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“They Just Can’t Help Themselves”: The House GOP Is Like A Jukebox That Only Plays One Song

The congressional to-do list is daunting. There’s a very real possibility of a government shutdown in two weeks, and a debt-ceiling deadline looms a few weeks after that. As if that weren’t enough, lawmakers need to tackle a farm bill, immigration reform, and a fix to the Voting Rights Act, all while a national security crisis in Syria lingers.

Complicating matters, the House is only scheduled to be in session for five days between now and the end of the month.

So how did the Republican-led chamber spend their afternoon yesterday — the last work day before another four-day weekend they scheduled for themselves? As Rachel noted on the show last night, GOP lawmakers voted for the 41st time to gut the Affordable Care Act.

Joan McCarter summarized the proposal nicely.

In case you care what this one would do, it would stop people from getting subsidies on the health insurance exchanges until the income verification process that is already in the law is replaced with some other income verification process that probably involves elves doing the work in the dead of night. Or maybe unicorns.

But hey, it’s a vote that House Speaker John Boehner could be assured of “winning,” so there’s that.

House Republicans know the bill won’t pass the Senate. They also know it won’t be signed into law by President Obama. And they know they have all kinds of real work that desperately needs to get done.

But they can’t help themselves.

Their irrational, wild-eyed hatred of “Obamacare” has become all consuming. GOP lawmakers can apparently think of little else. Real work is pushed to the backburner so symbolic “message” votes like these can make the right feel better about itself.

Indeed, as we’ll talk about a little later this morning, it’s this mindless contempt for the moderate health care law that’s become all-consuming for congressional Republicans — it’s why a government shutdown is increasingly likely and why the GOP may very well trash the full faith and credit of the United States next month for the first time in American history.

“Obamacare,” in other word, has pushed Republicans to madness, for no legitimate reason.

If voters paid closer attention, and bothered to show up during midterm elections, Republicans would be in quite a bit of trouble right about now, wouldn’t they?


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

September 15, 2013 Posted by | Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There’s Only One Answer”: John Boehner To President Obama, Can I Please Take You Hostage?

House Republicans have spent weeks fending off right-wing demands that they shut down the government unless President Obama agrees to destroy his own health-care reform. They’re currently trying to wriggle out of this demand by promising instead to use the debt ceiling to force Obama to destroy his health-care reform, which is an even more dangerous threat. So how do House Republicans plan to wriggle out of that promise? By getting President Obama to help them. John Boehner is pleading with Obama to combine negotiations over the debt ceiling and the budget. There’s really only one answer Obama can give here: Boehner can go fuck himself.

Boehner is desperately trying to combine two separate issues: negotiating over budget policy and negotiating over whether Congress should trigger a default on the national debt. Why negotiate the two together? Boehner argues:

I reminded them that for decades, the White House, the Congress, have used the debt limit to find bipartisan solutions on the deficit and the debt. The types of changes were signed into law by Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton and President Obama himself two years ago. So President Obama is going to have to deal with this, as well. It’s really no different. You can’t talk about increasing the debt limit unless you’re willing to make changes and reforms that begin to solve the spending problem that Washington has.”

So we have two arguments here. The first one is that there have been times in the past when Congress has lifted the debt ceiling and also passed changes to fiscal policy. That is true. It can be convenient to wrap up the automatic step of lifting the debt ceiling into bills that change levels of taxes and spending, because a separate vote is unnecessary in the first place.

But Boehner isn’t proposing to attach a perfunctory debt-ceiling hike to “bipartisan solutions,” as has happened in the past. He is proposing that the opposition party extract unacceptable conditions as the price of lifting the debt ceiling. That is an unprecedented demand. Under the Bush presidency, Democrats objected that tax cuts had created un unsustainable fiscal position for the government, but it never even occurred to them to threaten to trigger a debt default to force Bush to repeal his tax cuts. Before 2011, the debt ceiling was an occasion for posturing by the out-party and was sometimes raised in conjunction with mutually agreeable policy changes, but the opposition never used the threat of default as a hostage.

