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“Lacking The Will, Not The Votes”: Yet Another Year Of A Do-Nothing Republican Congress

Election Day 2014 is 258 days away, which in political terms, is an extraordinarily long time. In theory, in 258 days, policymakers in Washington could identify several national priorities, consider worthwhile legislation, and pass meaningful bills into law.

But Robert Costa makes clear in a new report that for House Republicans, the year that is just now getting underway is already effectively over. Three weeks after President Obama presented a fairly ambitious agenda to Congress in a State of the Union address, the GOP House majority fully expects to get nothing done between now and November.

After a tumultuous week of party infighting and leadership stumbles, congressional Republicans are focused on calming their divided ranks in the months ahead, mostly by touting proposals that have wide backing within the GOP and shelving any big-ticket legislation for the rest of the year.

Comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, tweaks to the federal health-care law – bipartisan deals on each are probably dead in the water for the rest of this Congress.

“We don’t have 218 votes in the House for the big issues, so what else are we going to do?” said Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), an ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio).

I feel like this assumption – legislating simply isn’t feasible because major bills can’t get 218 votes in the lower chamber – comes up quite a bit. Note that Boehner recently told Jay Leno, “I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill. It’s hard to do.”

Except, it’s not that hard to do.

What we’re hearing isn’t an explanation for inaction and passive indifference towards governing, but rather, an excuse. GOP leaders look at their to-do list and wistfully imagine how nice it would be to tackle priorities like immigration and tax reform, but they quickly do imaginary head-counts and throw up their arms in disgust. As Nunes put it, “We don’t have 218 votes in the House for the big issues, so what else are we going to do?”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If House Republican leaders brought the popular, bipartisan immigration reform bill to the floor, it’d likely get 218 votes. If they brought the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor, it’d have a decent shot at 218, too. The same goes for a minimum-wage increase and a variety of other measures that the public would be glad to see.

The missing ingredient isn’t votes. It’s political will.

It’s precisely why House Democrats are increasingly invested in discharge petitions – if only a sliver of House Republicans agreed to help bring popular bills to the floor for an up-or-down vote, Dems believe Congress can do more than spin its wheels for the next 258 days.

It is, to be sure, a longshot, and discharge petitions very rarely work. But the alternative is yet another year of a do-nothing Congress.

Postscript: Costa’s piece also quoted former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), who said, “If you’re a Republican in Congress, you’ve learned that when we shut down the government, we lose. Now that we’ve had some success in avoiding another shutdown, our fortunes seem to be rising, so maybe we don’t want big things to happen.”

That’s quite an inspiring message: “Vote GOP 2014: We only shut down the government once, not twice.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2014

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Election 2014 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ted Cruz Is Trolling Congress”: It’s Time The Media Calls Him On It

In the accountability-free zone that passes for Sunday morning news shows, it takes a lot for a politician to generate any kind of pushback from their intellectually malleable hosts. So, it passes as noteworthy when Bob Schieffer, host of CBS News’ Face the Nation, recently followed up on a ridiculously false statement by one of his show’s guests, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right, lemme—lemme go back to one thing and—the question I asked you was, “Would you ever conceive of threatening to shut down the government again?”

SEN. TED CRUZ: Well, as I said, I didn’t threaten to shut down the government the last time. I don’t think we should ever shut down the government. I repeatedly voted—

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well—

SEN. TED CRUZ: —to fund the federal government.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator—

(OVERTALK)

BOB SCHIEFFER: —if you didn’t threaten to shut down the government, who was it that did? I mean, but we’ll go on—

Not exactly withering cross-examination, to be sure. But what even the transcript of the absurd exchange doesn’t fully capture, though this video clip does, is Schieffer’s astonishment—to the point of outright amusement—at Cruz’s brazen embrace of an obvious lie. The clubby world of DC punditry depends upon an unspoken agreement of plausible deniability between both pundits and politicians. So when one of the latter so clearly and consistently leaps off the cliff of reality, members of the former who try to stick with the equivocating, “both sides” script risk being taken down as well. That someone like Schieffer could be reduced to near giggles by Cruz’s duplicitousness symbolizes how timid and soft the Washington press corps has grown. And it reveals how ill-prepared the media is to deal with someone like Cruz, whose shtick is naked, intellectual dishonesty.

