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“Giving Republicans A Pass”: Media Mantra, It’s Congress That’s Historically Unproductive, Not The GOP

As the calendar races towards 2014, and Congressional members log their final few days in session while facing daunting deadlines for a long list of pressing and unfinished initiatives, the press has been busy chronicling the futility, assigning collective blame, and giving the president permanent failing marks.

According to historians, 2013 is on track to become the least productive single legislative year in modern American history. And it’s not even close. In 1995, 88 laws were passed, setting the previous low-water mark. This year, it’s doubtful 70 will make it to the president’s desk. (And lots of the bills that have passed are ceremonial or rather trivial in nature.) The press is not happy about the trend.

“The paltry number of bills Congress has passed into law this year paints a vivid picture of just how bad the gridlock has been for lawmakers,” announced NBC. The Wall Street Journal noted this year’s session has been “long on partisanship, indecision and brinkmanship.” USA Today bemoaned the inability “to find common ground.” And the Los Angeles Times pointed to “partisan dysfunction” as the main Congressional culprit.

See? “Congress” remains in the grips of “gridlock” and “brinkmanship.” Congress just can’t find “common ground” and suffers from serious “dysfunction.”

So that’s why immigration reform, the farm bill, a budget deal, unemployment benefit extensions, workplace discrimination legislation, and the defense spending bill haven’t been passed or dealt with yet? And that’s why the government was shutdown for 16 days in October?

Bipartisan gridlock!

Wrong. The current Congress obliterated all previous records for diminished output because the Republican Party, and especially those in the Republican-run House, purposefully bottled up as many initiatives as possible and unleashed “procedural sabotage.” (They even obstructed disaster relief aid for victim of Hurricane Sandy.)

Yet eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are equally responsible for so little getting accomplished, the press gives Republicans a pass for their purposeful dysfunction.

By the way, are you also experiencing media flashbacks to the government shutdown, which the Republican Party proudly engineered by reneging on a budget deal they had agreed to with the last-minute demand that Obama essentially repeal his signature legislative accomplishment of his first term, the Affordable Care Act? Back then, the one-sided shutdown maneuver was nearly universally portrayed as bipartisan “Washington dysfunction at its absolute worst” (ABC News), a “partisan logjam” (Wall Street Journal), and a “fiscal stalemate” (The Hill).

Yet today, even as some Republican members brag about how little they’ve allowed Congress to accomplish, even as a plurality of voters says the GOP’s top priority is to cause trouble for the president, while a majority blame Republicans for the lack of productivity in Washington, the press still prefers to portray the Capitol Hill standstill as bipartisan “gridlock.”

Because, of course, both sides are always to blame.

But they’re not. Look at the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In a rare example of fleeting bipartisanship, the bill to prohibit most employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation was approved by the Senate 64-32 last month. In the House, there are more than enough votes from both parties to pass ENDA into law, but Speaker of the House John Boehner will not allow a vote.

The same goes for immigration reform. It passed by an even larger margin in the Senate (68-32), and likely enjoys even more bipartisan support in the House. But again, Boehner won’t allow members to vote on the bill. He won’t even allow the House to enter into negotiations with the Senate to try to hammer out a final bill.

So how is it “gridlock” when a bipartisan, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a clear bipartisan majority in the House support a bill but aren’t allowed to vote on its final passage?

Politically, the sabotage strategy works for Republicans. At least in the short term. Note that Obama’s standing among Hispanic voters has dropped precipitously this year. Analysts assume that’s because Obama hasn’t delivered on his promise to pass immigration reform. That may also be because so little of the news coverage stresses the poignant fact that the bipartisan votes are there to pass immigration reform, it’s just that Republican leaders in the House won’t allow the “yes” vote to take place. They won’t allow Obama to take credit for passing a popular law.

And yes, it really did become a scorched-earth situation this year; a nearly across-the-board effort to sabotage Obama’s every move. Republicans aren’t just denying the president the ability to sign meaningful bills into law. The unprecedented minority strategy includes hardcore attempts to block his cabinet picks, executive branch appointments, and judicial nominees. And specifically, blocking judicial nominees who Republicans agree are completely qualified to sit on the federal bench.

