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“A Galloping Conservative Radicalism”: If Republicans Want Respect, They Need To Stop Using The Budget As A Weapon

One of the central provisions of the Dodd-Frank financial reform package was the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is charged with preventing banks and other financial institutions from preying on vulnerable consumers. Republicans hate the CFPB, and have taken to complaining about its funding stream, which comes from the Federal Reserve rather than the normal budgeting process.

They have a point, but they have only themselves to blame, since the GOP has all but relinquished its claim to responsible oversight by using the budget to cripple laws it doesn’t like.

This steaming Washington Examiner editorial lambasting Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Al Green (D-Texas) is a helpful distillation of the GOP position:

Simply put, Waters and Green view the congressional appropriations process as an obstacle to doing things they judge to be good, rather than as a tool by which the American people make sure the executive branch properly enforces the laws they instructed Congress to approve. This is how a democratic republic functions. Do Waters and Green think other agencies — say, the IRS, NSA, the Department of Homeland Security or perhaps the FBI — should be similarly unaccountable to the people’s representatives?

And what will they do when, having freed the bureaucrats of congressional shackles, they find a Republican president using the CFPB in nefarious ways, with Congress powerless to intervene? [Washington Examiner]

I have some sympathy with this perspective. Putting the CFPB outside the normal budget does reduce its democratic accountability. And the agency hasn’t been covering itself with glory of late; a recent report from American Banker found systematic discrimination in hiring and promotion. It’s plausible that more oversight could have prevented that.

But the problem is that conservatives obviously aren’t concerned about whether taxpayers are getting a good deal. They want to cut the bejesus out of the agency’s funding, even if it means inviting another financial crisis. The GOP budget from earlier this year zeroed out CFPB funding after 2016. Republicans claimed they wouldn’t get rid of it altogether, but given the GOP’s animosity toward pro-consumer regulations, or any programs that benefit the non-rich, it’s easy to suspect that they are trying to quietly axe the agency.

The truth is that the strongest possible oversight authority over the CFPB — the power of life and death — is still firmly in Congress’ hands. The legislature created the agency, and it may destroy it. The trouble is that Republicans don’t have enough votes to destroy the CFPB. They don’t even have a majority in the Senate, never mind enough votes to override a guaranteed veto from President Obama.

By dividing government, the Constitution forces parties into compromise. For a normal partisan with a basic commitment to the norms of American democracy, the idea is to hammer out compromises with the other side until you are in a position to enact a suite of policies. You can’t get everything, but you can get half a loaf here and there. Then, when you get the rare chance at controlling both Congress and the presidency, you pass a big policy suite, and hope people like it enough that it sticks.

That’s a reasonably fair description of how Democrats behaved from 2006 to 2010.

But Republicans have abandoned this set of norms in favor of an enraged constitutional hardball. Under this model, when you don’t have enough votes to pass your agenda, you use every procedural tactic at your disposal to force the other side to embrace it. At the extreme, this includes threatening grievous damage to the nation, by deliberately defaulting on the debt or shutting down the government. Additionally, since what passes for Republican policy is simply repealing laws or privatizing huge swathes of the government, starving agencies for funds is a nice way to accomplish that goal on the sly.

Republicans have eased up on the government-by-hostage-crisis of late, but this behavior is what inspires Democrats to do an end-run around the budget process. Since they can’t trust Republicans to not use the budget process as part of the policy proxy war, there’s a constant search for ways to protect critical agencies from procedural extremism.

It’s not a great situation. But because our poorly designed institutions have collided with a galloping conservative radicalism, it is going to be a more common one.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent at TheWeek.com,  June 24, 2014

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Budget, Financial Institutions | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Year Of Living Negatively”: The Tea Party’s View Takes Precedence Over Majority Opinion Among Republicans.

Republicans feel good about this fall’s election even though their party is sharply divided and its brand is badly tainted.

The House GOP last week elected a balanced ticket of leaders in a relatively harmonious process. Nonetheless, the party’s right still complained that its voices were not heard.

