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“The Party Of Zilch”: The GOP Is Out To Destroy The Country

Yes, the headline is rather hyperbolic. It’s as over-the-top as some of President Obama’s most unhinged critics, who believe he is running the nation without care or concern for the Constitution. But when you look at the actions of the Republican Party, particularly its members in Congress, my headline seems appropriate.

Three different pieces highlighted how the GOP is grinding just about every sector of the federal government to a halt. And it is doing it through a cynical combination of obstruction, saying no and failing to have viable alternative proposals worthy of national debate. Whatever political gains Republicans achieve in the short-term come at the long-term expense of the country. That’s simply unacceptable.

Even though the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) is much more than a Web site, the disastrous roll out of Healthcare.gov has done a number on the president’s standing with the American people. According to the latest Post-ABC News poll, Obama’s overall approval rating sits at 42 percent. His 55 percent disapproval rating is the highest of his presidency. This would be the perfect time for the opposition to step forward with those alternative proposals. But the GOP is “The Party of Zilch,” as Ron Fournier so accurately described.

Rather than be the party of solutions in a gridlocked capital, appealing to a leadership-starved public, the GOP is the party of obstruction, ensuring that its putrid approval ratings nose dive apace with Obama’s.

The country needs sensible immigration reform that brings 11 million or so undocumented residents out of the shadows. No, says the GOP

The country needs to tame a massive debt that will be 100 percent of the gross domestic product by 2038 unless Congress raises revenue and trims entitlements. No, says the GOP.

The country needs fair debate and compromise around existential issues such as climate change, income inequality, and a deteriorating 20th century infrastructure. No, says the GOP.

“Other than hard partisans on the left and right, the majority of the public—moderate, fix-it Americans who simply want a sensible government—now have nowhere to turn, because the GOP is the party of nothing,” Fournier correctly concludes.

The New York Times editorial board delivered its own party-of-zilch disquisition using opposition to the ACA as the jumping off point.

What is the Republican alternative to this government program, flawed as it is right now? There is none. Party members simply want to repeal the health law and let insurers go back to canceling policies at the first sign of a shadow on an X-ray. They have no immigration policy of their own. They have no plan that will stimulate job growth. They are in favor only of shutdowns and sequesters and repeals, giving the public no reason to believe they have a governing vision or even a legislative agenda.

That congressional Republicans have no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda” was proven in a Politico story on Sunday. The headline said it all: “House GOP 2014 agenda starts with blank slate.”

Last Thursday, a group of House Republicans filed into Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Capitol office suite and received a blank piece of paper labeled “Agenda 2014.”

The blank slate just about sums up where Republicans find themselves after a year marked by the first government shutdown in 17 years, futile efforts to repeal Obamacare and the inability to pass spending bills at the levels set by Republican leaders.

As bad as that is, what a Republican aide said is worse. “What we have done so far this year clearly hasn’t worked,” the GOP aide involved in the planning sessions told the Politico reporters. “Cantor wants to take us in a new direction, which is good. The problem is we don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.” This no way to run an enterprise as large and as important as the United States.

The judicial branch is crippled as qualified nominees go unconfirmed due to “unfair hurdles in the Senate.” As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the nation’s second-highest court, has three vacancies on the 11-seat court that handles cases involving federal regulations and national security. Half of the legislative branch is in thrall to a band of right-wing zealots unmoved by facts as much as they are motivated by hatred of the president. As a result, the threat of government shutdowns and default is constant. Inaction on pressing issues is now routine. And the executive branch finds its agenda held hostage by an opposition that schemed against it since before its inauguration in 2009, even though said agenda was approved by the American people — twice.

That the Obama administration has been able to get as much done as it has speaks to the president’s determination to move this nation forward. Yet it’s not enough. Ours is a government that requires two functioning parties that produce good public policy through the necessary friction of governing. Neither party is perfect nor has all the ideas or the answers. But no good comes from a party that gives up completely on governing.

