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“His Instincts Fail Him Again”: John Boehner Is Weak In The Face Of Pressure From Right-Wing Ideologues

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), two months ago:

Republicans’ efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s health care reform law appear to have come to an end, as House Speaker John Boehner described it Thursday as the “law of the land.”

In an interview with ABC News, the nation’s top elected Republican seemed to indicate that Congress wouldn’t engage in the type of repeated repeal votes the way it had in the past two years.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), three days ago:

“This week, the House passed Republicans’ balanced budget that fully repeals and defunds ObamaCare to protect families, workers and seniors from its devastating consequences. The House will continue working to scrap the law in its entirety….”

Note the amount of time that’s elapsed: we’re not talking about Boehner changing his mind over the course of three years; we’re talking about taking wildly different positions over two months. In January, the Affordable Care Act is the “law of the land,” and Congress has better things to do than to waste time trying to repeal a law that isn’t going anywhere. And in March, Boehner reversed course entirely — congressional Republicans have already voted several dozen times to repeal the reform law, and the Speaker sees no reason to become more constructive now.

I don’t know Boehner personally, but I suspect what he said in January was sincere — the guy probably doesn’t want to be known as the Speaker who pointlessly spun his wheels, voting repeatedly on health care for no particular reason, so as the new Congress got underway, he envisioned a more productive session for governing. And then the Speaker was reminded what party he’s in and how little his caucus cares about constructive legislating.

But the larger point gets back to something we talked about on Thursday: I suspect Boehner’s instincts aren’t as ridiculous as his caucus’.

Pressed for an answer, before he has time to do the full political calculation, Boehner reflexively takes a sensible line on everything from taxes to energy to immigration. Even in 2011, during the debt-ceiling crisis he didn’t want to instigate — his instincts told him this was a bad idea — Boehner’s gut told him to take President Obama’s offer for a “Grand Bargain.” He had to reverse course when his allies balked.

When the Speaker’s followers tell him to change his mind, he puts his head down, and does what he’s told to do.

The problem isn’t necessarily that the House Speaker is a right-wing ideologue, but rather, that he’s weak in the face of pressure from right-wing ideologues. It might help explain why Boehner struggles in his post — he’s not allowed to follow his own instincts, which would otherwise serve him well, because of the radicalization of his caucus.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2013

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Shifting Tectonics On Guns”: It’s No Longer The Simple Question Of Doing What’s Right Versus Doing What’s Expedient

As the Senate moves towards a vote on Harry Reid’s gun violence package, which now (after the excision of a renewed assault gun ban and high-capacity ammo clip restrictions) centers on a quasi-universal background check system for gun sales, there are a lot of shifting techtonics to keep in mind:

First, public opinion remains overwhelmingly in favor of universal background checks across just about every subset of the population. The opposition may be noisy and influential, and benefits from the perception that this is a “voting issue” only for opponents, but this is at present not a close call in terms of where the public stands.

Second, the near-unanimity of public opinion probably reflects the ironic fact that for many years a stronger background check system was the default-drive alternative offered by the NRA to every other gun measure. Yes, the gun lobby has been fighting to protect the “gun show loophole” to background checks for some time, and has quietly worked to undermine the system as it exists, but it’s still difficult for Lapierre and company to pretend it represents a deadly threat to the Second Amendment.

Third, we are in a period where the once-powerful force of red-state Democratic reluctance to make waves on “cultural issues” is waning. There are fewer red-state Dems to worry about, for one thing. For another, voter polarization and reduced ticket-splitting have made the route to survival for red- (and more often, purple-) state Democrats depend more on base mobilization than has been the case in the past.

This last factor remains important in the 60-vote Senate, however. Plum Line’s Greg Sargent runs the numbers this morning, and identifies five Democrats and three Republicans who are being cross-pressured by the usual NRA threats–but also by Michael Bloomberg’s lavishly funded upcoming ad campaign pushing back.

How individual senators, the two parties, and the White House calculate all these factors will largely determine what happens after the Easter Recess. But in this installment of the Gun Wars, it’s no longer quite the simple question of doing what’s right versus doing what’s expedient that it used to be.