And a party leadership that thought it had quelled the tea party rebellion faces a runoff in Mississippi on Tuesday that will end either in a victory for the insurgent challenger or in claims that the establishment candidate prevailed only because Democrats, particularly African Americans, crossed into the Republican primary to save him.

Is it any wonder that the GOP’s governing game plan for the rest of the year is to do as little as possible? Since the party can’t agree to anything that would pass muster with President Obama and the Democratic Senate, it will bet that Obama’s low poll ratings will be enough for Republicans to make gains in House races and, potentially, give them control of the Senate.

All of this is why 2014 will be the year of living negatively.

The prospect of months of attacks and more attacks reflects the depth of disillusionment with Washington. This is the best thing Republicans have going for them, but it might also provide Democrats with their clearest path to holding the Senate. Consider the findings of last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

The number that got the most attention was the president’s depressed 41 percent approval rating. But the survey also found that only 29 percent of those surveyed had a positive view of the Republican Party while 38 percent had a positive view of the Democrats. Democratic candidates have remained competitive in many key races because so many voters find the GOP alternative unpalatable.

The survey also showed that Republican divisions are not the invention of right-wing talk-show hosts or bloggers. Republicans who support the tea party are well to the right of others in their party. As NBC’s First Read reported, 68 percent of tea party Republicans said that immigration hurts the United States, compared with only 47 percent of non-tea party Republicans and 42 percent of all Americans. And a PRRI/Brookings survey (with which I was involved) found that while 41 percent of tea party members favored identifying and deporting illegal immigrants, only 26 percent of non-tea party Republicans preferred this option.

By a 74 percent to 23 percent margin in the NBC/Journal poll, tea party Republicans disapproved of requiring companies to reduce greenhouse gases, “even if it would mean higher utility bills for consumers.” By contrast, 57 percent of Americans and 50 percent of non-tea party Republicans backed the idea.

The Republican congressional leadership thus continues to be caught between an aspiration to appeal to middle-ground voters and a fear, reinforced by Eric Cantor’s recent loss, that efforts to do so will be punished by the party’s right, which plays an outsize role in low-turnout primaries. On policy — notably on immigration — this often means that the tea party’s view takes precedence over majority opinion among Republicans.

In electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) as majority leader over the more conservative Rep. Raúl Labrador (Idaho), House Republicans were actually trying to avoid ideology altogether. To replace Cantor (Va.), they picked a pragmatist focused on winning elections and an extrovert known for making friends across factional lines. Policy ambition is not McCarthy’s calling card.

The victory of Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana as whip pleased many conservatives and Southerners, but not all — and especially not the most ardently conservative bloggers and talk-show hosts who influence rank-and-file tea party opinion. Erick Erickson of the RedState blog, for example, accused Scalise of having worked “behind the scenes to marginalize conservatives.” Rep. Justin Amash, a young libertarian from Michigan, said the result of the leadership races showed that the House GOP “unfortunately hasn’t heard the message loud enough.”

There will be more loud commotion on Tuesday in Mississippi’s Republican runoff between the tea party’s Chris McDaniel and Sen. Thad Cochran, a six-term incumbent. McDaniel is seen as having the momentum, but his supporters are already attacking Cochran’s campaign for encouraging Democrats to participate in the Republican contest.

Cochran, a McDaniel e-mail insisted, “is so desperate to keep his seat that he’s going to use Democrats to steal the Republican primary.”

So the next stop in the battle for the Republican soul could see either a victory that emboldens the tea party — or a defeat that will be blamed on Democrats and infuriate the movement.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 22, 2014

June 25, 2014 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, Tea Party | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Low Sanity Threshold”: In Georgia, The Bar Is Scraping The Ground

Being back in Georgia always reminds me of the very different norms governing politics in Deep Red country. Yesterday I mentioned that in Georgia’s 11th district GOP runoff, Barry Loudermilk and Bob Barr were in disagreement about what, if anything, the U.S. should be doing in Iraq. I didn’t mention they both favored the impeachment of the president (Bob Barr touts his experience as a Clinton impeachment manager as a plus), though Loudermilk thinks maybe it’s a waste of time to pursue it so long as Senate action to finish it is unlikely.

