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“Making Congress More Stupider”: Making Congress Dumber Has Not, In Fact, Made Government Smaller

You may recall Paul Glatris and Haley Sweetland Edwards’ cover article, “The Big Lobotomy,” from the June/July/August 2014 issue of the Washington Monthly. It documented how congressional Republicans had worked for decades to reduce Congress’ capacity for intelligent decision-making–while making it vastly more dependent on lobbyists and special interests–via reductions in appropriations for staff and committees and research initiatives.

The article clearly made an impression on Harry Stein and Ethan Gurwitz of the Center for American Progress, who cited it in reporting the latest self-lobotimizing effort in Congress in the FY 2016 appropriations process:

As Congress writes spending bills that attempt to implement the first year of its budget resolution, it is clear that the legislative branch intends to continue operating with one hand tied behind its back.

On June 12, 2015, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced the fiscal year 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill, which would cut funding for the legislative branch by 17 percent from inflation-adjusted FY 2010 levels. The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the FY 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill, which makes roughly the same overall funding cuts as the Senate bill. These cuts may seem like a good way to score cheap political points at a time when Congress is deeply unpopular, but in the long run, they only increase congressional dysfunction and make the federal government less efficient and responsive to the American people.

The fact remains that the legislative branch includes much more than just members of Congress. When members vote to slash legislative spending, they undermine the professional staff and independent agencies that make it possible for Congress to oversee federal programs and understand complex policy questions. As funding and staffing levels for these legislative branch institutions have declined, Congress has become increasingly dependent on privately funded lobbyists and outside policy experts.

As the CAP article notes, the cuts include those unique legislative branch entities the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office–both essential for understanding and reforming government spending.

The House’s FY 2016 legislative branch appropriations bill cuts the GAO budget by 15.4 percent from its FY 2010 inflation-adjusted level, while the Senate bill cuts GAO funding by 14.9 percent. If every $1 cut from the GAO equates to $15.20 of unexposed waste, fraud, and abuse, cuts of this magnitude could result in about $1.4 billion in missed opportunities for government savings, or between $7 billion and $8 billion based on the larger return-on-investment ratio of 80 to 1.

Even for conservatives who want a smaller federal government, Glastris and Edwards note that “making Congress dumber has not, in fact, made government smaller.” It just makes government less effective.

If you don’t really believe in any legitimate mission for the federal government beyond national defense, of course, this this is a distinction without a difference. But the rest of us are saddled with big, dumb government.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, June 16, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Federal Budget | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“In A Terrible Predicament”: A Victory For Obamacare’s Challengers Will Be A Disaster For Republican Candidates

Once the conservative legal strategy that gave rise to King v. Burwell got off the ground, Republicans in Congress probably had no choice but to become cheerleaders for, or active participants in, the ensuing litigation.

The imminence of the decision in the Obamacare challenge, expected from the Supreme Court sometime this month, is exposing the terrible predicament the entire strategy created for the party.

The problems Republicans will encounter if they win King—eliminating billions of dollars worth of insurance subsidies—are fairly clear and have been detailed at length. But it is also quite conceivable that the whole effort will boomerang on the GOP  even if the government wins in King, and the federal subsidies survive for those states using federally facilitated exchanges. A number of persuasive legal arguments point to a victory for the government. But one of the most likely paths begins with the Court concluding that the Affordable Care Act statute is ambiguous—that both parties’ readings of the law are plausible—and that deference should go to the government.

As Chief Justice John Roberts suggested with his one and only question at oral arguments, this would leave the door ajar for a future presidential administration to reinterpret the statute, and discontinue the subsidies.

It’s difficult to fathom that any Republican president would turn off the subsidies quite as abruptly as the challengers want the Court to do. But if the government wins in this way—on what’s known as the second step of the Chevron deference standard—it will create a new conservative litmus test for Republican presidential candidates. If elected, will you shut down the subsidies? I suspect most of the candidates will yield to pressure from the right and promise to do precisely that. Most immediately, this promise becomes a general election liability for the Republican primary winner. If that person becomes president, it will turn into an administrative and political nightmare, forcing states and the U.S. Congress to grapple with a completely elective policy fiasco.

King, as Josh Marshall noted recently, “is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party.”

That the case was conceived by conservatives and endorsed by Republicans has created an extensive paper trail tying the GOP to the consequences of a decision for the challengers. It has also forced Republicans to playact as if they can and will fix the problems that flow from an adverse King ruling. Initially the idea was to foam the runway for conservative justices eager to void the subsidies; it has become an accession to the reality that the public will hold Republicans to account for the ensuing chaos.

Among the pitfalls of the extended charade is that Republican presidential candidates will reject and condemn proposals to clean up a King mess if they even resemble constructive solutions.

“Things can’t be turned on a dime,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told Politico. “People can run for president, but we’ve actually got to solve a problem.” Cornyn may have been thinking of his fellow Texan Ted Cruz, who wants to use King as a pretext to repeal all of Obamacare. But his discomfort with Cruz’ absolutism carries a whiff of inconsistency: Cornyn signed on to Republican briefs, first urging the justices to hear King and then asking them to void the subsidies. In January he eagerly anticipated that the Court would “render a body blow to Obamacare from which I don’t think it will ever recover.”

