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“A Two-Tier Nation”: The GOP’s Citizenship Suppression

Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says he is against creating “a special path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants. The path he refers to — which many of his Republican House colleagues also oppose — is the one laid out in the immigration reform bill the Senate passed this summer; it would enable the undocumented, after paying some fines and learning English, to get green cards in 10 years and apply for citizenship three years after that.

But by opposing this special path, House Republicans may create a special category of American: legal but permanently non-citizen. Able to work, required to pay taxes but not able to vote. Subject to taxation without representation. In a word, second-class.

While House Republicans have been busily working on shutting down the government and defaulting on the debt, they have not neglected their duty to screw up immigration reform. Just how much they’ll mangle it remains unclear. Some oppose any legalization at all. Some support extending citizenship to the Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — but no one else. Goodlatte says he is open to legalizing additional undocumented immigrants, but it’s not clear that he wants a bill that would enable them to become citizens. (This last option was recently endorsed by Tamar Jacoby, who heads a business group, ImmigrationWorks USA, that wants to take employers off the hook for employing undocumented workers but is apparently indifferent to whether those workers can win any political rights and the bargaining power that goes with it.)

By opposing a “special path,” Goodlatte has set himself against the provision in the Senate bill that would enable the law-abiding undocumented to obtain green cards after a 10-year wait. Instead, he is reportedly working on legislation that would put them in the existing line for green cards, where the wait would be closer to a century. With green cards for low- and semi-skilled workers limited to just a few thousand each year, millions of the undocumented would never obtain the cards or the subsequent opportunity to become citizens.

This non-solution solution might have a certain appeal to Republicans. Legalizing the undocumented would relieve businesses that employ immigrants at low wages regardless of their status. Not granting citizenship to the undocumented would limit the number of Latinos and Asians in the electorate, two groups which increasingly back Democrats at the polls. Could there be a more effective form of voter suppression than citizenship suppression?

But therein lies the Republicans’ dilemma. The political imperative behind embracing some kind of immigration reform is the Republicans’ need to convince Latinos that their party holds them in the same regard as other Americans. Carving out a special sub-citizen category for the disproportionately Latino undocumented doesn’t do that. “What makes them think this solves their problem?” one leading immigrant advocate asked me this week. “It just creates a new problem, since it’s deeply insulting to Latinos.”

Still, the immigrant groups see a way that Goodlatte’s approach might work — if it allows for a major increase in the number of green cards the government issues. Their hope is that the House passes something — a Dream Act, or some bill creating at least in theory a path to citizenship — that would go to conference with the Senate, and that a compromise bill emerges that would create a real path to citizenship. Advocates of immigration reform believe that the Republican leadership may discreetly favor such a course, but they also note that House Republican leaders have shown no discernible ability to actually lead their caucus.

Most GOP House members are safely cocooned in lily-white districts, many of which Republican state legislators carved out for them. Nonetheless, so long as Republicans treat Latinos as second-class Americans — whether prohibited from legal status or merely from citizenship — the GOP’s ability to win elections at the state and federal levels will decline with each passing year. To advocate the creation of a two-tier nation is almost surely to incite the enmity of those relegated to the bottom tier, not to mention their friends and relations and lots of stray egalitarians.

“We don’t cotton to having a permanent second-class group just here to work,” said Tom Snyder, who manages the immigrant reform campaign for the AFL-CIO. “At least since we abolished slavery, it’s not been the American way.”


By: Harol Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 26, 2013

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Citizenship, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Crafting Bills Designed To Fail”: The House Republican Tantrum That Knows No End

The New York Times published a helpful chart the other day, which highlighted a nine-step process Congress would have to follow this week to avoid a government shutdown. As it happens, steps one through eight were completed with relative ease.

It was that ninth step that gave lawmakers trouble.

House Republicans not only gathered on a weekend to take a vote that moves the government even closer to a shutdown, they did it in the dead of night.