In another GOP runoff in north Georgia, in the 10th congressional district, the Rev. Jody Hice, who finished first on May 20, is an aggressive supporter of the point of view that only Christians should benefit from First Amendment protection of religious liberties, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Jay Bookman reports:

“Although Islam has a religious component, it is much more than a simple religious ideology,” Hice wrote in his 2012 book. “It is a complete geo-political structure and, as such, does not deserve First Amendment protection.”

Hice believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the United States, with the intent to impose Sharia law on all of us. He also believes that it’s fine for women to seek political office, at least if certain conditions are met. “If the woman’s within the authority of her husband, I don’t see a problem,” he told the Athens Banner-Herald in 2004.

That makes him a spiritual brother to 11th District candidate Loudermilk:

Loudermilk is an eager member of the Glenn Beck wing of the GOP. He is also an apostle of faux historian David Barton, who preaches that the U.S. Constitution is a document intended to create a conservative Christian government. Like Hice, they reject the notion of a separation between Christianity and state, and argue that the First Amendment was intended only to keep government from favoring one particular Christian denomination.

In their world view, Obama is anti-Christian and pro-Islamic, and they hint at darker motives.

Of course they do.

Loudermilk and Hice, of course, are seeking to succeed Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, respectively, in the House. So the sanity threshold is set pretty low.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 24, 2014

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Georgia, GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Still Looking For Attention”: Darrell Issa’s Flailing Search For His White Whale

Congressional oversight of any administration is important and worthwhile. Indeed, it’s a critical part of the American system to have institutional checks and balances. Lawmakers have a duty to watch the White House and ask tough questions when potential controversies arise.

That said, this was just embarrassing.

Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican who is leading one of the investigations into the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of Tea Party groups, accused the I.R.S. commissioner on Monday of lying, an allegation that only deepened the partisan mistrust about the motivations behind the numerous congressional inquiries into the matter.

The hearing on Monday night, before the House Oversight Committee, was the second time in four days in which the commissioner, John Koskinen, was called to Capitol Hill to explain what had happened with the emails.

These questions have already been asked and answered, and there’s simply no evidence of wrongdoing. The IRS won’t apologize for the incident because, in this case, agency officials really haven’t done anything wrong – a fact congressional Republicans seem to recognize but choose to ignore.

But what made last night’s hearing an unusually sad display was, well, just about everything.

Consider for example the fact that it was an evening hearing, which is quite unusual on Capitol Hill. Last week, the House Ways and Means Committee and its chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), demanded the IRS’s John Koskinen testify on the emails. The relevant people checked calendars and picked a date: the hearing would be the morning of Tuesday, June 24 (today).

Issa, seeing the opportunity for a tantrum, literally 10 minutes later, announced he would hold a hearing with Koskinen about the emails on the evening of Monday, June 23. Why? Because Issa wanted to be first. It just made him feel better.

But Koskinen rechecked his schedule and told Ways and Means he had an opening on Friday, June 20, so they held the hearing then – leaving poor Issa to hold a redundant, evening hearing, asking the same questions of the same official about the same story, three days later.

In other words, Issa, still looking for attention and some semblance of a “scandal” that fell apart a year ago this week, is still hunting for his white whale – except he’s not doing it very well.

It’s become increasingly difficult to take the “controversy” seriously because there’s so little meat on the bones. Yes, it’s understandable to raise questions when computers crash and documents are no longer available, but there’s literally nothing to suggest the missing emails would have been remotely interesting. GOP lawmakers are on a fishing expedition, starting with an answer – there must be some wrongdoing, somewhere, from someone – and then working backwards in the hopes of justifying the agreed-upon conclusion.

Consider what we’ve seen for over a year: Republicans demand information, which the administration supplies, and which shows no conspiracy, no cover-up, and no crime. So Republicans demand different information, which the administration also supplies, and which again shows no conspiracy, no cover-up, and no crime.

Which in turn leads Republicans to ask for still more information. In this case, those materials are no longer available, leading the right and some lazy pundits to declare, “A ha!

