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“Priority Deficit Disorder”: When Congressional Republicans’ Homework And Playtime Are At Odds

Back in March, just two months into the new Congress, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) conceded that he had a small problem. He’d been assigned the task of working on loan guarantees for clean-energy companies, and was supposed to write legislation. But that never happened — Kelly got distracted.

His spokesperson said at the time, “It was a priority, and it remains an issue of interest. But Mike’s efforts shifted when he chose to focus more on holding the administration accountable with regards to Fast and Furious. And then when the Benghazi tragedy occurred, that took the cake.”

In other words, there was real work to do, but the Pennsylvania Republican couldn’t get to it because he decided made-up political “scandals” were a better use of his time.

Six months later, those attitudes continue to dominate the House GOP’s thinking.

Republicans on Capitol Hill are acknowledging that the fall’s looming fiscal fights could peel attention away from their investigation into the IRS’s singling out of conservative groups. […]

But Republicans have also made the IRS investigation a key part of their recent political message, at a time when the agency is trying to implement the Democratic healthcare law that conservatives are itching to defund. The controversy has also helped revive a Tea Party movement that had been flagging in recent months.

With all that in mind, GOP aides stress that the congressional investigation into the IRS will be moving full speed ahead, even as a potential debt default takes up much of the oxygen in the halls of Congress.

This will, by the way, include even more hearings into the discredited controversy.

John Feehery, a GOP strategist, told The Hill that Republicans “have to make the connection” between the non-existent IRS story and the Affordable Care Act “because it’s so hot right now.”

Oh for crying out loud.

Look, the House of Representatives is in session only nine days this month. Nine. Congress just took a four-week break, but the Republican-led lower chamber apparently wants to ease back into their work schedule.

On the to-do list? A budget crisis, a debt-ceiling crisis, a farm bill, immigration reform, appropriations bills, and fixing the Voting Rights Act. It’s simply unrealistic to think the dysfunctional House will complete all of these tasks, or even most of them, anytime soon, though a couple of these are non-optional.

But despite all of this work that remains undone, much of which should have been completed before the August recess, House GOP leaders are still eager to invest time and energy in a “scandal” that no longer makes any sense. Why? Apparently because it’s “so hot right now.”

It reminds me a lot of a child who prioritizes playtime over homework. Sure, the homework is important, but it’s not nearly as fun or satisfying as playing — so the child decides some of the homework just won’t get done.

Republicans remain a post-policy party. They have real work to do, which they will neglect because their shiny plaything has a firm grip on their limited attention span.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 3, 2013

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Thuggish Abuse Of Power”: Republicans’ Devious Plan To Slow Down Obamacare Enrollment

Republican lawmakers who had criticized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for improperly targeting conservative nonprofits for additional scrutiny kicked off an investigation last week into community-based groups who received Navigator grants to help uninsured people enroll in the exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, demanding that the organizations answer detailed questions and produce thousands of reams of documents.

Fifteen Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, including Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), are requesting detailed responses and thousands of pages of documents from approximately 60 percent of Navigator-recipients across the country by Sep. 13.

The tactic is reminiscent of the kind of practices Republicans had condemned over the summer, after news broke that the IRS subjected certain groups applying for 501 C4 nonprofit tax status to long, intrusive, questionnaires about their filings. Upton personally called such tactics a “thuggish abuse of power” and “simply un-American.”

But according to the GOP-backed letter, groups scrambling to begin enrolling individuals in coverage on Oct. 1, will have just two weeks to provide detailed written descriptions of their employees and activities, interactions with the Department of Health and Human Services, and “all documentation and communication related to your grant.”

Last month, the Obama administration distributed $67 million in federal grants to more than 100 hospitals, universities, Indian tribes, patient advocacy groups and local food banks “to help people sign up for coverage in new online health insurance marketplaces.”

The effort is just the latest attempt by Republicans to undermine enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee have previously sent letters seeking information to entities tasked with educating the public about the law, opened investigations into public relations companies that had been contracted to promote the law on popular television shows, and warned the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) against encouraging enrollment in the law.

An HHS spokesperson strongly condemned the committee’s request to Politico, noting, “This is a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years.”


By: Igor Volsky, Think Progress, September 3, 2013

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Agree With The Same Red Line, Actually”: Let’s Not Pretend It Was A Position Most Republicans Didn’t Approve Of

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) issued a statement this afternoon that left his position on Syria unclear, though he complained that President Obama “has some work to do to recover from his grave missteps in Syria.”

Curiously, the Wisconsin Republican didn’t say what “grave missteps” he disapproves of. When GOP lawmakers generally make this complaint, they’re referring to Obama last year declaring Syria’s use of chemical weapons a “red line” that the Assad government must not cross.

But Ryan really isn’t in a position to make this complaint. As CNBC’s Eamon Javers noted today, this was the exchange from last year’s vice presidential candidates’ debate:

RADDATZ: What happens if Assad does not fall? Congressman Ryan, what happens to the region? What happens if he hangs on? What happens if he does?

RYAN: Then Iran keeps their greatest ally in the region. He’s a sponsor of terrorism. He’ll probably continue slaughtering his people. We and the world community will lose our credibility on this….

RADDATZ: So what would Romney-Ryan do about that credibility?

RYAN: Well, we agree with the same red line, actually, they do on chemical weapons, but not putting American troops in, other than to secure those chemical weapons. They’re right about that.

I mention this in part because, just over the last week or so, it seems the conventional wisdom has coalesced around the belief that Obama was irresponsible last year by making his “red line” remarks, which may have helped lock his administration into a course of action. Whether or not the president’s stated position was the right call is certainly a topic worthy of debate.