The Republican-controlled House voted around midnight on Saturday to keep the government open for a few more months in exchange for punting the rollout of Obamacare for a year — the kind of shot at the health care law conservatives had wanted for weeks, even if it’s sure to be rejected by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

By all appearances, House Republicans are now actively seeking a government shutdown, specifically aiming for their goal rather than making any effort to avoid it. Indeed, the unhinged House majority appears to have gone out of its way to craft a spending bill designed to fail.

The bill approved after midnight would deny health care benefits to millions of American families for a year, add to the deficit by repealing a medical-device tax industry lobbyists urged Republicans to scrap, and in a fascinating twist, make it harder for Americans to get birth control. As the New York Times report noted, “The delay included a provision favored by social conservatives that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage.”

Yes, in the midst of a budget crisis, the House GOP decided it was time to go after birth control again. Wow.

Senate leaders and the White House patiently tried to explain to radicalized House Republicans that voting for this would all but guarantee a government shutdown — so House Republicans voted for it en masse.

In fact, take a look at the roll call. Jonathan Bernstein asked on Friday, “Where are the sane House Republicans?” That question was answered quite clearly last night: literally every GOP lawmaker in the chamber voted for their government-shutdown plan. There were zero defections.

This was not, in other words, an isolated tantrum thrown by an extremist faction of a once-great political party. This was rather an organized tantrum thrown by the entirety of the House Republican caucus.

Keep in mind, I use the word “tantrum” largely because Republicans told me to. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in July, “Shutting down the government to get your way over an unrelated piece of legislation is the political equivalent of throwing a temper tantrum. It is just not helpful.”

Last night, Cole linked arms with his fellow conservatives and joined them as they jumped off the cliff together. Apparently, he discovered his affinity for tantrums over the last couple of months.

Also note, we know with certainty Speaker Boehner didn’t want this scenario. It was just earlier this month that he presented a proposal that would have avoided all of this, precisely because he didn’t want to end up where we are now. But the Speaker, who has little influence or control over what happens in his own chamber, simply lacked the courage and the strength to govern responsibly.

What happens now is less clear. The Senate could reconvene today, reject the House bill, and urge House Republicans to act like grown-ups tomorrow — the last day before Monday night’s shutdown deadline. Or more likely, the upper chamber will gather in the morning, try to pass the same bill senators passed on Friday, and leave the House with just hours to keep the government’s lights on.

Either way, House Republicans continue to fail at completing even the most basic of tasks. The public doesn’t expect much of Congress anymore, but most seem to believe lawmakers should be able to keep the government’s doors open.

As things stand, that now appears unlikely.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 29, 2013

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Different America”: Where The G.O.P.’s Suicide Caucus Lives

The geography of Congress’s so-called suicide caucus. Click to expand.

On August 21st, Congressman Mark Meadows sent a letter to John Boehner. Meadows is a former restaurant owner and Sunday-school Bible teacher from North Carolina. He’s been in Congress for eight months. Boehner, who has served in Congress for twenty-two years, is the Speaker of the House and second in the line of succession if anything happened to the President.

Meadows was not pleased with how Boehner and his fellow Republican leaders in the House were approaching the September fight over spending. The annual appropriations to fund the government were scheduled to run out on October 1st, and much of it would stop operating unless Congress passed a new law. Meadows wanted Boehner to use the threat of a government shutdown to defund Obamacare, a course Boehner had publicly ruled out.

Back home in Meadows’s congressional district, the idea was quite popular. North Carolina’s Eleventh District had been gerrymandered after the 2010 census to become the most Republican district in his state. Meadows won his election last November by fifteen points. The Presidential contest there was an even bigger blowout. Romney won the district by twenty-three points, sixty-one per cent to thirty-eight per cent. While the big story of the 2012 election was about demographics and a growing non-white population that is increasingly Democratic, that was not the story in the Meadows race. His district is eighty-seven per cent white, five per cent Latino, and three per cent black.

Before Meadows sent off his letter to Boehner, he circulated it among his colleagues, and with the help of the conservative group FreedomWorks, as well as some heavy campaigning by Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Mike Lee, seventy-nine like-minded House Republicans from districts very similar to Meadows’s added their signatures.