At the end of its editorial, the Times noted, “Democrats may be stumbling right now, but at least they are trying.” Would that Republicans did the same. It is long past time they did.

 

By: Jonathan Caphart, The Washington Post, November 20, 2013

November 22, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“They Had A Choice”: Did Frustrated Mainstream Republicans Help Pull The Nuclear Trigger?

The big mystery of today’s majority-imposed rules change in the Senate is: What happened to the deal-making Republicans?

There’s nothing much to figure out on the Democratic side. It was clear to most observers that the three-seat blockade of the D.C. Circuit Court was solidly over the line separating Democratic senators’ individual preference for maintaining the filibuster and their party interest in seating a Democratic president’s choices for the federal bench. Democrats believed that they had no choice but to proceed.

Republicans, however, certainly did have a choice. After all, in the short run, they’re clearly worse off by this change than they would be had they used the filibuster far more selectively. That was enough to get them to compromise the last time this happened. So why didn’t they hold back again?

One possibility is that they simply miscalculated, believing that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was bluffing. If that was the case, however, they could have backed off at the last second.

A second possibility is that they really wanted to eliminate the filibuster, and that they believed that the cost to the Democrats for pulling the trigger was great enough that it was worth the potential three years of majority-confirmed President Obama nominees. That’s possible, although it’s very hard to believe that voters will care at all, and Republican arguments (court-packing!) did not appear designed to appeal to those who might have been willing to condemn Democrats for a “power-grab.”

So here’s a third possibility. The problem with the summer compromise is that it was horrible for deal-making Republicans. The deal essentially said: Republicans will continue to filibuster nominations, but will supply enough votes for almost all of them so that the filibusters will be defeated. But that meant that in practice a handful of Republicans were forced to tag-team their votes, making sure that Democrats always had 60. What’s more, the shutdown fight — which began right after the Senate deal was struck — revealed that radical Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were eager to scapegoat those same deal-making Republicans. That raised the cost of the executive branch nominations agreement for tag-teamers such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). In other words, the summer deal might or might not have been stable, but it certainly couldn’t hold in a world in which the majority of Republican senators are looking for ways to separate themselves from mainstream conservatives, and then using that separation to attack them.

Those deal-making Republicans did have another option; They could have just abandoned the radicals. But over what principle? After all, the situation here is that it’s the radicals, not the mainstream conservatives, who want to hold up all these nominations. One way to look at what happened today is that the deal-makers were getting out of the way and allowing the radicals to lose. If the outcome is the same — Obama’s judicial picks get confirmed — then why should the deal-makers ask for the blame for it?

We don’t know yet, and perhaps we won’t, but my guess is that the way Cruz and other Republican radicals acted during the shutdown is what explains the difference between a successful deal in the summer and today’s nuclear action.

 

By: Jonathan Bernstein, The Washington Post, November 21, 2013

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Federal Judiciary, Filibuster | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Republican America”: Voter Suppression Is The New GOP Strategy

Better bring some identification — and not just any identification, official though it may be — if you plan to vote in Republican-controlled states. However, if you contribute tens of millions of dollars to sway an election on Republicans’ behalf, the party will fight to keep your identity a secret.

Consider, for instance, what happened to some attempting to participate in this month’s elections in Texas. The New York Times reported that “Judge Sandra Watts was stopped while trying to vote because the name on her photo ID, the same one she had used for voter registration and identification of 52 years, did not exactly match her name in the official voter rolls.” Both Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott — the front-runners in next year’s gubernatorial contest — encountered the same obstacle. As did Jim Wright, the 90-year-old former speaker of the U.S. House. Wright, who represented his Fort Worth district in Congress for 34 years, told the local paper that he had voted in every election since 1944 and that he had realized shortly before Election Day that his identification — a driver’s license that expired in 2010 and a university faculty ID — would not suffice under the state’s 2011 voter ID law. Indeed, officials required Wright to produce a certified copy of his birth certificate to procure a personal identification card that would allow him to vote.