Boehner’s correct that the hostage-taking negotiation he wants to hold again did occur once before in 2011. But that was a white-knuckle experience that very nearly led to default, has put in place an extremely stupid policy, and amounted to a gigantic blunder by Obama that he is rightly determined not to repeat. Enshrining the precedent that the opposition party can use the debt ceiling to extract otherwise unacceptable conditions would create a permanent cycle of crisis, where every fiscal negotiation carries a systemic risk. Democrats would be much better off letting Republicans default on the debt right now than submitting to a new normal whereby they get jacked up for concessions over and over until eventually there’s a default anyway. That is why Obama can’t go along with Boehner’s innocuous-sounding request to combine debt-ceiling negotiations with fiscal-policy negotiations.

Boehner’s last sentence gives the game away. He begins by asserting that “you can’t” lift the debt ceiling without making a separate budget deal. But of course you can. Congress does it all the time. Whether or not you decide to change budget policy is unrelated to whether or not you should trigger an unnecessary debt default.

Boehner ends the sentence by demanding that Obama “solve the spending problem.” That talking point is the Republican way of summarizing the party’s stance on fiscal issues, which holds that the deficit is a huge existential crisis but must be reduced entirely through spending cuts, without reducing any tax deductions.

The two parties don’t agree on that. Obama thinks the long-term deficit should be reduced through a mix of reduced tax deductions and lower spending. Boehner clearly is personally willing to compromise in some way on this but just as clearly cannot get House Republicans to agree to compromise. Not only is Boehner unable to make a long-term budget deal that his members can accept, but he also can’t even figure out how to keep the government open, as The Wall Street Journal reports in a paywalled news story:

In a bipartisan meeting Thursday among House and Senate leaders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) asked Mr. Boehner what other concession could be made to satisfy conservatives, other than defunding the health-care law. The speaker said there was none, according to Republican and Democratic aides briefed on the meeting.

“Boehner said nothing will appease them but defunding Obamacare,” one aide said.

The debt ceiling is Boehner’s way around this. He wants to combine the debt ceiling with negotiations over the federal budget as a way of luring Obama into a position where Boehner can negotiate budget policy without making policy concessions.

But why on Earth would Obama agree to do that? The fact that Boehner is phrasing this as a request reveals the complete absurdity of the situation. Mr. President, would you mind dropping off your bus so I can strap a bomb to it and then make demands? Uh, no, let’s not do that.


By: Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, September 14, 2013

September 15, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Motivated Fanatics”: The Gun Control Debate And Our Civic Life

I Googled the phrase “stack them in the streets” because I was searching for a historical reference from 1968. I ended up stumbling on something else: an article from the far-right site explaining what was really going on with the gun debate in Congress:

Once cowed at the thought of provoking Second Amendment supporters, leftists will soon attempt to ban ‘assault weapons’ (and much more) as legislation offered by Diane Feinstein makes its way to the Senate floor…. Maybe Democrats are confident that fallout from Sandy Hook will provide the floor votes necessary to disarm the American people. But if the left is willing to risk picking this fight with millions of American gun owners, it must also believe something far more important—that Americans who have spent years arming themselves against the ultimate expression of tyranny by their own government—the overthrow of the Second Amendment—will choose to not fight when the time finally comes.

It is illustrated with a Che-like logo of a machine gun’s silhouette and the legend “COME AND TAKE IT”—a slogan, which is crucial to know about if you want to understand the contemporary right, that I wrote about here.

And then, at came the 420 comments:

“…we will run them like the british to the shores and they better hope theres a boat waiting for them to take there ass to Europe with rest of the sheeple. If not, the sharks are be eating good that week. They better hope we deside to show mercy long enuff for them to get on planes or ships to leave the usa….”

“thats right there could be a lot of dead LEFTIST!!”