By: Ed Kilgore, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 25, 2013

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stop Scaring People”: Karl Rove Is Arguing, “You Need To Stop Scaring People So I Can Start Scaring People”

The Senate fight over measures to reduce gun violence will begin in earnest when members return to session, but the challenge for Republicans will be to identify a way to condemn a universal background check provision that enjoys overwhelming public support.

On ABC yesterday, Karl Rove offered a terrific example of why the upcoming debate is likely to be exasperating. Here’s what the Republican strategist said about the background-check proposal:

“Let’s be very careful about quickly trampling on the rights of people who — and look, you want to get something done? Then stop scaring people.”

Right, scaring people is bad. Let’s have a debate, but leave the demagoguery out of it. Anything else, Mr. Rove?

“If there’s one thing that scares a lot of people who believe in the Second Amendment, it’s the federal government keeping a national registry of gun sales and gun purchases and gun owners.”

This is what makes Rove such a special person in our contemporary discourse. Mere mortals wouldn’t be able to pull off rhetoric like this with a straight face, and probably wouldn’t even try.

First, note the hilarious hypocrisy — Rove wants gun-safety proponents to “stop scaring people,” and in the next breath, warns that the federal government intends to trample on the rights of citizens and create a national gun registry. Rove is effectively arguing, “You need to stop scaring people, so I can start scaring people.”

Second, as a substantive matter, Rove has no idea what he’s talking about. The proposed background-check system doesn’t create a registry and doesn’t “trample” on anyone’s rights. Either Rove hasn’t bothered to get his facts straight or, in the hopes of scaring people after denouncing scaring people, he lied on national television.

What’s more, this fits into a pattern that has fascinated me for years. Rove has a remarkable ability to rely on some of the most ironic political attacks imaginable.

As I noted a couple of years ago, Rove has spent his professional life engaged in political sleaze, so he’s accused Democrats of adding “arsenic to the nation’s political well.” Rove ran a White House that embraced a “permanent campaign,” so he’s accused the Obama team of embracing a “permanent campaign.” Rove embraced the politics of fear, so he’s accused Democrats of embracing the politics of fear. Rove relied on “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted ” political events, so he’s accused Obama of relying on “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted” political events. Rove looked at every policy issue “from a political perspective,” so he’s accused Democrats of looking at every policy issue “from a political perspective.” Rove snubbed news outlets that he considered partisan, so he’s accused Obama of snubbing news outlets that he considered partisan. Rove had a habit of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons, so he’s accused Obama of burying bad news by releasing it late on Friday afternoons.

And now Rove wants gun-safety advocates to “stop scaring people,” while he makes bogus charges intended to scare people.

If this is indicative of how the debate over background checks is likely to proceed, it’s probably wise to invest in some antacids now.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 25, 2013

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Sentiment Is Swinging”: Unanimous Senate Vote Bolsters Movement To Break Up Big Banks

It’s nearly impossible to get 99 U.S. senators to agree on anything.

But this past weekend, 99 senators agreed to send a non-binding message that the $83 billion subsidy “too big to fail” banks get from the government needs to end. The measure was co-sponsored by senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and David Vitter (R-LA).

The implicit subsidy first came to light in February when a Bloomberg News report found that “recurrent bailouts of the largest financial institutions have given [big banks] a unique advantage: They get a break on their borrowing costs, because creditors expect taxpayers to support them whenever they get into trouble.”

Shortly thereafter, Attorney General Eric Holder made the shocking admission that the Justice Department exercises restraint in prosecuting big banks for fear of shocking the global financial system.

“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy,” Holder said, during testimony to the Senate Banking Committee.

Now all of the Senate’s Republicans have joined with senators Brown and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — who have long warned of the big banks’ continued ability to wreck havoc on the economy — to call for an end to the implicit subsidy.

“I’m glad that Republicans and Democrats can agree: ‘Too big to fail’ needs to end, and these big-bank subsidies make no sense,” Senator Warren said.

Bank lobbyists have denied that the subsidy exists. But as a Bloomberg editorial notes, they’ve rejected any steps that would prevent the government from having to serve as their backstop in case of a crisis.

