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“While The Rest Of The Country Suffers”: The Republican Congress Has Done Nothing But Help Big Business

On Thursday and Friday this week, House and Senate Republicans are at a joint retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to listen to an array of speakers on different policy and political issues. This brief respite offers an opportunity to examine what the Republican priorities have been in the first 10 days of the 114th Congress, and it shows one clear winner: Big Business.

House Republicans began 2015 by immediately trying to roll back or delay a number of regulations in the Dodd-Frank regulatory reform law. Just a day into the new Congress, the House voted on a fast-track bill that would have watered down and rolled back a number of important regulations. In fact, the legislation, officially titled the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act, was the combination of 11 bills that would, among other things, delay the Volcker Act for years and weaken derivative regulations. The bill was brought up under suspension of the rules and thus required a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell short of that goal, with 276 legislators voting for it and 146 against. It was an unexpected victory for progressives after 44 Democrats changed their votes, after voting for a similar bill in the 113th Congress.

But Republicans were not to be denied. They brought up the bill under the normal rules where a two-thirds majority was not required. On Wednesday, it passed, 271-154. It’s not clear if the Senate would take it up, or if Democrats would have enough votes to filibuster it. But Wall Street received another gift in the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which expired at the end of 2014 and allows the federal government to backstop commercial insurance companies in the case of a terrorist attack. Even if you think terrorism risk insurance should be the government’s prerogative, it undoubtedly benefits large corporations, insurers, and real estate companies. Wall Street’s real victory, though, was the inclusion of a provision to roll back another, albeit smaller, component of Dodd-Frank. President Barack Obama signed it on Monday.

In other words, Wall Street is a fan of the new Republican Congress. Other industries are, too. Republicans have also focused on energy regulations, most notably approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Last Friday, the House passed a bill to approve the pipeline. The Senate voted to allow debate on the bill and will likely take a final vote on it next week, when it is expected to receive more than the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. The question is whether Congress has the two-thirds votes necessary to overturn Obama’s veto.

The House also took a whack at Obamacare by passing a bill that would change the definition of a full-time worker from 30 hours to 40 hours for purposes of the employer mandate. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would increase the deficit by $53.2 billion over the next decade, much of it from employers no longer having to pay a penalty for not offering health insurance for employees who work between 30-40 hours. The Senate is also readying a bill to repeal the medical device tax, which a new report this week estimated would cost 47-1,200 jobs, in total.

It wasn’t hard to predict that the new Republican Senate’s top priority would be helping Big Business. Partially, that’s because enough Democrats have been eager to support these bills and overcome filibusters in the Senate (such as on the Keystone pipeline or medical device tax). Utah Senator Mike Lee explained this in November in The Federalist:

[T]he easiest bipartisan measures to pass are almost always bills that directly benefit Big Business, and thus appeal to the corporatist establishments of both parties. In 2015, this “low-hanging fruit” we’ll hear about will be items like corporate tax reform, Obamacare’s medical device tax, patent reform, and perhaps the Keystone XL pipeline approval.

As it happens, these are all good ideas that I support. But if that’s as far as Republicans go, we will regret it. The GOP’s biggest branding problem is that Americans think we’re the party of Big Business and The Rich. If our “Show-We-Can-Govern” agenda can be fairly attacked as giving Big Business what it wantswhile the rest of the country sufferswe will only reinforce that unpopular image.

Lee’s worries were prescient. The 114th Congress has only just begun, of course, so Republicans have plenty of time to put forward an agenda focused on the middle class. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could support other moderate Republicans in crafting a compromise to increase the minimum wage. The GOP could make an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit a priority. Lee and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have proposed a number of other policies that are focused on the middle class.

But right now, there are few signs that Republicans are going to do anything like that.

 

By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, January 15, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Big Business, Congress, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Much For The Deep Bench”: Republicans Look To The Past For 2016

On Friday, 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney walked back months of promises and told a group of his past donors that he is “seriously considering” another White House bid. According to the Washington Post, he then spent the weekend “calling former aides, donors and other supporters” to rebuild his political operation, and even told one senior Republican that he “almost certainly will” launch another presidential campaign.

There’s still plenty of reason to believe that Romney will not run — and that he’d struggle to win if he did. But if Romney does join the race, he won’t be the only retread candidate seeking the GOP nomination in 2016.

Romney’s runner-up in 2012, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, has made no secret of his intention to pursue the Republican nomination again. When Santorum was informed that Romney may run again in 2016, he reportedly responded, “bring it on,” and declared that he sees himself as “the winner” in what looks as though it will be a crowded field. Former Texas governor Rick Perry has also begun laying the groundwork for a campaign, huddling with donors and policy experts in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of his 2012 disaster.