But still unsure what to call the Republican brand of anarchy, the press continues to play dumb about the magnitude of the planned interference. For instance, amidst the sabotage, the New York Times reported that while judicial nominations remain an issue of deep contention, “Among senators of both parties, there is agreement that a president should be granted deference in picking members of his cabinet and top executive branch positions.”


Last November, Republicans launched an unprecedented, preemptive campaign to make sure Susan Rice was not picked as Obama’s next Secretary of State. Then they engineered an unprecedented campaign to try to stop Republican Chuck Hagel from becoming Secretary of Defense. And as late as July, two of Obama’s nominated cabinet picks still hadn’t received votes in the Senate, thanks to determined obstruction.

So no, contrary to the Times reporting there is no widespread agreement that presidents should be able to pick their cabinet members and top executive branch positions. There used to be. Then Republicans ripped up that pact. The Times and others just won’t say so as they blame both sides for a do-nothing Congress.

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, December 9, 2013

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Media, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Cheney’s Descent Into Incoherence”: The “Guy At The End Of The Bar” Agument

It stands to reason former Vice President Dick Cheney would be unimpressed with the international agreement with Iran over its nuclear program. Heck, Cheney didn’t even get along with George W. Bush late in their second term because Bush was reluctant to launch military strikes on Iran, so the notion that Cheney would balk at President Obama’s policy is hardly a surprise.

But as Ben Armbruster noted, Cheney appeared on Fox News this morning to complain about U.S. policy towards Iran, and the former VP doesn’t even seem to be trying anymore.

The former vice president moved to Iran and without mentioning any specific criticisms of the agreement, claimed it’s bad because of unrelated health care issues. “We don’t follow through and Iran we’ve got a very serious problem going forward and a deal now been cut,” he said. “The same people that brought us ‘you can keep your insurance if you want’ are telling us they’ve got a great deal in Iran with respect to their nuclear program. I don’t believe it.”

This is what I like to call a “guy at the end of the bar” argument. You may know the type: there’s some angry guy watching the TV above the bar, and to no one in particular, the loudmouth wants to share his poorly informed wisdom about a variety of subjects. He’s the guy who’s convinced government is inherently bad because of lines at the DMV.

Cheney has become that guy. About 1 percent of the population will be adversely affected by changes to the messy individual, non-group insurance market, and as such, the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran is suspect. What do these two things have to do with one another? For sensible people, nothing.

But in Cheney’s mind, if Obama used oversimplified rhetoric about a sliver of the population individual health plans, then literally everything the administration says on every subject should be rejected. One wonders if Cheney would hold himself to the same standard, given his lengthy record of breathtaking dishonesty.

Indeed, in the same Fox appearance, Cheney added, “I don’t think that Barack Obama believes that the U.S. is an exceptional nation,” which is demonstrably silly.

And why should anyone care what the failed former vice president thinks? It’s a fair question, though I’d note that Cheney’s perspective remains relevant, not just because of his frequent media appearances, but because congressional Republicans continue to seek his counsel on matters related to foreign policy and national security.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 9, 2013

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Every Man For Himself”: How To Stick It To The Poor, A Congressional Strategy

The 113th Congress has stuck it to the poor at pretty much every opportunity. In fact, if you take all their past and future plans into account, it looks like they have accomplished that rare feat: To close in on enacting an overarching, radical agenda without control of the Senate or the presidency. How did they do it? Probably by escaping scrutiny through a piecemeal approach to legislation, a president who is willing to meet them halfway, and one diabolic word: Sequester.

Let’s drill down into each piece:

1. Kick ’em to the curb
Congress will basically start kicking poor people out of their homes early next year. The idea is, if you can’t pay for your home without government assistance, you don’t deserve to live in one. In this spirit, budget cuts due to sequestration will take rental assistance vouchers away from 140,000 low-income families by the beginning of next year, making housing more expensive as agencies raise costs to offset the budget cuts. All in all, about 3 million disabled seniors and families will be affected. The savings?: $2 billion, which is pretty much what the government shutdown cost in back pay to federal workers.