“Since most of the citizens we represent believe that ObamaCare should never go into effect,” the letter said, “we urge you to affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare in any relevant appropriations bill brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill.”

They ended the letter with a stirring reference to Madison:

James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 58 that the “power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon … for obtaining a redress of every grievance…” We look forward to collaborating to defund one of the largest grievances in our time and to restore patient-centered healthcare in America.

Not everyone thought it was a terrific idea or one worthy of comparison to the brilliance of the Founders. Noting the strategic ineptness of threatening a government shutdown over a policy that neither the Democratically controlled Senate nor the President himself would ever support, Karl Rove railed against the idea in the Wall Street Journal. The conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer dubbed the eighty Republicans the “suicide caucus.”

And yet, a few weeks later, Boehner adopted the course demanded by Meadows and his colleagues.

The ability of eighty members of the House of Representatives to push the Republican Party into a strategic course that is condemned by the party’s top strategists is a historical oddity. It’s especially strange when you consider some of the numbers behind the suicide caucus. As we approach a likely government shutdown this month and then a more perilous fight over raising the debt ceiling in October, it’s worth considering the demographics and geography of the eighty districts whose members have steered national policy over the past few weeks.

As the above map, detailing the geography of the suicide caucus, shows, half of these districts are concentrated in the South, and a quarter of them are in the Midwest, while there’s a smattering of thirteen in the rural West and four in rural Pennsylvania (outside the population centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). Naturally, there are no members from New England, the megalopolis corridor from Washington to Boston, or along the Pacific coastline.

These eighty members represent just eighteen per cent of the House and just a third of the two hundred and thirty-three House Republicans. They were elected with fourteen and a half million of the hundred and eighteen million votes cast in House elections last November, or twelve per cent of the total. In all, they represent fifty-eight million constituents. That may sound like a lot, but it’s just eighteen per cent of the population.

Most of the members of the suicide caucus have districts very similar to Meadows’s. While the most salient demographic fact about America is that it is becoming more diverse, Republican districts actually became less diverse in 2012. According to figures compiled by The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, a leading expert on House demographics who provided me with most of the raw data I’ve used here, the average House Republican district became two percentage points more white in 2012.

The members of the suicide caucus live in a different America from the one that most political commentators describe when talking about how the country is transforming. The average suicide-caucus district is seventy-five per cent white, while the average House district is sixty-three per cent white. Latinos make up an average of nine per cent of suicide-district residents, while the over-all average is seventeen per cent. The districts also have slightly lower levels of education (twenty-five per cent of the population in suicide districts have college degrees, while that number is twenty-nine per cent for the average district).

The members themselves represent this lack of diversity. Seventy-six of the members who signed the Meadows letter are male. Seventy-nine of them are white.

As with Meadows, the other suicide-caucus members live in places where the national election results seem like an anomaly. Obama defeated Romney by four points nationally. But in the eighty suicide-caucus districts, Obama lost to Romney by an average of twenty-three points. The Republican members themselves did even better. In these eighty districts, the average margin of victory for the Republican candidate was thirty-four points.

In short, these eighty members represent an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular. Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.

In one sense, these eighty members are acting rationally. They seem to be pushing policies that are representative of what their constituents back home want. But even within the broader Republican Party, they represent a minority view, at least at the level of tactics (almost all Republicans want to defund Obamacare, even if they disagree about using the issue to threaten a government shutdown).

In previous eras, ideologically extreme minorities could be controlled by party leadership. What’s new about the current House of Representatives is that party discipline has broken down on the Republican side. On the most important policy questions, ones that most affect the national brand of the party, Boehner has lost his ability to control his caucus, and an ideological faction, aided by outside interest groups, can now set the national agenda.

Through redistricting, Republicans have built themselves a perhaps unbreakable majority in the House. But it has come at a cost of both party discipline and national popularity. Nowadays, a Sunday-school teacher can defeat the will of the Speaker of the House.


