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“Big-Money Manipulators”: Worse Than Citizens United, A Sinister Last Gasp Of Republican Gangerism

The dysfunction in Washington is incredibly dispiriting.

We are constantly being reminded that we are a nation torn seemingly beyond repair, divided into irreconcilable camps, endlessly clashing over diminishing common ground.

And the culpability of big money in our current condition cannot be underplayed.

Rich conservatives are out to bend government to their will or break it in the attempt to discredit this Democratic president and ensure that there won’t be another soon.

This week the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Shaun McCutcheon is an Alabama Republican who wants to give more to his preferred candidates than is currently allowed by law. The Republican National Committee has joined McCutcheon in the case. If the court agrees with them, the already significant influence of big money in our politics would have no limits. The legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote an article about the case in July for The New Yorker entitled “Another Citizens United — but Worse.”

At the same time that Republicans want to increase the influence of the rich on our elections, they want to decrease the influence of the poor at the ballot box by passing a raft of new voter restrictions.

This is a sinister, last-gasp move of gangsterism: when you’re losing the game, tilt the table.

You must understand this larger plot to fully appreciate the Republicans’ current budget ploy. This is not so much about limiting government as it is about measuring power. Rich Republicans are reaching for the edges so that they can redefine the limits.

As The New York Times pointed out this weekend, Republicans — financed by the billionaire Koch brothers — began plotting this government shutdown over Obamacare soon after the president began his second term.

If they couldn’t win in a fair electoral fight, they’d win in an asymmetric legislative one.

Earlier this year, John Boehner hashed out a deal with Harry Reid — or at least had “several” conversations about a deal — in which the Democrats would accept the Republicans’ budget numbers ($70 billion below what the Democrats wanted) in return for the speaker’s voting on a continuing resolution with no strings attached.

The Republicans had won. But the speaker later reneged. He told George Stephanopoulos this weekend: “I and my members decided the threat of Obamacare and what was happening was so important that it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand.”

To be clear, his far-right members in their bright red districts — and their deep-pocketed backers — forced him to reconsider.

Boehner is fighting his own battle — for his job and his legacy. He wants to appear in control of a caucus that is uncontrollable. The man who said last week of the government shutdown, “this isn’t some damn game,” is playing games. In fact, Politico reported Tuesday that many Republicans believe a massive budget deal is the best way to solve the current crisis, but Boehner has resisted, saying he wants to “put points on the board.”

The president, for his part, has deployed a list of metaphors as long as his arm to describe the Republicans — from hostage takers to deadbeat homeowners — to get more of the public to understand his principle of not negotiating on keeping the government open or paying the government’s bills. He wants to break the crisis cycle while simultaneously defending the Affordable Care Act. He wants to rescue the government from the clutches of the nihilists.

But many Americans are too frustrated to ferret out the details. They see dysfunction in the system as a whole and they’re fed up with it.

According to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, a third of Americans now cite dysfunctional government as the most important problem facing America today. That was the highest level ever recorded by Gallup, whose trend on the measure dates back to 1939, and dysfunction now ranks higher than the economy in general or unemployment and jobs in particular.

This is not a “both sides at fault” issue. It is a tremendously partisan one.

And according to the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Republicans believe the president should agree to a deal that includes changes in his health care law, and 75 percent of Democrats believe that Republicans should agree to a deal with no health care changes. Independents are nearly evenly divided between the two.

Now the shutdown is beginning to bleed into the debate about whether to raise the debt limit, a debate that has brought out the Republican default deniers to further muddy the waters.

The government shutdown, as costly and futile as it is, would look like child’s play compared with a default.

According to a Tuesday report in Bloomberg/Businessweek, one global market research firm estimates that the government shutdown “cost $1.6 billion last week in lost economic output” and “the office closures are now draining an average of $160 million each workday from the $15.7 trillion economy.”

And if you think this is bad, consider that a default could trigger a full-blown recession. In a Wednesday report, CNN quoted the International Monetary Fund economist Olivier Blanchard as saying: “If there was a problem lifting the debt ceiling, it could well be what is now a recovery would turn into a recession or even worse.”

And yet, a growing number of Republicans are questioning the possibility of default. Unbelievable.

Some Republicans have never met an inconvenient fact that they weren’t determined to deny. Evolution: didn’t happen. Climate change: not so much. Obama’s faith: doubt it.

In some parts of the Republican universe, facts and fantasy merge, the truth doesn’t surface, it’s shaped, data must be made to conform to doxology, and accepted science borders on the heretical. This is how the money-rich are able to prey on the knowledge-poor.