If Santorum does run, he’ll likely be joined by fellow Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor recently ended his Fox News show to explore a White House bid. Huckabee won 278 delegates in the 2008 presidential race, barely edging Romney’s 271 but losing easily to Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who has dismissed 2016 speculation by quoting the late Morris Udall: “The people have spoken — the bastards.”

As Romney, Huckabee, Perry, and Santorum weigh their options, former Florida governor Jeb Bush has moved decisively towards a run and established himself as the early frontrunner. Of course, Bush isn’t exactly a fresh face, either; he has not held elected office in six years, and he would almost certainly not be mentioned as a top-tier candidate were he not the brother of the 43rd president and the son of the 41st.

There’s plenty of precedent for Republicans considering well-known national figures and former candidates for their nomination; it’s been the party’s modus operandi for decades. But this year was supposed to be different. As various pundits repeated ad nauseam during the 2012 campaign, the Republican Party was supposed be the party with a “deep bench” of “rising stars” to lead America into the future. But upon further review, anointing Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, or Marco Rubio as the party’s standard-bearer doesn’t seem like such a great idea.

Some candidates who won media favor in 2012 (such as Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Kentucky senator Rand Paul) still seem capable of mounting serious campaigns. But they have generated so little support as to leave candidates like Romney and Huckabee confident that they could run again and win. And so the GOP once again seems poised to turn to its failed candidates of the past.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that many Republicans seem determined to take down Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton with a campaign straight out of 1994.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, January 13, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Mitt Romney | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Foot-Dragging Tedium Can Become Dangerous”: Senate Republicans Are Already Frustrated With John Boehner’s Crazy Caucus

There’s an any-port-in-a-storm quality to Speaker John Boehner’s piloting of the House, and nothing illustrates that better than Republican squabbling over whether and how to fund the Department of Homeland Security.

Why is the Department of Homeland Security about to run out of money? Because back in December, conservatives wanted to use a government funding deadline to pick a big fight with President Obama over his deportation relief policies, and rather than risk a shutdown, or wrest the till back from the hardliners, GOP leaders decided to give them whatever they could cobble together. What they came up with was a harebrained scheme to fund all government operations except for Homeland Security through the end of the fiscal year. Meanwhile, they extended DHS funding through February only, and promised to fight Obama’s deferred action programs in the context of a narrower threat to shut down the department that enforces immigration policy.

The problems with this strategy were obvious from the outset. As I observed at the time, denying DHS an appropriation wouldn’t freeze Obama’s deportation programs, because the agency implementing them is self-financing. In fact, denying DHS an appropriation wouldn’t accomplish very much at all; as a national security hub, most of its functions are considered essential, and thus exempt from the kinds of closure protocols that apply to national parks and Social Security administrative offices.

The upshot is that Republicans are threatening to infuriate DHS employees and their allies, weaken DHS functionality, and, in a losing p.r. campaign, surrender the mantle of national security back to Democratsall unless Obama agrees to rescind his own executive actions. As muggings go, this isn’t much different than screaming, “Your money or my life!” No less an immigration hardliner than Representative Steve King understands that the plan has always amounted to capitulation.

But having promised a brawl, Boehner must now go through the motions, which look more and more contrived as prominent Republicansparticularly in the Senatestep in to admit that they will fund DHS, come what may.

This week, John Cornyn, the number two Senate Republican, told CNN “we’re not going to take any chances with the homeland.” Cornyn is showing his cards here, but he’s also putting the House’s strategy up for ridicule. Because House Republicans must proceed as promised, Cornyn et al must now pledge not to incur the mostly-imagined risk that his House counterparts are supposedly inviting. When Republicans let appropriations lapse in 2013, and DHS was just one of the many agencies ensnared in the shutdown, domestic security wasn’t the core political concern. By centering the fight around DHS alone, though, conservatives have left themselves no choice but to swallow Democratic demagoguerytheir strategy is premised on the notion that Obama will relent when the threat to national security becomes too great. There are no national park closures to obscure the fact that the fight is over something called the Department of Homeland Security, and you gain no leverage by threatening to withhold funds from DHS, if you admit that withholding funds from DHS doesn’t really accomplish much.

Senate Republicans have other political concerns as well.