But let’s not pretend it was a position Republicans broadly disapproved of last year, or really at any time up until two weeks ago. When Paul Ryan declared that his party “agrees with the same line,” it’s not like there was a great hullabaloo at the time about the congressman’s break with GOP orthodoxy.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 13, 2013

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Syria Converted To A Political Story”: And The All Knowing Washington Media Breathe A Sigh Of Relief

So last night I was watching NBC News, and a report on Syria came on, in which Andrea Mitchell spent five minutes talking about whether going to Congress for affirmation of his decision to attack the Syrian government makes Barack Obama “look weak.” Mitchell is the network’s “Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent,” which is what you call someone who stays in nice hotels and gets talking points from top officials when she travels with the secretary of State to foreign countries. The news is full of this kind of discussion, about whether Obama is weak, whether he “bungled” the decision-making process, how this might affect the 2014 elections, and pretty much anything except whether a strike on Syria is genuinely a good idea or not. Here’s The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza talking up the “massive gamble” Obama is taking—not a gamble on what will happen in Syria, mind you, but a political gamble. Here’s Chuck Todd and the rest of the NBC politics crew gushing that this is “a great political story.” Don’t even ask what’s going on over at Politico.

Look, I get it. These folks are political reporters, so they report on politics. You don’t go into a restaurant and ask the sommelier to make your entree and the pastry chef to pick you a wine. I’m not sure you’d even want Chris Cillizza trying to explain the actual substance of a potential military action in Syria. Heck, I too spend most of my time writing about politics, and there are legitimate political issues to discuss. But it does seem that Obama’s request for a congressional authorization has almost been greeted in the Washington media with a sigh of relief: At last, we get to frame this issue in terms of the political stuff we feel comfortable with, and can stop worrying about the serious and deadly substance of it all. We can treat it just like we treat everything else, as a game with winners and losers and a point spread to be debated.

And I suspect that that relief is made all the more overwhelming by the fact that anyone who is even a little thoughtful about this question can’t help but feel profoundly ambivalent about it. That’s certainly how I feel. I’m paid to have opinions, and I can’t figure out what my opinion is. On one hand, Bashar Assad is a mass murderer who, it seems plain, would be happy to kill half the population of his country if it would keep him in power. On the other hand, if he was taken out in a strike tomorrow the result would probably be a whole new civil war, this time not between the government and rebels but among competing rebel groups. On one hand, there’s value in enforcing international norms against certain kinds of despicable war crimes; on the other hand, Assad killed 100,000 Syrians quite adequately with guns and bombs before everybody got really mad about the 1,400 he killed with poison gas. On one hand, a round of missile strikes isn’t going to have much beyond a symbolic effect without changing the outcome of the civil war; on the other hand, the last thing we want is to get into another protracted engagement like Iraq.

In short, we’re confronted with nothing but bad options, and anyone who thinks there’s an unambiguously right course of action is a fool. So it’s a lot easier to talk about the politics. But just one final point: Can we please stop caring whether Obama “looks weak”? You know who spent a lot of time worrying about whether he looked weak, and made sure he never did? George W. Bush. Everybody lauded his “moral clarity,” his ability to see things in black and white, good guys and bad guys, smoke ’em out, dead or alive. And look where that got us.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 3, 2013

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Media, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Summer Of Voting Discontent”: Texas’ Voter ID Laws Are Plain And Simple Discrimination

Last month, the Department of Justice sued Texas over the state’s discriminatory and punishing voter ID law, SB 14. The same law was blocked by a federal court last summer, which determined that a “law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote.”

In a state and country where voters of color are significantly more likely to live in poverty than white voters, the impermissible choice that Texas has imposed on voters discriminates on the basis of class and race both. In the wake of Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which immobilized a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice’s lawsuit represents the next phase in pushing back against measures that are intended to make it harder for people of color to vote, and less likely that our votes will count when we do.

Texas, like many states, passed SB 14 for the ostensible reason of combating in-person voter fraud, which Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called a “phantom epidemic.” But Texas has not been able to identify a single instance of in-person voter fraud. Texas has said that the law is not intended to discriminate against Black and Latino voters, whose communities represent 90 percent of the state’s population grown in the past decade, and yet the state’s legislature refused to accept any of the amendments offered that would have mitigated any of SB 14’s burdens that disproportionately affect voters of color — amendments that, for example, would have created a way for poor voters to get free identification, or would have accepted student IDs.

A single comparison of the accepted and not accepted forms of photo ID makes the priorities of the law clear: SB 14 will allow voters to present a concealed handgun license at the polls, but not a student ID from any of Texas’s public universities.

In addition to challenging the discriminatory ID law itself, the DoJ lawsuit also seeks to bail Texas in to a preclearance structure similar to the one that was lost in the Shelby County decision. Texas’s longstanding history of crafting discriminatory voting laws and schemes extends far past the voter ID law at issue now; in fact, Texas boasts the inglorious accolade of being the only state for which federal authorities have challenged at least one of its statewide redistricting plans after every decennial census since 1970.

As recently as last year, a federal court concluded that the state had drawn up its various redistricting plans with the intent to suppress the growing political power of African-American and Latino districts. A provision of the Voting Rights Act asserted in the DOJ’s case can bring back to Texas the preclearance defense lost in June’s Shelby County decision.

As the summer of our voting discontent draws to a close, it should serve as a powerful message that the first major voting lawsuit filed by the DOJ since the Shelby County decision goes directly to a state with one of the most well-documented histories of racial discrimination in voting, and seeks to use the full power of the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act both to invalidate SB 14 and to bring Texas back under federal review.


By: Natasha Korgaonkar, Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, U. S. News and World Report, September 3, 2013

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Voter ID, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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