Stack them in the streets like cordwood. There’s no room for prisoners.”

“Take members of Congress prisoner and hold them hostage because it is reported that many Federal Depts have ordered millions of rounds of hollow points supposedly to hold off civil unrest and insurrection. How long does the left think these Federal employees will hold out if many members of Congress are held as hostages…”

“Not hostage—Citizen Arrest. Their vote will provide the wanted list and their confession.”


“Bad time to be a politician. Dibs on shooting/hanging the President.”

How relevant should this stuff be, you ask, to one’s ordinary political reflections and calculations? After all, how many people can possibly read Well, let’s investigate. Deploying the algorithm at (and allowing that there’s no easily settled way to measure traffic), I compared the traffic there to some of the sites I read and have written for., the blog of the Brooklyn College professor who is my favorite political writer, ranks 144,234. The website of Campaign for America’s Future, where I published in 2007 and 2008, is at 41,870. Three of my regular lefty reading stops, the blogs Lawyers, Guns, and Money, Americablog, and Crooks and Liars—where I contributed regularly last year—rank 41,346 and 11,301 and 9,897, respectively. The homes of my online columnizing in 2006-07 and 2012, and, clock in at 8,481 and 7,263. We are at 9,088.

MinutemenNews is in the middle of that pack: 12,600.

It is a reasonable surmise, then, that the author of “The Left Is Convinced Americans Won’t Fight for Second Amendment Rights” has at least as many or possibly more readers than I do. And look here: as much as I hate to admit it, its readers race leagues ahead of the lefty blog pack when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is: knocking on doors in campaigns, stuffing envelopes—and, don’t forget, showing up at political meetings with guns. As my favorite blogger Digby always reminds us, pissing in the wind as far as I can tell, committing politics while armed is the ultimate act of civic intimidation. I find it very hard to argue that the implicit threat by these people to shoot politicians and officers of the law who cross them—or better yet, to “stack them like cordwood”—does not provide some sort of unmeasurable advantage in political conflicts.

Gun nuts are the most motivated people in our politics. And now we’ve had a natural experiment to prove it: the first recall election in Colorado history was lost by two state senators who had the temerity to vote for legislation requiring background checks for firearms purchases and banning ammunition magazines over fifteen rounds.

A site called pronounced with bafflement: “Colorado Voters Support Background Checks Yet Still Recall Lawmakers for Background Checks.” It headlined a nice roundup of data from the election last Tuesday. Senate president John Morse went down 51 to 49 in conservative Colorado Springs, and the other senator, Angela Giron, went down 56-44 in blue-collar Pueblo, both “not districts that lean heavily Republican.” Statewide, a Public Policy Polling survey found the weekend before the balloting that Colorado voters favored background checks by 68 to 27 percent. They concluded that this means Democrats might face trouble in the next statewide election, but I thought that was a dense conclusion. It was the issue here that was the issue—the issue of “politicians taking away our guns.”

“Intensity of commitment” is a difficult problem for political theory to analyze: is it a violation of the public will when fanatics motivate themselves so much more efficiently than moderates? (“The definition of ‘moderate,’” I once read a Barry Goldwater supporter noting in 1964, “is ‘someone who doesn’t knock on doors on election day.”) Is it “undemocratic” when a measure overwhelmingly favored by “ordinary” voters is defeated by conspiracy theorists who fear that a baby step designed to keep guns out of the hands of psychotics and criminals is actually a giant leap toward New World Order government? Or is it the essence of democracy?

I wish I knew.

But that’s an intellectual problem. The political answer is obvious. Don’t mourn. Expose the fact that the National Rifle Association and its acolytes violate all the bounds of civility that make democratic deliberation possible (most people simply don’t know this: the PPP found that the same Coloradans who want background checks by a margin of 68 to 27 percent also have a positive view of the NRA by a margin of 53 to 33 percent). Embarrass the pundits who refuse to recognize this. Tell the story that Digby’s been trying to tell: that guns at political events make democracy impossible. And don’t be moderate. Knock on doors on election day. Organize.


