"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Oh, The Irony!”: Holder Suddenly Enjoys The GOP’s ‘Love’ And ‘Affection’

It was six months ago that Attorney General Eric Holder announced his retirement, though he said he would stay on until President Obama nominated, and the Senate confirmed, his successor at the Justice Department. Given the scope of Republican opposition to Holder – the phrase “unbridled disgust” comes to mind – it seemed likely GOP lawmakers would rush Holder out the door.

Little did we know at the time that Republican senators would prepare to keep the A.G. around indefinitely.

Holder spoke this morning at the Center for American Progress, where he heard a few intentional laughs about his unique professional circumstances.

“There is no place I’d rather be in my closing days as Attorney General than here with you all. Well, at least these should be my closing days.

“Given the Senate’s scheduling and delays in considering Loretta Lynch’s nomination for a vote, it’s almost as if the Republicans in Congress have discovered a new fondness for me! I’m feeling love there that I haven’t felt for some time. Where was all this affection over the last six years?”

To borrow a Homer Simpson line, it’s funny because it’s true.

Six weeks after Holder announced his departure, Obama introduced U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch as his nominee as the nation’s next Attorney General. Republicans, eager to rid themselves of Holder and impressed with Lynch’s sterling credentials and qualifications, seemed to embrace the president’s choice.

It was easy to imagine at the time that the new year would begin with a new Republican-led Congress and a new Attorney General. Instead, for reasons that even they can’t fully explain, GOP lawmakers have found a way to keep Holder in the same position they ostensibly want him to leave.

Remember, Senate Democrats could have tried to rush Lynch through the confirmation process during the lame-duck session late last year – before Dems lost their majority status – but Republicans implored Democrats not to. The power should rest with the incoming majority, GOP senators said.

The outgoing Democratic majority obliged, expecting Republicans to be at least somewhat responsible. After all, there were no substantive objections to Lynch and the GOP was desperate to see Holder go. Republicans had a built-in incentive to act reasonably.

And yet, here we are. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his team have subjected Lynch to the longest delay of any A.G. nominee in history – for reasons they haven’t even tried to explain – and this week, McConnell even broke his word about bringing Lynch’s nomination to the floor for a vote this week.

The irony is under-appreciated: Republicans wanted Holder to step down, and he did. Republicans wanted Obama to nominate an uncontroversial successor, and he did. Republicans wanted Democrats not to vote on Lynch in the lame-duck session, and they obliged.

Months later, the Senate’s GOP majority can’t quite bring itself to do what Republicans say they want to do. In fact, as far as McConnell & Co. are concerned, they hope to defeat Lynch – again, for reasons they’ve struggled to articulate – raising the prospect of Republicans keeping Holder at his current post until January 2017.

Can you really blame the Attorney General for asking facetiously, “Where was all this affection over the last six years?”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 18, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gimmicky Nature Of The Contingency Fund”: The Intra-GOP Budget Fight Grows Toxic Ahead Of Schedule

At the beginning of a week where action was scheduled to begin on a FY 2016 congressional budget resolution, it looked like Republicans were on the brink of a big split between fiscal hawks in the House who wanted to maintain caps on defense spending negotiated with the Obama administration and/or to require specific cuts in domestic spending to offset adjustments, and defense hawks in the Senate who wanted above all to blow up the defense caps forever and blast them to hell as a first step towards a 1980s-style defense buildup.

Those intra-Republican dynamics remain in place, but the fight has broken out much earlier than expected, in the House itself, and in fact in the House Budget Committee, where Paul Ryan’s successor as chairman, Tom Price of GA, can’t seem to get the votes to report a budget resolution. The Hill‘s Vicki Needham has the arcane story:

Negotiations to resolve a dispute over defense spending blew up Wednesday night in the House Budget Committee, as the panel came up short of approving a nearly $3.8 trillion Republican blueprint.

Budget Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) saw the chances of pushing through an amendment to boost defense spending without offsets fade quickly in the waning hours of a markup of the GOP’s budget proposal, in the latest misstep for House Republicans.

Without a resolution, the Budget panel packed up for the night with Price saying the committee may reconvene Thursday, after even House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasn’t able to break the impasse.