By: Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker, September 26, 2013

September 30, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“States Of Health”: Obamacare And GOP Obstructionism

Ours can be an unforgiving country. Paul Sullivan was in his fifties, college-educated, and ran a successful small business in the Houston area. He owned a house and three cars. Then the local economy fell apart. Business dried up. He had savings, but, like more than a million people today in Harris County, Texas, he didn’t have health insurance. “I should have known better,” he says. When an illness put him in the hospital and his doctor found a precancerous lesion that required treatment, the unaffordable medical bills arrived. He had to sell his cars and, eventually, his house. To his shock, he had to move into a homeless shelter, carrying his belongings in a suitcase wherever he went.

This week, the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, which provides health-insurance coverage to millions of people like Sullivan, is slated to go into effect. Republican leaders have described the event in apocalyptic terms, as Republican leaders have described proposals to expand health coverage for three-quarters of a century. In 1946, Senator Robert Taft denounced President Harry Truman’s plan for national health insurance as “the most socialistic measure this Congress has ever had before it.” Fifteen years later, Ronald Reagan argued that, if Medicare were to be enacted, “one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.” And now comes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell describing the Affordable Care Act as a “monstrosity,” “a disaster,” and the “single worst piece of legislation passed in the last fifty years.” Lacking the votes to repeal the law, Republican hard-liners want to shut down the federal government unless Democrats agree to halt its implementation.

The law’s actual manifestation, however, is rather anodyne: as of October 1st, is scheduled to open for business. A Web site where people who don’t have health coverage through an employer or the government can find a range of health plans available to them, it resembles nothing more sinister than an eBay for insurance. Because it’s a marketplace, prices keep falling lower than the Congressional Budget Office predicted, by more than sixteen per cent on average. Federal subsidies trim costs even further, and more people living near the poverty level will qualify for free Medicaid coverage.

How this will unfold, though, depends on where you live. Governors and legislatures in about half the states—from California to New York, Minnesota to Maryland—are working faithfully to implement the law with as few glitches as possible. In the other half—Indiana to Texas, Utah to South Carolina—they are working equally faithfully to obstruct its implementation. Still fundamentally in dispute is whether we as a society have a duty to protect people like Paul Sullivan. Not only do conservatives not think so; they seem to see providing that protection as a threat to America itself.

Obstructionism has taken three forms. The first is a refusal by some states to accept federal funds to expand their Medicaid programs. Under the law, the funds cover a hundred per cent of state costs for three years and no less than ninety per cent thereafter. Every calculation shows substantial savings for state budgets and millions more people covered. Nonetheless, twenty-five states are turning down the assistance. The second is a refusal to operate a state health exchange that would provide individuals with insurance options. In effect, conservatives are choosing to make Washington set up the insurance market, and then complaining about a government takeover. The third form of obstructionism is outright sabotage. Conservative groups are campaigning to persuade young people, in particular, that going without insurance is “better for you”—advice that no responsible parent would ever give to a child. Congress has also tied up funding for the Web site, making delays and snags that much more inevitable.

Some states are going further, passing measures to make it difficult for people to enroll. The health-care-reform act enables local health centers and other organizations to provide “navigators” to help those who have difficulties enrolling, because they are ill, or disabled, or simply overwhelmed by the choices. Medicare has a virtually identical program to help senior citizens sort through their coverage options. No one has had a problem with Medicare navigators. But more than a dozen states have passed measures subjecting health-exchange navigators to strict requirements: licensing exams, heavy licensing fees, insurance bonds. Florida has attempted to ban them from county health departments, where large numbers of uninsured people go for care. Tennessee recently adopted an emergency rule declaring that anyone who could be described as an “enrollment assister” must undergo a criminal background check, fingerprinting, and twelve hours of course work. The hurdles would hamper hospital financial counsellors in the state—and, by some interpretations, ordinary good Samaritans—from simply helping someone get insurance.