Fortunately, no issues of cosmic importance appeared on this year’s Texas ballots. Next year, however, congressional seats and control of the statehouse will be up for grabs, and voter turnout probably will be much higher. The purpose of these and other vote-deterring measures, adopted in Texas and a slew of other GOP-controlled states, is to make sure turnout is not too much higher by reducing voter participation, particularly among the young (student IDs often don’t suffice), the poor (no driver’s license? Sorry.) and racial minorities. That is, groups that tend to vote Democratic.

Voter suppression has become the linchpin of Republican strategy. After Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, the GOP was briefly abuzz with talk of expanding the party’s appeal to young and Latino voters. Instead, the party doubled down on its opposition to immigration reform and its support for cultural conservatism — positions tantamount to electoral suicide unless the youth and minority vote can be suppressed.

Republicans have justified this crackdown as a way to keep non- citizens from infiltrating the electorate, not that there’s evidence such a thing is happening. But if a non-citizen wants to contribute millions of dollars to one of those “social welfare organizations” that spends gobs of money on an election campaign, Republicans fight to shield his or her identity. Recently released tax documents showed that one such organizationCrossroads GPS, the group headed by Karl Rove that spent $189 million in last year’s elections opposing President Obama and Senate Democrats — received 53 contributions of $1 million or more. The three largest were for $22.5 million, $18 million and $10 million.

Who did they come from? Because Crossroads GPS is classified as a 501(c)4 “social welfare” group, which is not legally required to list its donors, we’ll never know. Could such contributions come from a non-citizen? With donors’ identities shielded by law, there is no way of knowing.

Some states require donors to such campaign groups in state and local elections to be identified. But other states don’t, which allows for the kind of interstate shell games that wealthy right-wing donors played during the 2012 election. In one instance, an anonymous $11 million contribution to a California campaign opposing a ballot measure that raised taxes on the rich and supporting a measure to curtail unions’ political activities was tracked by state election officials to a 501(c)4 organization in Arizona that had gotten its funding from another such group in Virginia. The investigation revealed that a California GOP consultant had raised money for the ballot measure campaigns by promising his donors the anonymity that this shell game provided.

A pre-election tally by the Sunlight Foundation of “dark money” contributions to federal races as of Nov. 1, 2012, showed nearly $175 million going to GOP candidates and roughly $35 million to Democrats. A bill backed by Senate Democrats that would have required such groups to report the identity of donors who give more than $10,000 for electoral campaigns was killed last year by GOP opposition to a cloture motion, even though it was backed by a majority of senators.

So: If you want to vote in the Republicans’ America, remember to bring your birth certificate. But if you want to buy an election and stay under wraps, your secret is safe with them.

 

By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 21, 2013

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Republicans, Voter ID | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Judicial And Legislative Nullification”: Republicans Have Only Themselves To Blame For Harry Reid’s “Nuclear Option”

If the Founding Fathers could see the Senate after today’s vote by Senate Democrats to prohibit filibusters of most presidential appointments, they would, of course, be appalled.  ”What are all these women doing here?” they would ask. But as for the filibuster reform, they’d wonder what all the fuss was about.

There is no mention of the filibuster in the Constitution. Until very recently in U.S. history, filibusters were rarely used. Half of all filibusters of executive-branch nominees have occurred under President Obama, and it was obvious from the first day of his presidency that Republicans would use the tactic to hamstring the government and block Obama.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, then, had every right to push for changes to filibuster rules four years ago, when GOP use of the filibuster was already out of control. But instead, Reid offered deal after deal to Senate Republicans. They accepted some. They honored none. Instead, the delaying tactics have continued. Frequently they have been used to block the implementation of laws the Senate had passed — the two-year filibustering of the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, just because Republicans didn’t like the law. And Republicans have paired judicial nullification with legislative nullification, blocking a record number of Obama’s judicial appointees — a power the Constitution actually mentions, unlike the filibuster — for no real reason other than that they were Democratic nominees, not Republican ones. (Democrats were guilty of this under President George W. Bush as well, it must be noted, and deserve criticism for that, even if the number of filibusters was lower.)