This denial is sinking in among the Republican rank and file. A Pew Research Center report issued Monday found that most Republicans believe that we can go past the debt limit deadline without major problems.

This is bigger than Obamacare. This is about rich conservatives seeking to exert unlimited influence on our political system, and employing far-right Republicans who are animated, to varying degrees, by an innate hostility to this president, fear of diminishing influence and a disavowal of disagreeable truths.

This is about the fragility of our democracy: the possibility that a government by the people may swiftly give way to a government dominated by dark money and dark motives.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 9, 2013

October 13, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Do Nothing House Of Boehner”: Even Before the Shutdown, House Republicans Couldn’t Get Anything Done

For House Republicans, shutting down government has one distinct upside: It obscures how hapless the party has become at the basic work of governing the country.

In the months before they turned out the lights in Washington, House Republicans were in disarray. Hardliners were threatening Speaker John Boehner’s job over immigration reform. Moderate Republicans were balking the spending cuts that would actually be required to implement Paul Ryan’s budget. Trying to get something – anything – accomplished, GOP leaders went on a fishing expedition for Democratic votes on the Farm Bill. And when that effort collapsed, even the fallback position – intended to unite conservatives – ended up sparking a feud between House extremists and even extreme outside groups like the Heritage Foundation.

Here, a recap of the chaos that reigned in the House of Boehner:

Immigration Reform

In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a “path to citizenship” for undocumented workers. It is clear that, were it put to a vote in the House, the reform would pass – with a majority of Democratic votes and a small bloc of Republicans.

These days, House conservatives fetishise the “Hastert Rule” – which is not actually a rule but an often-respected convention that only bills supported by a majority of the Republican conference receive a vote on the floor. Throughout this Congress, however, Boehner has used big, bipartisan votes in the Senate as a get-out-of-Hastert-free-card. Over the objection of a strong majority of GOP members, Boehner steered passage of the Senate’s Fiscal Cliff compromise, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and $50 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief.

Anti-immigration hardliners in the House are determined that the Senate immigration bill, adopted on a vote of 68-to-38 in the upper chamber, not join this list. And they have threatened to topple Boehner if it does. This summer, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) gathered more than 50 signatures to call a “special conference” on immigration. It was a show of force. The same conference procedure is all that’s required to force a new leadership election in the middle of a congress. Boehner got the message: The Speaker soon declared that under no circumstances would an immigration bill opposed by a majority of House Republicans reach the floor.

If King’s parliamentary threat was subtle, Dana Rohrabacher’s anything but. In June, the California Republican said that if Boehner broke the Hastert Rule on immigration “he should be removed as Speaker” for his “betrayal of the Republicans throughout the country.” Rep. Tim Salmon (R-Arizona) echoed that threat – and expanded it to the rest of the leadership team. “There’s a great unrest,” he said. “We’ve already had several pieces of legislation that have gone out of this place with majority Democrats and minority Republicans. There gets to be a proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. A lot of members in the conference,” he said, “would be frustrated to the point of seeking new leaders.”

Transportation Funding

The Paul Ryan budget has long been criticized as a fantasy document. Former Reagan budget director David Stockman, for one, slammed it in an interview with Rolling Stone for proposing “absurd rollbacks in discretionary spending” that House members “would never vote for, on a program-by-program basis.”

The fate of the Transportation Housing and Urban Development spending bill known as THUD proved Stockman’s point. Working to bring the austere spending caps required by Ryan’s budget to reality, the GOP bill slashed transportation funding by $4 billion. The proposal cut development block grants to cities nearly in half, and cut funding to highways, bridges and tunnels by some 15 percent.

THUD’s reception in the conference in July was onomatopoetic. For the House GOP’s small bloc of moderate and urban members, the cuts were simply too great to swallow. Facing a “bleak” vote count, leadership was forced to pull the bill.

House Appropriations chair Hal Rogers – an inveterate cigar puffer who runs one of the last smoke-filled back rooms in Washington – slammed his own conference. “With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted three months ago,” he said, adding: “A good number of members who had supported the Ryan budget ideals, when it came time to implement it with specific cuts, were unwilling to support it. They abandoned ship.”

The Farm Bill

The Farm Bill has long been a bastion of bipartisanship in the House. The same legislation funds subsidies for agribusiness as well as the nation’s food stamp program – uniting a strong rural/urban coalition from both parties.

In July, Republican leaders looked to Democrats for help passing a bipartisan bill, and believed they’d rounded up 40 votes – despite nearly $20 billion in cuts to food stamps that would have kicked nearly 2 million Americans out of the program.