House leadership had tested the waters for an amendment from Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) — which would bump up funding to $96 billion for an emergency account earmarked for overseas conflicts without a pay-for — in an effort to attract reluctant defense hawks.

Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and his chief deputy, Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), started reaching out to GOP Budget Committee members about whether a proposal to appease defense hawks could pass the panel even before Price kicked off his budget mark-up, according to aides.

Basically, Republicans anticipated trouble on the floor passing a budget resolution that already included a big chunk of change for an off-budget “contingency fund,” and tried to get an extra $20 billion thrown in to placate the defense hawks, but fiscal hawks on the committee–including that highly symbolic freshman, Rep. Dave Brat of VA, the man who slew Eric Cantor–said no.

Meanwhile, outside the hothouse–yes, pun intended–of the lower chamber, defense hawks were already complaining about the gimmicky nature of the contingency fund and are demanding a straight-up major boost in defense spending. Neocon WaPo blogger Jennifer Rubin was shrieking yesterday that the initial House budget resolution represented a “political betrayal” and a “disaster for national security.”

Trouble is, it’s not easy to find a way to accommodate still more defense spending in a budget that already (a) has the aforementioned phony-baloney “contingency fund,” (b) achieves its “balanced budget” targets only via “dynamic scoring” BS and by assuming revenues from implementation of Obamacare even as it proposes to abolish it, (c) proposes partially privatizing Medicare and dumping Medicaid on the states, and (d) stipulates vast but unspecified additional “entitlement” savings outside Social Security and health care.

There’s just no obvious way out of the budgetary math problems the GOP has invented for itself. If Republicans cannot come up with a consensus budget agreement, we’ll have another high-profile example of that party’s inability to govern, and there will also be no way to proceed with the plan to pass a reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare to show “the base” what Republicans will be able to do once the hated incumbent has left office.

Expect the gimmickry to reach new heights.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 19, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Budget, Fiscal Policy, GOP | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pointing The Way To A New, More Offensive Effort”: Could Oregon’s Voting Law Signal A Democratic Push To Open Up Elections?

This is apparently what happens when a Democratic secretary of state — the kind in charge of elections, not the kind in charge of diplomacy — unexpectedly becomes her state’s governor:

On Monday, Oregon became the first state that will automatically register voters using information collected at the DMV.

Anyone eligible will be given an opportunity to opt out — but otherwise they become registered voters. The administration estimates that about 300,000 people will be added to the rolls, increasing the number of registered voters from 2.2 million to 2.5 million.

Federal law already requires states to allow people to register to vote while filling out paperwork for a driver’s license. Oregon’s new law will make the process automatic.

Democrats have felt no end of frustration over the spread of voter ID laws, not only because they disenfranchise huge numbers of people in the name of solving an essentially imaginary problem (in-person voter impersonation), but also because they seem almost impossible to stop. The Supreme Court has approved ID laws multiple times, even ones that are nakedly partisan, and voter ID laws are now in effect in 31 states. Republicans have also tried other ways to make registration and voting as difficult as possible, including restricting early voting. But other than mounting traditional registration and education drives and challenging new laws in court, Democrats haven’t come up with too many ways to fight back.

But Oregon could be pointing the way to a new, more offensive effort on Democrats’ part. Instead of just trying to counter Republican voting restrictions, they could find new ways to open up the voting system and get more people to the polls. This law doesn’t completely solve the problem of the unregistered (it only reaches people who have gone to get driver’s licenses or other ID from the DMV), but it goes a long way in that direction.

And critically, the Oregon law begins from the premise that everyone should be part of the electorate, and if they aren’t, then policy ought to be changed. Under the new law, you can opt out of registration if you want, but the default is that you’ll be registered. The implicit assumption behind Republican restrictions is that voting isn’t a right but a privilege, one you have to earn by jumping through a series of hoops.

We all know why that is: When you make registering and voting inconvenient or difficult, a certain number of potential voters will be eliminated from the pool, and those voters — whether because they’re younger or poorer or more minority — are more likely to vote for Democrats. You could argue that on the flip side, Democrats who want to make registering and voting easier are just as motivated by their partisan interest. Which may be true — as Sean McElwee details, a variety of studies have found that the non-voting population is substantially more liberal than the population that actually votes. But it’s still in Democrats’ favor that unlike Republicans, they’re not trying to restrict anyone’s rights in order to accomplish their goal.