This kind of obstructionism has been seen before. After the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, Virginia shut down schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Warren County rather than accept black children in white schools. When the courts forced the schools to open, the governor followed a number of other Southern states in instituting hurdles such as “pupil placement” reviews, “freedom of choice” plans that provided nothing of the sort, and incessant legal delays. While in some states meaningful progress occurred rapidly, in others it took many years. We face a similar situation with health-care reform. In some states, Paul Sullivan’s fate will become rare. In others, it will remain a reality for an unconscionable number of people. Of some three thousand counties in the nation, a hundred and fourteen account for half of the uninsured. Sixty-two of those counties are in states that have accepted the key elements of Obamacare, including funding to expand Medicaid. Fifty-two are not.

So far, the health-care-reform law has allowed more than three million people under the age of twenty-six to stay on their parents’ insurance policy. The seventeen million children with preëxisting medical conditions cannot be excluded from insurance eligibility or forced to pay inflated rates. And more than twenty million uninsured will gain protection they didn’t have. It won’t be the thirty-two million hoped for, and it’s becoming clear that the meaning of the plan’s legacy will be fought over not for a few months but for years. Still, state by state, a new norm is coming into being: if you’re a freelancer, or between jobs, or want to start your own business but have a family member with a serious health issue, or if you become injured or ill, you are entitled to basic protection.

Conservatives keep hoping that they can drive the system to collapse. That won’t happen. Enough people, states, and health-care interests are committed to making it work, just as the Massachusetts version has for the past seven years. And people now have a straightforward way to resist the forces of obstruction: sign up for coverage, if they don’t have it, and help others do so as well.


By: Atul Gawande, MD, The New Yorker, Published September 29, 2013

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP, Uninsured | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Election Do-Over?”: Congress Thinks Elections Don’t Matter if They Don’t Like The Outcome

The problem for many years in Washington was that lawmakers were always looking to the next election, holding votes meant to burnish their own conservative or liberal credentials or set their opponents up for an attack ad based on that vote. That was an unproductive approach, but it seems downright quaint compared to now, when lawmakers are still fighting the last three elections.

Democrats note that their candidate won the 2008 election, and achieved an agenda – including the health care law – as a result of that win and the wins of Democrats in Congress. Republicans counter that voters overwhelmingly expressed their disgust with the law in 2010, electing scores of new Republicans to Congress and giving the GOP control of the House. Democrats say that voters had a definitive opportunity in 2012 to undo Obamacare, when Mitt Romney ran on a platform of doing just that. Not only was Romney defeated, but Democrats picked up seats in both the House and Senate.

Elections have consequences, as Obamacare foe John McCain reminded his colleagues recently. But too many lawmakers seem to think that elections are meaningless if they don’t like the result.

The standoff has resulted in a whole new definition of the word “compromise” on Capitol Hill. It was bad enough when the idea of compromise became equivalent to capitulation. That made it nearly impossible to get an agreement on anything, with lawmakers in both parties declaring to constituents that they will “fight” for them – meaning they wouldn’t accept the concerns or needs of any other district. But now, “compromise” has been expanded to re-open settled matters. This was true when Democrats sought (though with much less ferocity than the GOP has displayed with Obamacare) to vitiate the Bush tax cuts for upper-income people before the law’s expiration date. And Republicans are doing it now with Obamacare.

If lawmakers want to undo settled law and free and fair elections, why stop at legislation? Why don’t the Republicans say, OK, we’ll keep the government running, but only if President Obama and the entire cabinet resign. Then they can offer a “compromise” under which they’ll accept the early departures of merely Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder.

And maybe Democrats could say, sure, we’ll delay Obamacare, but only if every single tea  party-affiliated member of Congress resigns immediately, and pledges never to get involved in politics or public policy again. Then, they could “compromise” by accepting the resignations of only the most vociferous of the GOP’s right wing. If you’re going to undo an election, after all, why not go big?

Sports teams and armies have operated under the idea that you fight the battle with the people and the tools you have at that moment. Washington could do the same.


By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, September 27, 2013

September 30, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Congress, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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