The move angered House hardliners who were demanding nearly $40 billion be slashed from nutrition funding. And, in a bit of mischief, extremists who had no intention of supporting the final bill, began voting to lard it up with a slew of amendments – including provisions that would allow states to drug test recipients of food aid and that would require able-bodied food stamp recipients to work – despite an economy that’s not producing jobs.

The measures grew more and more extreme, and finally Democrats bolted en masse – leading to an embarrassing losing vote, 195-to-234, on the House floor. Nancy Pelosi called it “amateur hour.”

Regrouping, House Republicans resolved to pass a farm-only bill. Splitting the farm funding from food stamps had long been a goal of outside groups like the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation. And House conservatives appeared confident that their vote would leave them in the good graces of the group’s much-feared elections scorecard.

But the reason that Heritage advocated the split was to break what Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham calls “the unholy alliance between Republicans from square states and urban Democrats” who vote for the joint bill, which Heritage considers a “bad pile of policy.”

Instead of applying their avowed small-government principles to their new, agriculture-only farm bill, House Republicans actually made it worse. In the failed bipartisan bill, lawmakers were going to create a new price floor for farmers – meaning that if crop prices fall from their historically high prices, taxpayers would be on the hook to make up the difference. In the bipartisan bill, this provision would last only five years. In the Republicans-only bill, it never expired. “It was the same bad farm bill we’d just been against,” says Needham, “but worse because it is permanent law. And we were still opposed to it.”

This was not the message that House hardliners wanted to hear. “We went into battle thinking they were on our side,” South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney fumed to reporters, “and we find out they’re shooting at us.”

Outraged that hardliners were being called to account on their own wasteful Washington spending, the chairman of the caucus of the most conservative members in the House, the Republican Study Committee, barred Heritage from the group’s weekly meetings – which Heritage had attended since the early 1970s.

“Some members,” says Needham, “were very, very upset at us over our opposition to farm pork.”


By: Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone Magazine, October 8, 2013

October 13, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Be Careful What You Wish For”: Citizens United Created A Path For A Legislative Strategy Of The GOP’s Most Aggressive Funders

It’s no secret that the corporate class is being eclipsed by Tea Party libertarians and is increasingly unable to exert influence on the Republican Party, despite the generous donations the top 1 percent has long showered on Republicans.

But isn’t the Republican Party in the business of serving Big Business? And didn’t the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United open the floodgates of corporate campaign cash? How is all that corporate campaign cash failing to buy Big Business sway over the GOP?

Well, here’s the thing: Citizens United didn’t save the Republican Party. Citizens United broke the Republican Party.

Yes, Citizens United was what Republicans and their corporate patrons wanted. Corporations are people. Money is speech. Spend what you want, and no one needs to know who wrote the check.

But as conservative columnist Tim Carney explains in a criminally overlooked Washington Examiner column from last month, what Citizens United meant in practice is this: It “spawned super PACs that offset the power of the political parties and K Street.”

Carney specifically credits the newly created Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action groups for using the new post–Citizens United rules to fund right-wing challengers who have triumphed over Republican establishment favorites, whipping up conservative grassroots fervor behind extremist positions and forcefully shaming any Republican who hints at compromise. They have their own informal “whip operation” that robs Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of their traditional institutional power. And they have been squarely behind the plot to defund ObamaCare by forcing a government shutdown.

Carney says this Citizens United–fueled dynamic has led to a “Republican leadership vacuum.” I would go a step further: It has broken the Republican Party in two.

Both the ascendant Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action groups are financially backed by the libertarian billionaire Koch brothers, leaders of a single corporation that appears to be trying to surpass the Chamber of Commerce as the dominant funder and power center of the Republican Party.

In the 2012 elections, the Chamber of Commerce and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity each spent roughly $35 million. But since then, the Kochs have used another group they created, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, to spend $200 million supporting an array of organizations determined to destroy ObamaCare.

According to Open Secrets, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce spending now “dwarfs” the old Chamber, which has been urging Republicans to keep the government open and increase the debt limit, to no avail. The establishment Chamber has become so frustrated with being ignored, it is preparing an effort to donate money to Republican congresspeople who face primary challenges from the right, a direct challenge to the Senate Conservatives Fund and its allies.

The Republican Party is stuck with two major corporate funders vying for influence and pulling the party apart. Yet the organization with the broader business base and more rational political outlook is being out-organized and out-spent by a narrow band of ideological extremists who have figured out how to best exploit a Citizens United world. Recent research has found that Citizens United did not entice corporate America en masse to increase its election spending, but as The New York Times’s Eduardo Porter noted, “Big, frequent donors are particularly extreme.”