“If big banks don’t get a subsidy on their debt, it’s hard to understand why they’re so adamantly opposed to measures, such as increased capital requirements, that would put a limit on their borrowing,” the editors noted. “Large banks commonly borrow $25 or more for each $1 in equity — or capital — they get from their shareholders, compared with less than 50 cents per $1 of equity for the average U.S. corporation.”

Financial reform following the financial crisis was weakened by bank lobbying. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) noted at the time, the “banks own the place.” And by “the place,” he meant Congress.

This vote shows the sentiment is swinging against the banks. Whether senators are willing to vote against them when actual legislation is on the line still remains to be seen.


By: Jason Sattler, The National Memo, March 25, 2013

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Banks, Financial Reform | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Terrible Way To Live”: The Unending Soul-Gripping Terror Of The Red-State Democrat

Over the weekend, we learned that New York mayor Michael Bloomberg will spend $12 million airing ads in 13 states pushing senators to support expanded background checks for gun purchases. NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre, in his usual restrained fashion, described Bloomberg’s engagement as “reckless” and “insane,” but what’s so remarkable is that this is something you need an ad war to accomplish. After all, universal background checks (which would extend such checks to gun shows and private sales) enjoy pretty much universal support, with polls showing around 90 percent of Americans in favor, including overwhelming majorities of Republicans and gun owners.

And yet, not only are lots of Republicans still holding back, but even some Democrats are afraid to take a position on universal background checks. Greg Sargent reports that at least five Democratic senators—Mark Pryor (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Kay Hagen (NC), Joe Donnelly (IN) and Heidi Heitkamp (SD)—are refusing to say where they stand on the issue. There’s only one reason why: the abject, soul-gripping fear of the red-state Democrat.

There are certainly some times when a legislator would want to withhold judgment on an issue or a bill. Maybe it’s highly technical, or complex and multifaceted, or something that hasn’t been contemplated before, and she needs time to study it and weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. But this isn’t one of those cases. Sure, there are some particulars that would need to be worked out, but at this point the question is relatively simple: Do you support requiring some kind of background check for private gun sales, or not?1

But even with the knowledge that they would have pretty much their entire constituencies behind them if they came out for universal checks, they can’t bring themselves to say where they stand.

This is just one obvious case, but if you’re a red-state Democrat, you have to live with this kind of fear all the time.2 Since you know your party is unpopular in your home state, you have to be constantly looking for ways you can buck the party, and worrying about the times when you support the things your party stands for. Even if your leadership understands the necessity, it has to make things a bit uncomfortable with your colleagues. You’re forever worrying that the voters you represent will grow angry with you, and saying to them, in effect, “Please don’t be mad at me.” And the more the issue touches on “cultural” matters implicating what people see as their identities, the more fear it inspires, since the senator doesn’t want to be tarred with the lethal “She’s not one of us” attack in her next election.

All politicians have to worry about upsetting the folks back home, which is why they aren’t, as a group, particularly courageous. But the more precarious your electoral situation is, the less freedom you have to just say what you believe. And the red-state Democrats act as though they have no freedom at all. It just seems like a terrible way to live.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, March 25, 2013

1. The NRA’s argument against universal background checks has two parts. The first is that criminals won’t get them, so why bother? By that logic, of course, there’s no point in having laws against murder or robbery either. The second is that it will be an inconvenience for law-abiding gun owners, adding crushing “bureaucracy” to the simple process of adding to your arsenal. The truth, however, is that there are so many licensed gun dealers in America that you’re never more than a few miles from one. I made some graphs breaking out the numbers state by state here; Mayors Against Illegal Guns (an organization funded by Bloomberg) distributed the data geographically to show that 98.4 percent of Americans live within ten miles of a gun dealer. What that means is that instead of completing your gun purchase in 60 seconds, it might take you an hour, since you’d have to go down to the gun shop and have them run a check. Unless you’re buying a gun every day, that doesn’t seem like that much of a burden.

2. There are some blue state Republicans too, but for some reason they don’t seem to have so many visible displays of terror. Perhaps Mark Kirk and Susan Collins wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, having suffered through nightmares in which their constituents chase after them with pitchforks and torches, enraged by their refusal to support minimum-wage hikes and same-sex marriage. But somehow I doubt it.

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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