If you’re lucky enough to keep your home, don’t expect to heat it. Sequester cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) meant that 300,000 low-income families in 2013 were denied government support for energy costs.

2. Take the food out of their mouths. Literally.
The recent reduction in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits has affected more than 47 million Americans and is the largest wholesale cut in the program since Congress passed the first Food Stamps Act in 1964.

The cuts to Food Stamps were implemented on November 1. Yet, Congress won’t let the program rest there — House Republicans are pushing to take $39 billion from SNAP over the next decade. If their plan succeeds, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 3.8 million low-income individuals would lose their benefits in 2014 with 2.8 million more getting kicked off the program each year. SNAP is one of the three most effective anti-poverty programs the government has, keeping 4 million people out of poverty last year alone. So the initial and further cuts make a lot of sense — if you despise the poor.

And don’t worry, other cuts to food programs ensure both the oldest and youngest among us won’t be spared. Cuts to Meals on Wheels will cost poor seniors 4 to 18 million meals next year. Meanwhile, the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), which provides health-care referrals and nutrition to poor pregnant and postpartum women and children up to age 5, has grappled with $500 million in cuts this year and faces even deeper ones next. Fair’s fair, though.

3. Dim their kids’ future
There’s nothing that will make our economic future brighter than under-educating our children, right? That’s why, again as a result of sequestration, Head Start literally had to kick preschoolers out of their classrooms this March and removed 57,000 children from the program this September (70,000 kids total will be affected). If this weren’t enough, more than half of public schools have fired personnel due to the ominous cuts — and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said sequestration “has been one of the good things that has happened.” Given that 40 percent of children who don’t receive early childhood education are more likely to become a parent as a teenager, 25 percent are more likely to drop out of school, and 70 percent are more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, this is definitely the definition of a “good thing.”

4. Erase the road map for employment
The United States has one of the stingiest unemployment programs in the developed world and it is getting even stingier. People who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — 40 percent of the unemployed — have already begun and will continue to lose a large portion of their benefits between January and March. Eight percent of this year’s sequestration cuts are coming from unemployment insurance. The logic here is that the program discourages people from looking for work, so why fund something that just makes the unemployed lazier? The evidence, however, proves that government assistance fuels the job searches of these 4.4 million Americans. Yet by the end of December, about 1.3 million will lose their extended jobless benefits if Congress doesn’t renew the program. And cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF, or welfare) means there will be even less of a safety net to fall back on.

5. Make ’em work till they drop
President Obama put Social Security cuts in his budget for fiscal year 2014, and Republicans are thrilled. Switching to a new formula called Chained CPI would lead to benefit cuts of $230 billion in the next 10 years. Apparently, it’s Social Security that’s driving up the debt, as Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said. The irony here, according to The New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is that while debt can indirectly make us poor if deficits drive up interest rates and discourage productive investment (they haven’t), investment is low because the economy is so weak, partly from cutbacks in public spending and investment — the cuts, such as this one, that supposedly protect Americans from a future of excessive debt. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa) have been fighting an uphill battle to boost Social Security benefits. But carry on, Congress. What you’re doing really makes sense here.

In just a few short decades, we’ve gone from LBJ’s Great Society, where many of these ideas originated, to this Congress’s attacks on the poor. According to the Census Bureau, safety net programs keep tens of millions of Americans out of poverty each year. But that’s just not the federal government’s priority anymore. This Congress’s message: It’s every man for himself.


By: Samantha Paige Rosen, The Week December 9, 2013

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Sequester | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Cancer Growing On Our Society”: Progressives Must Stand Up Against The Right Wing War On Public Employees

For many years the American Right — and many of the most powerful elements of corporate and Wall Street elite — have conducted a war on public employees.

Their campaign has taken many forms. They have tried to slash the number of public sector jobs, cut the pay and benefits of public sector workers, and do away with public employee rights to collective bargaining. They have discredited the value of the work performed by public employees — like teachers, police and firefighters — going so far as to argue that “real jobs” are created only by the private sector.

Last week a conservative court ruled that by going through bankruptcy the city of Detroit could rid itself of its obligation under the state constitution to make good on its pension commitments to its retirees.