The result, as political scientist Gregory Koger summed up nicely for my Post colleague Ezra Klein, has been the solidifying of a new order in the U.S. system of government:

Over the last 50 years, we have added a new veto point in American politics. It used to be the House, the Senate and the president, and now it’s the House, the president, the Senate majority and the Senate minority. Now you need to get past four veto points to pass legislation. That’s a huge change of constitutional priorities. But it’s been done, almost unintentionally, through procedural strategies of party leaders.

This status quo is unacceptable and had to change.

But Reid never would have used the “nuclear option” without the lemming-like behavior of Senate Republicans. Less ideological GOP members could have voted more frequently to break cloture and force an up-or-down vote, as members of both parties have done, even as filibuster use has increased. They could have stopped the unprecedented number of filibusters of presidential nominations, given that the president has a clearly defined constitutional responsibility to appoint people. They could have stopped blocking duly passed laws. But they didn’t.

So Republicans decrying filibuster reform as “dictatorial” or “a day to be sad” or other hyperbolic claims should look in the mirror. No one forced them to turn filibusters from a rarity to an oft-used tool for nullification and unprecedented obstruction. They have only themselves to blame.

 

By: James Downie, The Washington Post, November 21, 2013

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Federal Judiciary, Filibuster | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Feigning Outrage”: The GOP’s Health Reform Playbook

The last thing Republicans want right now is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

They may claim it is destroying the country, but they need it, and desperately, to rebuild their party. They even have a detailed playbook to exploit it, outlining how and when to stage attacks against Democrats who support it in order to inflict maximum damage in the months before the 2014 midterm elections.

As Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported in this morning’s Times, House Republicans have been organizing their strategy behind closed doors for the last month. They began by capitalizing on the gifts given them by the White House in the form of the malfunctioning health care website and President Obama’s false promise that no one need lose an insurance policy. Then they moved on to claims that personal data is insecure on the insurance exchanges.

Next, according to the playbook, will come criticism of premium price hikes, and breast-beating about changes to Medicare Advantage plans, as well as the possibility that people will lose their doctors under some policies.

Republicans will also hold hearings, and come armed with anecdotes from outraged citizens who suddenly find their new health insurance options aren’t perfect.

Reform has given new life to a party that was in the depths after the shutdown debacle just last month.

This deep concern about Americans’ access to quality insurance is entirely new and utterly insincere, of course. Nearly one in 10 people on Medicare — 4 million people — are dissatisfied with that program, according to surveys, but you don’t hear their complaints broadcast at hearings or at Republican news conferences. In 2010, long before the health reform law took effect, 20 percent of people on employer-based insurance expressed dissatisfaction with their plans, as did a third of people on the individual market. They complained about high deductibles and constrained networks of doctors and hospitals, just as many of them will under the new system. And they complained about cancelled policies.

Republicans never cared about those concerns before the Affordable Care Act came around, and they don’t really care now, even though they’re doing a great job of feigning outrage. They’re simply using these grievances, magnified by anecdotal media coverage, to batter Democrats who are still standing up for the president’s program.

Some of those Democrats are fighting back. They’re pointing out, as the White House did yesterday, that the growth in health care costs is slowing significantly. They’re trying to highlight people who are saving money on their new policies, or who can buy insurance even if they are sick. And they will try to broadcast the voices of the previously uninsured, who have never appeared in a Republican diatribe and never will.

But the most attention, as always, will be paid to the shrillest critics. Just remember, as their attacks pick up in volume in the months to come, that they were prepared long in advance, as cheap as canned laughter.

 

By: David Firestone, Editors Blog, The New York Times, November 21, 2013

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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