Dean Heller, a Republican senator from Nevada, worries that forcing a fight with Obama over immigration policy, in the context of an appropriation, invites the risk that certain members lapse into referring to affected immigrants “in a way that is offensive.” Mark Kirk of Illinoisa vulnerable incumbentbelieves any “government shutdown scenario” would be “a self-inflicted political wound for Republicans.”

Where Senate Republicans would like to avoid deadline-driven fights altogether, Boehner promises to drag them into those fights at the behest of conservatives, even when he knows he can’t win. His inability to admit the obvious, while Republican senators feel unencumbered, reflects the dramatically different pressures a House speaker and a Senate majority leader face. The strategic rift thus isn’t limited to DHS, but will emerge any time Senate Republicans see political dividends in a compromise that House hardliners won’t accept.

To avoid an embarrassing, damaging lapse in highway funding, for instance, senate Republicans, including Orrin Hatch, who helms the tax writing committee, are warming to the idea of replenishing the highway trust fund by increasing the gas tax. Collapsing gas prices have made the prospect of a higher gas tax less punitive, and lent an obvious idea bipartisan support.

Naturally, Boehner can’t accept this.

At least not yet. The logic of a higher gas tax might become more appealing to him as the funding deadline nears, just as we assume the logic of extending DHS funding cleanly will overwhelm him before too long. As a template for addressing pressing national business, taking symbolic stands like these is more tedious than dangerous. But foot-dragging tedium can become dangerous when the pressing business is increasing the debt limit or responding to unanticipated crises.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, January 14, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time To Amend The Constitution”: Orrin Hatch Is Third In Line To The Presidency!

The swearing-in of a new Congress is often marked by precipitous climbs and sudden tumbles. Last week, former Senate Minority Obstructionist Mitch McConnell realized his lifelong ambition of becoming majority leader; his rival Harry Reid backslid to his old role in the minority (though not before a less figurative fall sprinkled a little injury over the insult); and more than a dozen Republican senators took over as committee chairs, which contributed such marvelous ironies as global warming skeptic James Inhofe becoming America’s top gatekeeper for environmental legislation.

One of the most consequential changes, however, has passed virtually without comment. Coinciding with the rise of the new Republican majority in the upper chamber, Utah’s archconservative Senator Orrin Hatch is now the Senate president pro tempore. That means that he’s been transformed overnight from a minority-party graybeard to third in line to the presidency.

Most Americans probably didn’t realize that the good people of Beaver, Daggett, and Juab Counties had selected a possible future president for the rest of the country back in 2012, when they reelected Hatch to a seventh term. He is now the second Republican, behind Speaker John Boehner, in line to succeed the Democratic president and vice president in the event of their deaths, incapacitations, or resignations. Here is convincing proof, even more than the vice presidencies of Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle were, that the voters, our political parties, and America’s entire system of government don’t really take the issue of presidential succession seriously.

It almost never matters who the Senate president pro tempore is. The position is basically a constitutional quirk arising from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the body occasionally had to call on a designated lawmaker to substitute for its normal presiding officer, the vice president. That function declined in importance over the last 60 years as veeps began to embrace a larger role outside the Senate. Thereafter a tradition arose to entrust the meager duties of the office (you get to sign legislation and administer oaths) to the longest-serving member of the majority party. That practice has frequentlyone might even argue necessarilyresulted in the appointment of enfeebled old men from small states, often not of the president’s own party, to a position just a few heartbeats away from the big office.

Hatch is 80 years old, and he takes over the job from the comparatively spry Pat Leahy, a 74-year-old from Vermont. The two presidents pro tempore before Leahy were Hawaii’s Daniel Inuoye and West Virginia’s Robert Byrd, both of whom died in office at the ages of 92 and 86, respectively. Keep in mind that the oldest president in history, Ronald Reagan, left the White House at 77 already showing signs of the Alzheimer’s disease that would swiftly put an end to his public life. It’s flatly dangerous to put men of such advanced years anywhere near the Oval Office without the kind of rigorous medical vetting that presidential candidates receive during campaigns; if they assumed control over the government, it would almost certainly occur during a time of national crisis that would tax their abilities to the extreme.

Even if Hatch’s health and faculties could be guaranteed, his ascent would still mean the retroactive disenfranchisement of tens of millions of Democratic voters nationwide in favor of a vastly smaller group of some 600,000 Hatch voters from his home statethis at a time when national unity would be of paramount importance. This is doubly true of Boehner, a perfectly capable man whose entire congressional district consists of less than 800,000 people.