It should surprise no one that the Republican Chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, is demanding that a budget deal with the Democrats include a 350 percent increase in pension contribution by all civilian federal employees. That would effectively mean a pay cut of about 2 percent for every federal worker. And that cut would come after a three-year pay freeze and multiple furloughs caused by the Republican “sequester.”

Unbelievably, in Illinois the right wing Chicago Tribune and the state’s corporate elite snookered the Democratic-controlled legislature into passing changes in that state’s pension laws that slashed the pensions of its public employees. The changes affected all state employees and many of Illinois’ teachers. All of them had faithfully made their required contributions to the state’s pension funds for years, even though the legislature regularly failed to make its required payments so it could avoid raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest citizens.

Illinois cut teacher pensions, even though many do not participate in the Social Security system and the state pension is their only source of retirement income.

All of these attacks on public employees — and cuts in public sector expenditures in general — are premised on two myths that are simply untrue.

Myth number one. The Right claims we live in a period of scarcity that requires extreme public sector austerity. They claim “we just can’t afford” to pay people like teachers the pensions that we had agreed to in the past, because “America is broke.”

This, of course, is simply wrong. In spite of the hardships brought on by the Great Recession that resulted from the reckless speculation of Wall Street banks — and even though George Bush thrust our country into an unnecessary war that cost our economy a trillion plus dollars — America is wealthier today than ever before in its history.

Per capita income in America is at an all-time high because productivity per person has gone up 80 percent since 1979.

Of course the Right is able to make the case that “we can’t afford” to pay our teachers as much as we once did, because everyday Americans feel like they have been losing ground – which of course they have. That’s because virtually every dime of that increase in our per capita national income went to the top 1 percent.

The solution to this problem is, of course, to change the rules of the game that have been rigged over the last three decades to bring about this result. By cutting the incomes, pensions and collective bargaining rights of middle class public employees rather than raising taxes on the wealthy, we make the problem worse.

But from the standpoint of the corporate Wall Street elite, that is precisely the idea. They want to continue to siphon off more and more of America’s bounty. And they want to shrink the public sector, because they don’t want to pay taxes at rates like they did back in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s when the American middle class was born and the portion of our national income going to the top 1 percent actually dropped.

That gets us to myth number two.

Myth number two. The right wing is doing its best to convince ordinary voters that the only way to make our economy grow and create “real jobs” is to cut public sector spending and allow big corporations and Wall Street to control a bigger and bigger portion of the country’s wealth.

Unfortunately, even the most basic understanding of economic history — or a shred of common sense — make clear that this is categorically untrue.

Historically, spending by government has been a critical engine for long-term economic growth.

America’s investment in universal public education has provided the indisputable foundation for our economic expansion.

The public infrastructure of roads, airports, and public transportation are essential to all economic activity. Rural electrification, our system of farm to market roads, the agricultural extension service — and a whole system of federal programs to stabilize the agricultural economy — have made possible the most productive food production system in the history of humanity.

The Internet was invented by the American government. GPS navigation that is essential to modern commerce, was developed by our government, and depends on a system of government-run navigation satellites.

Anyone who has ever been to a third world country that is ravaged by starvation and disease understands that the nutrition and health of a population is a prerequisite to vibrant economic activity. People can’t work hard if they are hungry or sick. Government provides the public health infrastructure that gives us sanitary water, picks up our garbage, disposes of our wastes, protects the quality of the air we breath and invests in the research that underlies most new medicines. And the government food stamp program is intended to prevent a significant number of our people from going hungry.

And just try to engage in productive economic activity in a society where there is no physical security, where there is no functioning police or fire protection, or that is constantly threatened by war or conquest or civil strife.

People who argue that investments by government do nothing to create economic growth — or that the only “productive” economic investments are made by a bunch of investors on Wall Street, many of whom are nothing more than professional gamblers — are just plain nuts.

Cutting back on the public sector — and demonizing public employees — has nothing whatsoever to do with economic necessity — or with “redirecting” our resources into “more productive” uses. In fact, just the opposite.

The greatest threat to our economy is the shrinking buying power of everyday Americans and the growing concentration of wealth in the 1 percent. Economic inequality is a cancer growing on our society.