The end result is a party compelled to carry out a doomed legislative strategy concocted by the party’s most aggressive funders. If fully carried out to its apocalyptic conclusion, the strategy risks obliterating the Republican Party’s brand for a generation.

Just one year ago, Democrats were terrified that Citizens United would not only drown Barack Obama in a flood of GOP-friendly corporate cash, but also make it impossible for liberal Democrats to ever have a chance at winning national elections.

But the reverse may end up being Citizens United‘s true political legacy.

Obama used the specter of freshly legalized super PACs to rev up his donor base, and raised more money than any presidential candidate in history, neutralizing the Republican super PACs. He kept his party unified, turned out his base, and won decisively. In the election’s aftermath, well-funded but strategically inept right-wing super PACs are financing deep intraparty discord, threatening the ability of Republicans to be competitive in national elections.

Turns out the upholding of the Affordable Care Act isn’t the only gift Chief Justice John Roberts gave to President Obama.


By: Bill Scher, The Week, October 11, 2013

October 13, 2013 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Fully Succumbs To Its Cultural Rage”: The Day The Mad Dogs Took Over The Republican Party

It was a head-spinning day in Washington, yesterday was, as the story seemed to change from hour to hour in terms of who was proposing or accepting or refusing what and who seemed up and who seemed down. But through it all, one constant did not change and doesn’t seem likely to change: The Republicans are wrecking themselves.

Indeed, historically so. This is one of those turning points in American political history, the kind you’ll tell your grandkids you were around to see: a once-respectable party that finally was eaten alive by the cultural rage it had so long used to its advantage but held in check in order to win elections. It was a long time coming and it’s a grand thing to watch, provided they don’t wreck the country along with themselves.

First, a quick recap. Thursday morning, John Boehner finally picked up on the signals the White House had been sending and offered a “clean” but short-term debt-limit increase. Since Boehner clearly knew that such a measure wouldn’t get votes from his loony-tunes caucus, he was aiming for something that might pass with a combination of Republican and Democratic votes. That was admirable. But there was a problem: He proposed to do nothing about the government shutdown until Nov. 22, and that was something most Democrats wouldn’t have gone for.

Still, the Obama administration signaled that it would play ball. This angered Harry Reid, who was at work trying to round up a few Republican votes for his own one-year increase of the debt limit. The afternoon skirmishing was intense, featuring a few Republican senators (Roy Blount, Susan Collins, and, most interestingly of all, John Cornyn) undercutting Boehner, saying they would like to alter his proposal to include a provision to allow the government to open back up. Then, late in the day, the Not-So-Magic Bus of 20 Republicans rolled up to the White House, and Boehner put… well, put something on the table to Obama, something involving a six-week increase in the debt limit but who knows what else, and Obama said: not yet.

It is true that Obama drew back from the signals his people had been sending for a couple of days. But it’s also true that we don’t know exactly what happened in that room and what was proposed. One of the various crazy things about the GOP position now is that we don’t even know what they’re negotiating for. “America’s pressing problems,” they kept saying. But what exactly are those? I guess now Obamacare isn’t one of them, since it’s off the table. Or maybe the medical-device tax is. So higher taxes on prostheses is the crisis that the country must solve yesterday?

They mean, of course, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They want cuts. But they just want Obama to give in on those without giving him anything on revenues. This would be the normal way of what we call “negotiating.”

But the thing is this. People who have specific policy goals engage in negotiation. But these Republicans don’t have specific policy goals. They have what we might call emotional policy goals. They want to wipe Obamacare, and Obama’s desires on taxation, and the entire Obama record, really, from the face of the earth, like Pharoah wanted to wipe Moses’s name from the obelisks. They don’t even really know what they want to win, as Indiana GOP Congressman Martin Stutzman famously said last week. But if it humiliates Obama, it’s a win. Bad for the country? That doesn’t matter either. To them, by definition, if it’s bad for Obama, it’s good for the country. They actually think this.

And so, through a combination of a critical mass of anti-thought people in their caucus who won’t govern at all if it means seeing Obama come out OK, and a “leader” who can now plainly be called the weakest speaker since America became a country of consequence, the Republican Party has finally and fully succumbed to its cultural rage. It has used that rage mostly effectively for nigh on 50 years now, since Barry Goldwater. That rage has served it well on balance. It helped elect Nixon. It certainly helped elect Reagan, and even though it could be argued that once in office Reagan didn’t do that much to stoke it, he understood that he needed it to win, which is why he opened his 1980 campaign down in Mississippi, to say to his America that it was all right to resent black people, he understood you.