Put more simply, Cruz is little more than a Congressional troll. Since his election fifteen months ago, he has embarked upon a non-stop campaign of willful antagonismprivileged contrarianism, and unabashed self-aggrandizement. Trolls peddle phony outrage and crave undeserved attention and, not coincidentally, Cruz’s political toolkit contains just two elements: monkey wrenches and soapboxes.

As just one among 100 in the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” Cruz tends to get written off by the press as merely a colorful, mostly harmless crank. The Senate’s precarious legislative process and the House’s deep polarization, however, means Cruz’s disingenuous obstructionism makes an already dysfunctional Congress even more unpredictably combustible. All last summer, he ran a traveling political medicine show for the FEMA-camps-and-Benghazi-conspiracy crowd, touting the potential for repealing Obamacare as part of the impending government budget showdown. Though his trolling was an obvious fundraising and publicity stunt with zero chance of success, Republicans in Congress went along with his no-win scenario, taking the whole of the federal government down with his party in October.

In the past week, Cruz pulled two more variations on this same reckless behavior. While Senate Republican leaders had already accepted the necessity of passing a clean debt limit bill and were willing to let Democrats approve it with a simple majority, Cruz nearly blew up the process by threatening a filibuster at the last minute. Facing yet another publicity disaster, not to mention risking the full faith and credit of the nation’s financial system yet again, twelve GOP Senators reluctantly voted for passage. And while disaster was temporarily avoided in that case, Cruz likely killed off the House’s numerical advantage on immigration reform when he unexpectedly stuck the incendiary “amnesty” label on Speaker Boehner’s broad principles for reform last week.

Of course, no one should shed tears for folks like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when they have to publicly confront the embarrassment of the GOP’s slouching towards Bethlehem. And if the Republicans’ refusal to address immigration before next fall’s midterm elections costs it seats in the House or its chance for the majority in the Senate, so much the better. But make no mistake, Republican self-immolation on this scale means millions of Americans are burned in the backdraft.

Sadly, the press rarely connects the dots on the long-term, real-world damage of Cruz’s legislative sabotage. In fact, his tactics have so mesmerized the media that what would otherwise be unprecedented intransigence by the rest of the GOP caucus gets normalized. For example, there was this New York Times story last week, which soft-peddled Cruz’s key role in sparking the potential debt ceiling disaster but that gave credit to Senate Republican leaders for having “rescued” the aforementioned debt ceiling vote. Politico, as only it can do, one-upped the Times with a long, behind-the-scenes process story that also glossed over Cruz as provocateur and instead featured this laugher of a quote from Senator John McCain about Mitch McConnell’s “yea” vote: “I must say it was a very courageous act.” Yes, inside the Beltway, it takes “courage” for the Senate Minority Leader to vote for a bill to pay for things that Congress has already spent money on.

The usual suspects, apathy and ignorance, are no doubt contributing factors in the political press’s unwillingness to call out Cruz’s spiteful grandstanding. I suspect subconscious bias is at work as well. The “Everybody hates him” reputation Cruz has now firmly and deservedly established sounds an awful a lot like the old newsroom shibboleth about objectivity—that when both parties are complaining about your reporting that’s a sure sign you’re doing it right. If you’ve ever wondered how far afield from honest governance a politician can wander before the “objective” media finally calls out his or her bullshit, Ted Cruz looks to be the ongoing case study.