This is silly and no way to conduct credible oversight. In my heart of hearts, I strongly suspect Republicans know this, but just don’t care – this is about election-year tactics, mobilizing the GOP’s far-right base, creating fundraising opportunities, and giving conservative media something to talk about.

In reality, though, there’s still nothing here.

Now, John Dickerson argues that the IRS should be better at record-keeping, especially since the tax agency expects much from taxpayers. It’s a fair point. That said, it’s also unrelated to what Republicans care about – the obsession is about politics, not governance – and as Thomas Mann has explained, we’re talking about an agency that “has serious problems, many arising from vast new responsibilities (e.g. the ACA), inadequate resources, and low staff morale in the face of widespread hostility in Congress to the very idea of an Internal Revenue Service.”

If congressional Republicans want to have a mature conversation about how to improve the IRS, that’d be a worthwhile exercise. But by all appearances, the opportunities for mature conversations with GOP lawmakers are far and few between these days.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, June 24, 2014

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Darrell Issa, House Republicans, Internal Revenue Service | , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Not That Mythical Democrat”: Republicans Finally Have A Poster Boy For Voter Fraud, But Scott Walker Won’t Like It

For years, Wisconsin Republicans have warned that voter fraud is a scourge that threatens the very survival of democracy in their state.

“I’ve always thought in this state, close elections, presidential elections, it means you probably have to win with at least 53 percent of the vote to account for fraud. One or two points, potentially,” Governor Scott Walker has said.

“I’m always concerned about voter fraud, you know, being from Kenosha, and quite frankly having lived through seeing some of it happen,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus insisted. “Certainly in Milwaukee we have seen some of it, and I think it’s been documented. Any notion that’s not the case, it certainly is in Wisconsin. I’m always concerned about it, which is why I think we need to do a point or two better than where we think we need to be, to overcome it.”

Voting rights advocates have always responded that there is no actual evidence of widespread voter fraud in the Badger State. In April, a U.S. district judge agreed, ruling that the state’s voter ID law was unconstitutional after “the evidence at trial established that virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin,” and the state “could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past”.

That all changed on Friday, when Robert Monroe was charged with 13 felonies related to his having voted 12 times in five elections between 2011 and 2012. Monroe, an insurance executive from Shorewood, Wisconsin, allegedly voted repeatedly using his own name, as well as his son’s name, and that of his girlfriend’s son.

WisPolitics.com reports:

“During 2011 and 2012, the defendant, Robert Monroe, became especially focused upon political issues and causes, including especially the recall elections,” the complaint asserts in its introduction.

WisPolitics.com reported the investigation into Monroe’s multiple voting last week after Milwaukee County Judge J.D. Watts ordered the records related to a secret John Doe investigation be made public after the investigation was closed.

According to those records, Monroe was considered by investigators to be the most prolific multiple voter in memory. He was a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker and state Sen. Alberta Darling, both Republicans, and allegedly cast five ballots in the June 2012 election in which Walker survived a recall challenge.

According to the John Doe records, Monroe claimed to have a form of temporary amnesia and did not recall the election day events when confronted by investigators.

That’s right: Wisconsin Republicans like Scott Walker found a perfect poster boy for the in-person voter fraud against which they’ve always warned. But it isn’t the mythical Milwaukee Democrat trading “smokes-for-votes,” to use Priebus’ colorful description. It’s a self-diagnosed amnesiac who broke the law to repeatedly vote for Scott Walker.

And to add insult to injury, the case only went public as a result of Walker’s career-threatening John Doe scandal.

To be clear, Monroe’s apparent fraud is not a valid pretext for enacting the GOP’s nearly nationwide campaign to make it harder to vote. Even taking this one supposed amnesiac’s alleged crimes into account, voter fraud is still practically nonexistent (for example, a typical American is about 34 times more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than to be caught committing in-person voter fraud). But, if Wisconsin Republicans have any shame, it should at least cause them to pipe down about Democrats stealing elections for a little while.

In other words, Reince Priebus is probably coming soon to a cable news show near you.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 24, 2014

June 25, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Voter Fraud, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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