The rage kept the base galvanized. It kept the enemy, or enemies—liberal and the media, often one and the same—in the gun sights. But it could also be controlled, the way Reagan controlled it. And even Dubya controlled it. The rich didn’t really share the rage, or most of them. Even the Koch Brothers probably don’t, what with all the froufrou artsy-fartsy outfits up in New York they help sustain.

But all of them have used it. And they have tolerated it, the casual racism, the hatred of gay people, and the rest. They tolerated it because the booboisie voted the right way, and because they, the elites, remained in charge. Well, they’re not in charge now. The snarling dog they kept in a pen for decades has just escaped and bitten their hand off.

The Republicans still might pull it back together. They were also at a historic low after Nixon resigned. They won three of the next four elections. But that was just one man’s megalomania. This is the psychosis of one-quarter of the nation. That quarter is now leading the elites around by the nose. And the Red Sea just might swallow them all. It’s certainly what they deserve.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 11, 2013

October 13, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, GOP, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Deep Seated Racial Antagonism”: Tea Partiers React With Fury To A World They Can’t Control

When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many pundits and political observers were eager to expunge the nation’s brutal and long-running history of stark racial oppression. They spoke of a “post-racial” society freed from the divisions of tribe, healed of the deep wounds that ached and bled along the color line for centuries.

Even those who were less sanguine about the disappearance of racism — myself included — believed that the election of the nation’s first black president signaled a new era of greater racial harmony and understanding. Surely, a nation ready to be led by a black man was ready to let go many of its oldest and ugliest prejudices.

But that was a very naive notion. It turns out that Obama’s election has, instead, provoked a new civil war, a last battle cry of secession by a group of voters who want no part of a country led by a black man, no place in a world they don’t rule, no home in a society where they are simply one more minority group. Call those folks “Tea Partiers.”

The ultraconservatives who have taken over the Republican Party are motivated by many things — antipathy toward the federal government, conservative religious beliefs and a traditional Republican suspicion of taxes, among them. But the most powerful force animating their fight is a deep-seated racial antagonism.

Don’t take my word for it. Democracy Corps, a political research and polling group headed by Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, has published a report from a series of focus groups conducted with segments of the Republican Party — moderates, evangelicals and Tea Partiers.

The report confirms that Republicans, especially the Tea Partiers, “are very conscious of being white in a country that is increasingly minority. The race issue is very much alive.” It also notes that “Barack Obama and Obamacare is a racial flashpoint for many evangelical and Tea Party voters.”

Tea Partiers believe that the Democratic Party is intent on expanding the social safety net in order, basically, to buy votes. They see “Obamacare” as a sop to that alleged 47 percent of lazy Americans who don’t want to work, don’t pay any taxes and live off government handouts. And, of course, those lazy Americans are, in their view, voters of color.

One focus group participant actually described the mythical America he pined for this way:

“Everybody is above average. Everybody is happy. Everybody is white. Everybody is middle class, whether or not they really are. Everybody looks that way. … Very homogeneous.”

Democracy Corps isn’t the only research group that has ferreted out the racial antagonism at the heart of Tea Partiers’ radicalism. Writing in The New York Times, journalist Thomas Edsall shared portions of an email exchange with political scientist Christopher Parker, co-author of Change They Can’t Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America. Parker said that “reactionary conservatives” believe “social change is subversive to the America with which they’ve become familiar, i.e., white, mainly male, Protestant, native born, straight. ‘Real Americans,’ in other words.”

None of this should come as any great surprise. In 2010, a New York Times poll of Tea Partiers found that more than half said the policies of the Obama administration favor the poor, and 25 percent thought that the administration favors blacks over whites — compared with 11 percent of the general public. Their racial paranoia has long been clear.

If anything has been surprising, it’s been the potency of their hatred, the irrationality of their tactics, the venom in their backlash. But, as they see it, they are fighting for their way of life — their control, their power.

This is an existential battle, and they’re willing to burn down the country to save it from people of color. That’s why they’re willing to risk defaulting on the nation’s debt for the first time in history.

The only whiff of good news is that Tea Party supporters tend to be older than average. Their cohort is diminishing and will be replaced by a younger voting bloc whose members don’t hew to their antediluvian views.

But the Tea Partiers are going to be with us for a while, and it’s going to be a wild ride.


By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, October 12, 2013

October 13, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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