By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, September 13, 2013

September 15, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Beginning Of An Exceptional Friendship”: The American People’s Reply To Comrade Vladimir Putin

Dear President Putin,

Thank you so much for your letter to the American people! I am an American person, and when I learned on Thursday from the official Russian news agency, the New York Times, that you wanted “to speak directly to the American people,” I thought: How sweet!

I know I speak for many American people when I congratulate you on your English. It was flawless, with none of those dropped articles that plague so many of your countrymen. Please don’t be offended, but I have to ask: Did Edward Snowden help you with your letter?

It’s not just your English that impressed me. Your geopolitical points were smart — da bomb, as we American people like to say. (This is not the kind that would be used in Syria.) You were so thoughtful to bring up those memories of our days long ago as allies, and your references to “mutual trust” and “shared success” make me think that maybe we could be friends again. Your favorable mentions of Israel and the Pope remind me that we have so much in common.

Although some of us think it’s a good idea to have the U.S. military strike Syria, most of the American people agree with you that it would be a bad idea. (President Obama, you may have heard, is on both sides of the issue.) Your arguments against attack were creative, which is why it’s such a shame that, at the very end, you kind of stepped in it. When you told us that Americans are not “exceptional” — well, that hurts all of us American people.

I was surprised by this lapse because I think you really “get” Americans. When we saw photos of you shirtless in Siberia, you brought to mind one of our most celebrated American lawmakers, Anthony Weiner. When we watched you navigate around Russian laws to stay in power, you brought to mind another quintessentially American figure, Rod Blagojevich. The Harley-Davidson, the black clothing, the mistress half your age — you are practically American yourself.

This makes your crack about “American exceptionalism” all the more perplexing. “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional,” you wrote. “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” (Thank you for the considerate mention of God, by the way; American people respond well to that.) But I’m guessing what went wrong here is your translators let you down when they defined exceptional for you as luchshyy (better) rather than razlichnyy (different).

Americans do not believe they are better than other peoples. If you doubt this, you need only look at Congress. If we really thought we were superior, is there any chance we would choose them to represent us? There are exceptions — we think we are better than Canadians, for example, but please don’t tell them, because they’re awfully nice — but generally we accept that all countries have their strengths. We know, for example, that Russians are better than us at producing delicacies such as caviar and dioxin. (Kidding!)

When we say we are exceptional, what we really are saying is we are different. With few exceptions, we are all strangers to our land; our families came from all corners of the world and brought all of its colors, religions and languages. We believe this mixing, together with our free society, has produced generations of creative energy and ingenuity, from the Declaration of Independence to Facebook, from Thomas Jefferson to Miley Cyrus. There is no other country quite like that.

Americans aren’t better than others, but our American experience is unique — exceptional — and it has created the world’s most powerful economy and military, which, more often than not, has been used for good in the world. When you question American exceptionalism, you will find little support from any of us, liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, doves or hawks.

I hope you won’t take this criticism badly, because I offer it in friendship. I was in Slovenia that day in 2001 when President George W. Bush looked into your soul and liked what he saw. And had your ancestors not chased my ancestors out of Eastern Europe, I would not be here today, participating in the American experiment.

Anyway, it was such a pleasure to get your letter. Please write again soon. I think this is the beginning of an exceptional friendship.


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 12, 2013

September 15, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, Syria | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Biggest Banks Are Bigger Than Ever”: Five Years After Lehman Brothers, We’re Still Just One Crisis From The Edge

Five years ago tomorrow, the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, officially kicking off the financial crisis that led to what we now call the Great Recession. Lehman’s bankruptcy was followed by the bailout of insurance giant AIG, the $700 billion bank bailout known as TARP and an alphabet soup of Federal Reserve programs launched in an attempt to stem the damage being done to the economy.