This kind of journalistic negligence emboldens other extremist Republicans in Congress to sow even more dysfunction, though. In addition, the lack of public accountability only serves to discourage more rational members of the GOP who might otherwise be tempted to leverage intra-party pressure in stopping the needless obstruction. Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that the fear of facing a primary threat on the right from the next wannabe Ted Cruz—whom the press will lavish with uncritical attention—has reduced some feckless House Republicans to concern trolling with their Congressional votes, as part of what’s being called the “vote no, hope yes” caucus.

In the end, this is the most pernicious effect of Cruz’s trolling—the way his deceitful behavior disconnects political rhetoric and action from the good faith of those Americans he represents—and more importantly—how it impacts those Americans he doesn’t. Any press corps that proclaims to be a beacon of truth and accountability in a free society should feel compelled to call out these anti-democratic tactics for what they are. Failure to do so really is no laughing matter.

 

By: Reed Richardson, The Nation, February 18, 2014

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Media, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Unpleasant Day For Scott Walker”: In The Midst Of The Fallout Of Two Criminal Investigations

When it comes to ambitious Republican governors, gearing up for likely presidential campaigns, but burdened by scandals, we tend to think of a certain New Jersey official.

But as Rosalind Helderman reminds us this morning, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is “in the midst of dealing with the fallout of two criminal investigations,” one of which is of particular interest today.

That could begin as early as Wednesday with the release of more than 25,000 pages of e-mails from an ex-staffer that were gathered as part of the now-concluded investigation. The probe focused on Walker’s time as Milwaukee County executive before his 2010 election as governor and led to convictions of six former aides and allies.

Even if Walker escapes the e-mail release unscathed, he faces an additional inquiry from state prosecutors, who are believed to be looking into whether his successful 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with independent conservative groups.

The Walker stories haven’t generated nearly as much attention as some other recent political controversies, in large part because Wisconsin’s secrecy laws have kept a tight lid on information about the investigations.

But Lane Florsheim recently summarized matters nicely: “Charles P. Pierce at Esquire has a good rundown of the lurking scandals: Aides from Walker’s first campaign went to jail for using his Milwaukee County Executive office to campaign for him for governor, another former aide was convicted of stealing money from a fund for families of U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Walker’s administration gave raises that skirted state limits after a series of phantom job transfers took place. Another corruption probe is ongoing.”

Well, when you put it that way, it seems troubling.

Helderman fleshed out the significance of today’s revelations, in particular.

The e-mails being released Wednesday come from the files of Kelly Rindfleisch, a former Walker deputy chief of staff who in 2012 pleaded guilty to a felony for performing political work for a Walker-backed lieutenant governor candidate during hours she was being paid by taxpayers to do county business. The e-mails are being unsealed as part of her appeal.

Prosecutors said she sent 1,400 e-mails on county time related to political fundraising. More than 2,200 e-mails, they said, went to Walker campaign officials.

Many were sent using a private e-mail address and an Internet router installed in the county executive office suite with the intention of shielding the work from public access, prosecutors said.

Walker was copied on a handful of e-mails, released by prosecutors during Rindfleisch’s sentencing, that showed county workers and campaign aides jointly coordinating strategy.

There’s nothing to suggest Walker has ever been a target of the investigation, even though two of his former aides were convicted. His Democratic critics are nevertheless eager to see if the new materials implicate the governor to an extent beyond what’s previously been reported.

American Bridge, a progressive super PAC, has created a website that’s collecting and posting the newly released materials as they’re available.

Also note, while Walker is clearly eyeing a national campaign in the near future, he’s also facing a competitive re-election bid this year.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 19, 2014

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ignore The Prophets Of Economic Doom”: Why The Government Should Help The Unemployed Even If It Might Not Work

The United States is now starting its sixth year of mass unemployment, a grinding economic disaster that shows no sign of relenting. As Brad DeLong has written, very soon our current mess will result in something worse than the Great Depression: “Future economic historians will not regard the Great Depression as the worst business-cycle disaster of the industrial age. It is we who are living in their worst case.” (Though the Depression was deeper, the U.S. economy recovered much more quickly.)