It may seem fanciful (or morose) to speculate on the subject of succession. After all, no Speakers outside of The West Wing have risen to replace a fallen president, let alone Senate presidents pro tempore. But we’ve lived far more dangerously than we ought to be comfortable with. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln originated in a plot to decapitate the government by also killing the vice president and secretary of stateone that very nearly succeeded. To pick an example of more recent vintage, United Airlines Flight 93 came within a forty-minute flight delay of wrecking the United States Capitol or White House. After 9/11, the joint Brookings/AEI Continuity of Government Commission issued a set of recommendations to help our succession process better reflect an age of global threats that strike without warning. Its counselto cut congressional and more junior cabinet secretaries out of the picture, as well as establish protocols for the appointment of temporary members of Congress and the judiciaryhas gone thus far unheeded.

The group’s best suggestion was its most provocative: Instead of concentrating our entire crop of possible successors within the small area around Washington, where they are clearly vulnerable to a devastating act of terrorism, the president should select a small group of prominent Americans around the country who could be regularly briefed and prepared to step into power should the need arise. These figuresstate governors, former cabinet officials, or other successful government administratorscould even be put forward by candidates during a presidential election, giving the public the partial opportunity to review and approve the choices (and providing political reporters and strategists with even more fodder). In the name of prudence, democracy, and a better news cycle, we should implement this planand for the same reasons, we should get elderly, out-party members of Congress some other ceremonial job.

 

By: Kevin Mahnken, The New Republic, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Orrin Hatch, Presidential Succession, Senate President Pro Tempore | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Pipeline To Nowhere”: A Monument To Wasting Colossal Sums Of Money On Dirty-Energy Infrastructure

When Maria van der Hoeven summed up the 20-year outlook for global energy investment in London last year, she identified a couple of daunting challenges.

The amount of money required by 2035 is a staggering $48 trillion, the International Energy Agency chief and former Dutch economy minister said. And it’s not clear how many of those trillions of dollars will power climate-friendly options.

“Will policymakers succeed in steering investment towards a cleaner, more secure energy system — or are we locking in technologies and patterns of consumption that store up trouble for the future?” she asked.

There’s no better example of what van der Hoeven meant by “storing up trouble for the future” than the Keystone XL pipeline.

After years of being flustered by President Barack Obama’s procrastination, the pipeline’s conservative backers in Congress are trying to force him to green-light this conduit for some of the world’s dirtiest, most expensive, and most dangerous oil.

The House recently voted in favor of building the 1,200-mile pipeline for the 10th time. The Senate is poised to approve it too. Although dozens of Democrats are siding with Republicans in favor of this boondoggle, those lawmakers lack the votes, so far, to override the veto Obama has threatened.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and a leading Keystone XL proponent, has turned into a broken record touting what he calls “vital energy infrastructure legislation.”

Despite their similar names and obsession with all things energy, Hoeven and van der Hoeven are polar opposites. She’s a leading player in the effort to wean the world off its dependence on oil, gas, and coal. He’s a “drill, baby, drill” type.

There are many good arguments against the $8 billion pipeline on environmental and labor grounds. People like 350.org founder Bill McKibben and groups like Media Matters need no help explaining them.

Here’s another reason why the pipeline shouldn’t be built: It’s a waste of money.

First, plunging oil prices matter. A lot. They’ve sunk below $47 a barrel, losing more than half their value since last June. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi declared a few weeks ago that he doesn’t care whether oil goes as low as $20 a barrel, a 16-year low. It just might.

By some estimates, a barrel of oil must fetch at least $95 for profits to be extracted from Canada’s tar sands. It’s impossible to say when prices will rebound to that level or if companies will give up on that oil patch, leaving the Keystone XL without much (if any) heavy crude to move.

Ultimately, there could be no oil to haul from Alberta to Louisiana to be refined — or not, if the U.S. scraps its ban on exporting crude — and then shipped to, say, China.

More importantly, tar sands oil production may stop within a few years even if it does prove profitable. You see, global climate talks are heading in a direction that’s likely to result in countries and companies leaving large amounts of oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

A new study published in the journal Nature spelled out where and what kind of fossil fuels would need to be left unexploited. Its authors predict that virtually all Canadian tar sands oil production will stop by 2020.

If it’s built by then, there’d be nothing for the Keystone XL to transport. As a pipeline to nowhere, it would become a monument to wasting colossal sums of money on dirty-energy infrastructure.

John Hoeven should listen to Maria van der Hoeven. If he did, he’d realize the benefits of losing this political battle.

 

By: Emily Schwartz Greco, Columnist and Managing Editor of OtherWords; The National Memo, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Climate Change, Keystone XL | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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