But even with those emergency measures, the final toll of the crisis was staggering: 8.7 million jobs were lost, $16 trillion in household wealth was wiped out and 12 million homeowners were left underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes were worth. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, the cumulative effects of the crisis – wealth lost during the recession plus the effect that lower earnings and wealth will have on future earnings and output – could add up to more than $28 trillion.

The crisis began with a housing bubble fueled by subprime mortgage lenders, who were encouraged to make loan after loan by Wall Street banks that wanted mortgage securities to slice, dice and sell around the world. But it was exacerbated by the fact that the biggest Wall Street banks were so interconnected that the failure of one meant all the others were brought to the brink of collapse. The banks – engorged on debt and engaging in risky trading for only their own benefit – put the whole economy at risk.

Since then, quite a lot of time, effort and ink have been spent trying to fix what went wrong. So how did that attempt go?

The main legislative response to the crisis – the Dodd-Frank financial reform law – undeniably contains some things that will make the next crisis, whatever its form, easier to manage (or even prevent). There’s now a regulator explicitly tasked with policing consumer financial products, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There’s a new process that, at least in theory, will allow the government to dismantle a failing mega-bank without resorting to ad-hoc bailouts, a legal process that was sorely missing during the 2008 crisis.

There’s a new regulatory regime for derivatives – the risky financial instruments that helped bring down AIG – that should make their market much more transparent. And banks are now required to hold more capital on hand to protect against a sudden downturn.

In other areas, though, not much has changed. For instance, the biggest banks are bigger than ever. In fact, the six largest banks in the U.S. now hold $9.6 trillion in assets, a 37 percent increase from five years ago. That total is equal to 58 percent of the entire economy. As Fortune’s Stephen Gandel noted, “The biggest bank in the nation, JPMorgan, has $2.4 trillion in assets alone — the size of England’s economy.”

And while those banks have gotten bigger, rules meant to rein in their risky trading have gone precisely nowhere. A key part of Dodd-Frank known as the Volcker Rule – which was supposed to prevent banks from making risky trades with taxpayer-backed dollars, such as consumer deposits – was watered down by Congress even before it passed, and is now stuck in a bureaucratic and lobbying morass. (Overall, just 40 percent of the rules in Dodd-Frank are actually finished.) More ambitious reforms, like capping the size of banks, garnered just one unsuccessful vote in the Senate.

Homeowners, meanwhile, continue to struggle. Not only are 7.1 million still underwater, but banks are engaging in shady practices to push homeowners into foreclosure who should have been able to stay in their homes. A much ballyhooed settlement stemming from rampant “foreclosure fraud,” as it’s called, doesn’t seem to have actually stopped these pernicious practices.

So while some things have certainly changed for the better – and having a consumer regulator will hopefully shortcircuit a lot of problems before they start – the biggest banks are still just one catastrophe away from pulling the country back to the edge of a cliff. And if the new process for unwinding a failed mega-bank doesn’t work, there won’t be many options available other than the odious bailouts used in 2008. In the meantime, homeowners who have suffered at the hands of the financial industry still find themselves with few avenues for receiving any justice.

Is there any momentum for new reform? Well, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has been beating the drum for breaking up the biggest banks, and introduced a bill – along with Sens.  John McCain, R-Ariz., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Angus King, I-Maine – that would bring back a Depression-era regulation keeping investment and commercial banking separate. Former Citigroup CEO John Reed, who presided over the nation’s first true banking behemoth, told the Financial Times recently that breaking up banks can and should be done, making him one of a handful of Wall Street titans to take such a position.

But the financial industry is as strong as ever, so the prospects of real reform happening absent another crisis or a real populist reawakening are still pretty slim. If another crash comes along, we’re going to have to hope that the tinkering and tweaking that’s already occurred is enough to save us.


By: Pat Garofalo, U. S. News and World Report, September 14, 2013

September 15, 2013 Posted by | Big Banks, Financial Crisis | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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