Republicans claim — sometimes even without giggling — that their only concern is the integrity of the ballot and they never even consider the possibility that ID requirements will benefit their partisan interests. So they ought to be taken at their word. If we put enough effort into it, there’s no reason we couldn’t have a system that was secure and made fraud extremely difficult, but also made voting the default option. Ten states use same-day registration, which makes voting much easier, and they haven’t been overwhelmed by fraud. We ought to be able to come up with more ideas for making voting easier without sacrificing security.

Just imagine if elections were about which party or candidate was more appealing, and not about who could get more of their voters to the polls while discouraging the other party’s supporters from turning out. That would be quite something.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, March 17, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Democracy, Elections, Oregon, Voting Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Hijacked By The Hardliners”: Threatening To Gum Up The Confirmation Of Loretta Lynch Is Just The Latest GOP Tantrum

On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared he really, really likes having Eric Holder as attorney general. He essentially told CNN that unless Democrats concede to anti-abortion language Republicans snuck into a human trafficking bill, the nomination of Loretta Lynch to succeed Holder would not move forward.

First of all, whether Republicans accept it or not, abortion is a legal, constitutionally-guaranteed medical procedure in this country, for sex trafficking victims or anyone else. And second, this is indicative of the hostage politics we’ve come to expect from a party that refuses to govern. There is no issue, no matter how humane, and no funding need, no matter how dire, that cannot be hijacked by the ideological hardliners in the Republican Party.

We could have had immigration reform a year ago, without the threat of a Department of Homeland Security shutdown, if Speaker of the House John Boehner had told the bigots in his own caucus to take a hike and held a vote on a common-decency bill that would have passed. Republicans did shut down the government and harmed Colorado’s flood recovery efforts thanks to tea party intransigence on the Affordable Care Act. And we came to the brink of ladyparts shutting the whole thing down in 2011 thanks to Republican opposition to Planned Parenthood funding for health care screenings and services.

And no, it’s not “both sides.” I will cheerfully provide a swift wedgie to the next smug pundit who tries to blame Democrats for Republican failure to act like adults. President Barack Obama waited a year and a half for Boehner to move on immigration reform, and Boehner decided to abdicate his leadership to Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has accused undocumented immigrants of being a bunch of drug dealers with “calves the size of cantaloupes.”

Meanwhile, the Denver Post editorial board (or more accurately, publisher Dean Singleton’s ire at former Sen. Mark Udall) continues to rack up bonus points with the most credibility-damaging, fatuous endorsement of 2014, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. The editorial actually claimed electing Gardner would “usher in a new era of bipartisanship”, that the Senate wouldn’t follow the House’s infantile, truculent lead and it would actually be “more productive.”

How’s that working out for you, Denver Post editorial board? Because Gardner didn’t get the memo.

He was one of the 47 Republicans to “pull a Dennis Rodman” and decide to communicate directly with a foreign government in order to undercut Obama. Given the backlash, Rodman’s North Korea visit may have been more effective and less comical, but this remains yet another example of Republican ineptitude. As conservative Michael Gerson put it, “This was a foreign policy maneuver, in the middle of a high-stakes negotiation, with all the gravity and deliberation of a blog posting. In timing, tone and substance, it raises questions about the Republican majority’s capacity to govern.”

Gerson’s right, and it’s only going to get better from here. According to Talking Points Memo , there are five more policy “cliffs” awaiting Congress, including the debt ceiling, funding for the Child Health Insurance Program and the end of overall funding for the federal government on Sept. 30. Obama has so far managed to outmaneuver these fools, but at some point voters need to stop rewarding failure by electing a party that is utterly incompetent at the basic functions of government.


By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, March  16, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Governing, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Indictment Of The ‘Pay-To-Play’ Political System”: Did the Chemical Industry Write Its Own Oversight Legislation?

For an instructive example of how unfettered money in politics corrupts the legislative process, consider a chemical-safety bill under deliberation in the Senate.