That is the context in which we should look at a new spate of pessimistic economic arguments about the future. On Tuesday, the famed economist Robert Gordon released a new paper arguing that future economic growth will be awful.

Here’s a section from Gordon’s abstract:

This paper predicts that growth in the 25 to 40 years after 2007 will be much slower, particularly for the great majority of the population… The primary cause of this growth slowdown is a set of four headwinds, all of them widely recognized and uncontroversial. Demographic shifts will reduce hours worked per capita… Educational attainment, a central driver of growth over the past century, stagnates at a plateau… Inequality continues to increase, resulting in real income growth for the bottom 99 percent of the income distribution that is fully half a point per year below the average growth of all incomes. [NBER]

This may be right and it may not. (Personally, I’m not at all convinced — see Kevin Drum and Tyler Cowen for a good discussion.) But the great danger is that these predictions could be self-fulfilling, discouraging Congress from taking immediate action in the face of economic trends that will overwhelm its comparatively puny efforts.

What we must remember is that there is a strong case that additional effort could solve at least part of our mass unemployment problem at low cost. We owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to try to restore full employment, even if it might not work.

The case against the stagnationist position goes something like this: America is not primarily suffering economically because of the factors Gordon pointed out. Rather, as during the Great Depression, we’ve suffered a collapse of aggregate demand, and institutional arrangements and political gridlock prevent us from fully addressing the problem through monetary or fiscal stimulus. This dynamic is also quite similar to that of the Great Depression — it took World War II to break through the political gridlock and get enough deficit spending to restore full employment.

If the stagnationists are right, then government attempts to restore employment with monetary or fiscal stimulus will result in little more than inflation. But they might be wrong, and the relative downside risks to their positions aren’t even close to comparable. A bit of moderate inflation is no big deal — it came in at around 4 percent during most of Reagan’s term, and the Fed has the tools to easily rein inflation back in if it rises above the central bank’s target rate of 2 percent. In fact, a little inflation could even help matters, by eroding household debt burdens and reducing real interest rates.

On the other hand, mass unemployment is an ongoing economic and humanitarian catastrophe.

It’s like if your house is on fire, and you’re worried that spraying it with a firehose might break some windows. Maybe true! Also a terrible set of priorities!

So whether Gordon and others have a good theoretical case for their pessimism is not remotely enough to justify inaction on unemployment. Policymakers should keep that at the front of their mind.

 

By: Ryan Cooer, The Week, February 19, 2014

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP’s Wango Tango With Ted Nugent”: Republicans Are Dancing With A Professional, Maniacal, Racist Freak

For well over a year now, Americans have been treated to the spectacle of GOP leaders plotting and planning and searching for clever ways to assure the public that it is not the party of old, angry, testosterone-heavy, and most of all white grievance politics. Granted, this is a delicate task, calling for a thoughtful, multi-faceted approach. But how’s this for a modest starting point: Stop sucking up to freak-show, has-been rocker Ted Nugent?

Honestly, it was sad enough when Rep. Steve Stockman took Ted as his date to the State of the Union address this month. Then again, these days, people pretty much expect that level of adolescent fuck-you from rank-and-file House members. But a leading gubernatorial candidate from our second-most populous state?

Sure enough, there was Nugent in all his unhinged glory, campaigning in North Texas on Tuesday for state attorney general and gubernatorial wannabe Greg Abbott. Texas Dems understandably threw a fit, pointing to some of Ted’s latest ravings, most notably his calling President Obama a “subhuman mongrel.”

Abbott’s team pushed back limply. Before the appearances, they pooh-poohed concerns about Nugent, praising him as a great patriot. As Abbott’s spokesman informed Politico:

Ted Nugent is a forceful advocate for individual liberty and constitutional rights—especially the Second Amendment rights cherished by Texans. … While he may sometimes say things or use language that Greg Abbott would not endorse or agree with, we appreciate the support of everyone who supports protecting our Constitution.