The promise of the King challenge has apparently faded since then. Republicans in Congress are quite likely incapable of solving the problem Cornyn was talking about in a way that pleases conservatives, and will be little better equipped if a Republican president discontinues the subsidies on his own. Six months ago, Republicans claimed excitedly that the path to repealing Obamacare outright ran through a victory in King. Now it seems that the best political outcome for Republicans would be to lose the case as conclusively and embarrassingly as possible.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor, The New Republic, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, King v Burwell, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Benghazi Committee Sinks Deeper Into Absurdity”: Can’t Pretend Any Longer That They’re Trying To Figure Out What Happened

Sidney Blumenthal has now been deposed by the select committee investigating the deaths of four Americans at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September of 2012. While Blumenthal is an interesting Washington character and one who is particularly despised by Republicans, the fact that he was there at all shows just what a joke the Republicans’ Benghazi enterprise has become (if it was ever anything else).

When Rep. Trey Gowdy was first appointed to lead this committee a year ago, Republicans fell all over themselves to extol him as the perfect choice to lead the committee, because he’s such a serious, sober investigator who would stick to the facts and get to the truth. We’d finally learn why those Americans died, and who was to blame! But by now, Gowdy has become nothing more than a glorified RNC researcher, casting about desperately for something, anything that will reflect poorly on Hillary Clinton and damage her presidential campaign.

To explain briefly what this deposition was about: Sid Blumenthal is a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton who worked in the White House while Bill was president (if you want to remind yourself about who Blumenthal is and the details of his relationship to the Clintons, read this exhaustive article by Dylan Matthews). While Clinton was secretary of state, he was in communication with her, often sending her emails with his perspective on various issues. He sent her some memos on Libya that were actually written by Tyler Drumheller, a former CIA official then pursuing business interests there. Some of Drumheller’s analysis was accurate, some of it wasn’t. Clinton forwarded some of these emails to other people within the State Department.

If you’re an aficionado of the internal workings of government agencies and how information circulates within them, you might find this fascinating. But it’s hard to see what exactly is the scandal or crime here, or what it has to do with the events in Benghazi. Let’s look at what Trey Gowdy had to say:

“You can determine for yourself whether someone who has a pecuniary interest in a country, how that might impact the accuracy of the information that was passed on,” Gowdy said…

Gowdy framed Clinton as irresponsible for welcoming and forwarding the Blumenthal memos since the government never vetted their author or the sources behind his information.

“You have an intelligence apparatus at your disposal. We have a CIA. Why would you not rely on your own vetted, sourced intelligence agency?” he said.

First of all, the fact that Clinton read Drumheller’s memos doesn’t mean she or anybody else was ignoring what the CIA and officials within the State Department were saying — that’s just silly. Maybe secretaries of state should refuse to listen to outside sources like Drumheller, or maybe they shouldn’t; you could make a case either way. But more to the point, who cares? What does this have to do with the events in Benghazi?

I suppose if Drumheller had written, “Benghazi is quiescent and will remain so; our government shouldn’t worry about security there,” and then Clinton had forwarded the memo along with an order to remove all the guards from the consulate, Gowdy might really have something. But that’s not what happened, and he knew it before he ever got Blumenthal before his committee.

So what, precisely, is Trey Gowdy now doing? He doesn’t seem to be investigating the deaths of those four Americans anymore, that’s for sure.

Let’s be clear: Congress has every right to look into Benghazi as much as they like. They’re supposed to engage in oversight of the executive branch, and if they want to explore American policy toward Libya then they should go right ahead. But they can’t pretend any longer that they’re trying to figure out what happened on that night in 2012. They set up this special committee for that purpose, but it seems clear they figured out pretty quickly that they wouldn’t be uncovering anything new about that topic. Which isn’t surprising, since the matter had already been investigated by multiple committees controlled by Republicans, all of which were unable to find the wrongdoing they hoped for.

So now, instead of a committee to investigate the Benghazi deaths, they’re running a Select Committee to Make the Case That Hillary Clinton Was a Bad Secretary of State. It’s another reminder that the Clintons have always been blessed by the incompetence of their adversaries.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line Blog, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, Trey Gowdy | , , , , | Leave a comment

“In A Cellar-Dwelling Outpost”: Rush Limbaugh Demoted To Another Irrelevant, Ratings-Challenged Station In A Major Market

The good news for Rush Limbaugh: One month after being notified he was getting dumped by his Boston talk radio host station, the talker has a new AM home in New England.

The bad news: The station currently boasts a 0.6 rating, trails four non-commercial stations in the market and becomes yet another big-city, cellar-dwelling outpost that Limbaugh is forced to call home.

The station, WKOX, is the type of “bottom-rung” affiliate that Limbaugh was rarely associated with during his halcyon days as the king of talk radio. But those days seem to be dwindling as the Boston fall from grace has previously played out for Limbaugh in places like Los Angeles and Indianapolis. In each instance, Limbaugh exited a prosperous, longtime radio home and was forced to settle for an also-ran outlet with minuscule ratings.