The legislation, sponsored by Louisiana Republican David Vitter and New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall, would reform the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which the chemical industry and environmental and public health advocates alike say is severely outdated. In the absence of solid federal protection from the roughly 1,000 chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency judges as potential health hazards, more than half the states have picked up the slack by putting their own regulations in place. The bill’s opponents warn it would undermine these state laws, without strengthening the EPA’s oversight powers enough to compensate. Unsurprisingly, the proposed overhaul has the “unequivocal support” of the chemical industry.

One of the bill’s chief critics is Barbara Boxer, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee. Boxer, who has introduced a competing bill with stronger consumer protections, has been highly critical of the role chemical companies have played in the development of the Udall-Vitter legislation. “I’ve been around the Senate for a long time, but I have never before seen so much heavy-handed, big-spending lobbying on any issue,” Boxer was quoted saying in a New York Times article in early March. “To me it looks like the chemical industry itself is writing this bill.”

Boxer may have been right to question its authorship. Early in the week Hearst Newspapers got its hands on a draft version that was circulated by Udall’s office in anticipation of a committee hearing on Wednesday. Someone at Hearst checked the authoring information contained in the Word document—and found that it originated with the American Chemistry Council, the “leading trade organization and lobbyist for the chemical industry.”

Although Udall has a strong environmental record, he’s become cozy with ACC and other industry groups over the two years he’s spent working on the TSCA overhaul, as the same Times article revealed. He has raised “tens of thousands” of dollars from chemical interests, and the ACC even ran a television ad on his behalf. “The leadership he is providing is absolutely critical,” the group’s president and lobbyist Cal Dooley told the Times. Udall and the other sixteen cosponsors of his legislation received, on average, about 70 percent more from chemical companies than other senators.

Udall’s office and ACC insist the digital link between the document and the lobby group indicates only that after Udall’s office circulated the draft to stakeholders, someone at ACC saved a version and sent it back to the senator’s staff. But the Environmental Working Group, one of the bill’s chief opponents, and Boxer’s office told the SF Gate the draft version they received had the same authoring information.

Even if the bill didn’t fully originate with ACC, it’s clear that the chemical industry—which has a financial incentive to keep regulations loose—has left its mark on the Udall-Vitter legislation. The bill would bar states from regulating a chemical once the EPA designates it as “high priority” for assessment, a process that can take up to seven years. It requires the EPA to start reviewing a minimum of twenty-five chemicals within five years, but at that rate, it could be centuries before the agency got through the 1,000 chemicals it says need assessment. (To make matters worse, the underfunded EPA is known for missing deadlines.) To date the EPA has only ever banned five chemicals, and mandated testing on a mere 200 of the 80,000 in use in the United States.

Consumer advocates worry that if the bill passes, protections already in place would be completely undone while the EPA proceeds to examine only a small number of chemicals at a glacial pace. A number of organizations including Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Steelworkers and the Breast Cancer Fund, along with eight state attorneys general, have pointed out these and other serious flaws. Some, like the Environmental Working Group, consider it worse than the existing regulatory framework; EWG says it “fail[s] to ensure that chemicals are safe, fail[s] to set meaningful deadlines for safety reviews, fail[s] to provide EPA with adequate resources and [denies] states the ability to protect public health and the environment.”

Nevertheless, in a sign of how broken the 1976 law is—the oft-repeated example is that it doesn’t even allow the EPA to ban asbestos—other health and environmental groups support the bill anyway. Anything stronger, they say, and it will lose Republican support, making it impossible to pass. “I don’t want to be facing another Senate committee twenty years from now, testifying about a sixty-year-old law. Nor do I want have to tell my daughter that she and her future children will not have a greater level of protection because we failed to pass a good, even if not perfect, law,” Lynn Goldman, a professor of environmental health at George Washington University, testified before the Senate committee on Wednesday.

It may be true that a bill that truly protects consumers from harmful chemicals can’t pass Congress in its current form. But that’s a stone that shouldn’t be cast against advocates for something better than the Udall-Vitter compromise. It’s an indictment of the pay-to-play political system and the legislators who gamely reward their corporate sponsors.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, March 19, 2015

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Chemical Industry, Environmental Protection Agency | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: