blowhard, playing to a movement that loves show horses and blowhards provided they’re blowing the approved notes. He changed nothing.

Prouty is a serious and earnest person who is actually trying to help working people and who did make an enormous difference. Their notoriety and how they gained it and the purpose to which they used it tells us not only something about them, but about the two sides as well.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 14, 2013

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Paul Ryan Budget: Why The GOP Is Still The Party Of The Rich

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.) released the House GOP budget, which was greeted with no small amount of incredulity for being almost exactly the same as the economic platform that he and Mitt Romney ran on in 2012 — a platform that was roundly rejected by voters who decided to go with President Obama’s proposals instead. But Ryan, retreating into rhetorical vagueness, claims to see the matter differently. “Are a lot of these solutions very popular, and did we win these arguments in the campaign?” he said. “Some of us think so.”

As has been recounted in depth elsewhere, the Ryan budget would, in all likelihood, lead to massive cuts in aid for the poor, while dramatically reducing tax rates for the wealthy. It’s hard to say with any certainty because, as Dana Milbank at The Washington Post puts it, “There are so many blanks in Ryan’s budget that it could be a Mad Libs exercise.” However, an independent analysis last year of the Ryan-Romney plan, which is similar in structure, showed that the math doesn’t add up without draconian spending cuts and closing tax loopholes for the middle class.

The smart money is that Ryan doesn’t believe his plan has a chance of passing a Democratic-controlled Senate, let alone Obama’s desk. It changes Medicare into a voucher program, strips Medicaid of a guaranteed source of federal funding, and repeals ObamaCare. “In a real way the whole thing is a sop to rank and file conservatives who haven’t come to grips with that reality,” say Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo.

Indeed, Ryan may have angered the right wing by including the fiscal cliff deal to raise taxes on the wealthy as part of his budget projections. “You wouldn’t know it from the media coverage,” says Joshua Green at Bloomberg Businessweek, “but some conservatives don’t agree that Ryan’s budget is a shockingly right-wing ‘lightning rod’ proposal — they think it’s too liberal. And they’re deeply disillusioned by what they view as Ryan’s breaking faith with the conservative movement.”

But even if Ryan’s budget dies in Congress, the fact of the matter is that it is out there, outlining the Republican Party’s economic and fiscal priorities. “Budgets are statements of values,” writes Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic. “And with this budget, Ryan, once again, has revealed what Republican values are: Cutting taxes, primarily to benefit the wealthy, while savaging programs on which the poorest Americans rely.”

In the end, with Ryan’s budget, it will only be that much harder for the Republican Party to shed its image as the party of the rich, a reform that several conservative commentators have argued is absolutely essential to winning back power. Indeed, the Ryan budget shows that Republican officials are gambling that a makeover on immigration and social issues may be enough to turn the tide — a theory that Democrats will surely be glad to test in the next election.


By: Ryu Spaeth, The Week, March 12, 2013

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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