Fact is that if ordinary people don’t get a proportionate share of the income from increased economic productivity, it stands to reason that they won’t have the money to buy the products the economy produces. That leads to economic stagnation and recession, it’s that simple.

Every economic and political decision we make should be viewed through the lens of whether it reduces or increases that economic inequality. When it comes to public employee pensions and wages, the corporate elite tries to convince ordinary people that the choice is between “lavish” benefits to public employees or education for our kids. They play upon the resentment that most ordinary people feel that their incomes have been stagnant for three decades to pit them against middle class public employees.

Of course the real choice is not whether ordinary people must fight over the crumbs, while the Wall Street’s “masters of the universe” jet off to gamble in Monaco on their private jets. It is whether to further reduce the share of income going to middle class teachers, fire fighters and police officers or to increase taxes on millionaires.

It’s time for Progressives — and Americans of all stripes — to wake up and smell the coffee. Without a robust, efficient, well functioning public sector, our economy will fall behind in the world and our standard of living will drop.

Government is the name we give to the things we choose to do together.

We have to attract the best and the brightest to staff our government. That requires that the teaches, firefighters, police officers, maintenance people, researchers, clerks, constituent service workers, programmers, air traffic controllers, managers, construction workers, corrections officers, policy analysts, and everyone else who works for our governments must be respected, well compensated, and have the right to collectively bargain over the wages and working conditions.

It’s time for us all to stand up against the Right Wing war on public sector employees.


By: Robert Creamer, The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 9, 2013

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Economic Inequality, Public Employees | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Sordid Approach To The Uninsured”: Republican’s Increasingly Appear Eager To Punish The Poor Because They’re Poor

Even if the Affordable Care Act is implemented perfectly, and the system works exactly as planned, millions of Americans will go without access to affordable health care. Is it due to a flaw in the law? Not exactly.

The problem is Republican opposition to Medicaid expansion at the state level. If your income is between 100% and 138% of the poverty line, you can qualify for Medicaid and get covered – unless you live in a “red” state where GOP officials have rejected Medicaid expansion. If so, you can (a) move; (b) figure out a way to make more money; or (c) go without.

Just in recent days, we’ve seen reports reinforcing how inexplicable these states’ policies really are. Refusing Medicaid expansion will not only cost states billions, but it will also severely undermine state hospitals, all while hurting struggling families.

Kevin Drum today called it “one of the most sordid acts in recent American history.”

The cost to the states is tiny, and the help it would bring to the poor is immense. It’s paid for by taxes that residents of these states are going to pay regardless of whether they receive any of the benefits. And yet, merely because it has Obama’s name attached to it, they’ve decided that immiserating millions of poor people is worth it. It is hard to imagine a decision more depraved.

Alternatively, Republicans in Congress could agree to fix this problem and allow people without access to Medicaid to qualify for exchange subsidies. But of course they won’t do that either for the same reason.

Conservatives hate it when you accuse them of simply not caring about the poor. Sometimes they have a point. This is not one of those times.

I strongly agree, though I’d just add that it’s amazing to hear Republican governors who reject Medicaid expansion try to present their approach as sensible.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) recently said he refused the policy because he doesn’t like exchange marketplaces, which doesn’t make any sense. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) justified his opposition by saying the health care law is a “mess,” which is shallow even by GOP standards. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) appeared on MSNBC and said he rejected Medicaid expansion because, someday, federal officials may “renege on their promise” to reimburse states.

Has that ever happened? No. Is there any reason to believe it might happen? No. Could Wisconsin bring coverage to struggling families in the meantime, and then drop the policy in the event Washington refused to meet its obligations? Yes, but Walker doesn’t want to.

The larger takeaway here is that Republican officials increasingly appear eager to punish the poor because they’re poor. Indeed, it’s become a common theme in GOP policymaking just in recent weeks: no extension of unemployment benefits, no extension of the status quo on food stamps, no increase in the minimum wage, and wherever possible, no Medicaid expansion, either.

Republicans better hope low-income Americans vote in low numbers in the near future.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 9, 2013

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Republicans, Uninsured | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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