Likewise, following the rally in Denton, Abbott told reporters:

Sen. Davis knows she is suffering with voters because of her flipping and flopping on 2nd Amendment gun laws. And she knows that Ted Nugent calls her out on her disregard for 2nd Amendment rights. We are going to expose Sen. Davis’ weaknesses on the 2nd Amendment and show that in this area and in so many other areas, she represents the liberalism of Barack Obama that is so bad for Texas.”

Oh, so this is all about Abbott’s love for the Second Amendment? Bullshit. Yes, Nugent is loud and proud about his fondness for playing with guns. But the Texas governor’s race is not about protecting gun rights. Wendy Davis is no Michael Bloomberg here. She has voted to allow guns in cars on college campuses and to put armed marshals in schools. The woman supports open-carry laws, for God’s sake. She may not strut around begging the president to “suck on my machine gun” ala Nugent, but that’s only because she’s not a professional maniac.

Abbott’s snuggling up to Nugent is not about the Second Amendment or the Fourth Amendment or any part of the Constitution. It is about courting and stoking the absolute ugliest, most paranoid, most ass-backwards elements of the GOP coalition. We’re not talking here about garden-variety gun lovers or small-government enthusiasts or evangelical values voters. We’re talking about people who find it quaint when Nugent starts raving about how black people are lazy or how disgusting he finds gays or how Hillary Clinton is a “toxic cunt” and “a two-bit whore for Fidel Castro.” (Media Matters has a sprawling, multi-decade sampling of Ted’s greatest hits here.) We’re talking about people who find it hilarious when Nugent waves his little guns around and froths, “Hey Hillary! You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”

A great patriot indeed.

To be fair, Abbott is hardly the only prominent Republican to embrace the unhinged rocker. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the very man Abbott is looking to succeed, asked his good buddy Ted to headline Perry’s 2007 inaugural ball. (With a respectful nod to Texas’s increasingly diverse populace, Nugent showed up clad in a confederate-flag shirt and started talking smack about the state’s non-English speaking residents.) Nor are Texas pols the only Nugent courters. Even poor Mitt Romney sought Nugent’s (grudging) endorsement two years ago.

That said, it was Romney’s—and the broader GOP’s—epic failure that touched off this recent round of soul-searching among Republicans. Sure, the trials and tribulations of Obamacare have given them breathing space of late, but the times they are a changing—along with the nation’s demographics—and Republicans’ cozying up to characters like Nugent is not a recipe for a healthy national party.

The morning after Ted and Greg’s road show, I emailed a handful of Republican strategists. Subject line: “Ted Nugent.” Question: “Why? That’s all I want to know. Why?” Not even the most conservative among them had a serious answer.

As for Gregg Abbott, when pressed by reporters about the appropriateness of his new pal’s comments, the candidate, predictably, claimed ignorance. “I don’t know what he may have done or said in his background. What I do know is that Ted Nugent stands for the Constitution.”

I like to think that Abbott is not actually this stupid. It’s far less troubling to assume that the man likely to become the next governor of Texas is a shameless liar than to imagine that he’d embrace the famously vile Nugent without some vague sense of what made the guy a wingnut celebrity to begin with. (Hint for the would-be governor: It’s not Nugent’s 40-year-old hit song.)

Then again, maybe Abbott really is that clueless. At this point, Nugent has been spouting racist, sexist, generally insane invective for so long that the ugly particulars of any one rant quickly dissolve into his vast sea of lunacy. People tend to roll their eyes and give Nugent a pass because the ranting is seen as just part of his schtick. I mean, he’s the Motor City Madman, right? And, this being America, the guy can say whatever the hell he wants, right?

That he can—and does. But so long as Republicans keep hitching their wagon to a star like Nugent, they really shouldn’t wonder why more and more Americans see the party as defined by an unsettling blend of rage and ignorance.

 

By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, February 19, 2014

February 20, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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