Limbaugh’s ongoing major market woes can be traced to his 2012 on-air meltdown over Sandra Fluke, where he castigated and insulted the graduate student for three days on his program, calling her a “slut” and suggesting she post videos of herself having sex on the Internet. (Fluke’s sin in the eyes of Limbaugh was testifying before Congress in favor of contraception mandates for health care insurance.)

The astonishing Limbaugh monologues sparked an unprecedented advertiser exodus, which means selling his show has become a major lift for the affiliate stations that pay a hefty fee for the right to carry his program. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the millions of dollars in advertising revenue that Limbaugh’s host stations lose because of the talker’s stigma on Madison Avenue.

The still-unfolding repercussions? Some key stations want out of their Limbaugh deals. And when those deals are up, nobody else is stepping forward to ink new contracts with Rush.

Here’s what happened in Boston, and it’s becoming a trend. In May, WRKO announced it wasn’t renewing Limbaugh’s program, which meant the host would have to find a new home on the dial. No problem, right? Hopping around to another affiliate isn’t that unusual in the world of syndicated radio. What was unusual, at least for Limbaugh, was that not one other Boston station moved to pick up his show. Years ago, general managers lined up for the chance to broadcast Limbaugh’s ratings heavyweight show and jumped whenever it became available in the market.

But no more. With ratings issues in recent years and selling the show to advertisers becoming increasingly difficult, stations seem reluctant to pay a steep price for Limbaugh’s program. (But yes, Limbaugh’s syndicator, Premier Radio Networks, still pays the talker $50 million a year.)

In Boston, Limbaugh had to once again be bailed out by his corporate bosses. Formerly known as Clear Channel, iHeartMedia owns the syndication company that produces and sells Limbaugh’s radio show. iHeartMedia owns hundreds of radio stations.

So, with no takers in Boston, iHeartMedia turned to its lowly WKOX station, scrubbed its Spanish language format, and will flip it to “Talk 1430” on June 29, where listeners will hear a hodgepodge of far-right talk mixed Fox Sports Radio programming. “With the lack of options for gaining syndication revenue from another broadcaster, dumping the extraneous 1430 format becomes the only clear option for the company,” noted RadioInsight.

And don’t expect Limbaugh to turn things around for WKOX. His show struggled on WRKO, which boasts a 50,000-watt signal. In contrast, WKOX broadcasts from a tiny 5,000-watt signal, which doesn’t even cover the entire Boston metropolitan area.

Does this demotion sound familiar? The same Limbaugh farewell just played out in the red state of Indiana where the talker was dumped by his AM home of 22 years, WIBC in Indianapolis. After WIBC announced the programming divorce (the station was reportedly having trouble finding advertisers for Rush’s show), no other stations in the market stepped forward to buy Limbaugh’s program, which meant he had to be bailed out by iHeartMedia. The radio giant shoehorned Limbaugh onto its lowly rated all-sports channel in the market. (Current rating: 0.5.)

So why the obsession with finding Limbaugh even a low-rent home in places like Boston and Indianapolis? The answer revolves around clearance. “Rush Limbaugh is heard in every measured radio market in America, and that will continue to be the case in Boston,” Premiere’s Rachel Nelson told the Boston Globe last month. In other words, Limbaugh and his syndicator are determined that his show be heard (or cleared, in industry-speak), in every radio market in America — and especially in major markets — no matter what.

“It looks like Premiere parent iHeart will end up doing the same thing in Boston it’s doing in Indianapolis as a last resort: bringing Rush back in house on a marginal signal just to maintain the clearance,” noted NorthEast Radio Watch this week.

That, obviously, is not a blueprint for long-term success.

In terms of trying to sell the show to national advertisers as well as maintaining the Rush reputation as the most powerful talker on the dial, Limbaugh and Premiere simply cannot have Rush’s show off the air in places like Boston and Indianapolis. So Premiere’s parent company is willing do whatever it takes to make room for Limbaugh, even if it means sticking him on a ratings doormat at the far, far end of the radio dial and surrounding him with sports talk shows.

The question now is how many more cracks in the dam is iHeartMedia going to have to plug as more markets decide they’re not interested in Limbaugh’s program?

 

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Media, Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Limits Of “Israeli Exceptionalism”: The Perilous Path The Current Israeli Government Is Pursuing

This incident from the 2008 campaign, relayed by Matthew Duss at TNR, tells you a lot about trends in U.S. thinking about Israel in the Netanyahu era:

[R]epresentatives of the Obama, McCain, and Clinton teams appeared at a Jewish community forum. Daniel Kurtzer, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, spoke for Obama, explaining that he wanted to see a “plurality of views” on Israel. Clinton adviser Ann Lewis responded that the United States should simply support Israeli policy, regardless of its content. “The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel,” she said.

It was a pretty strange statement (is there any other country in the world to whose electorate anyone would similarly suggest outsourcing U.S. policy decisions?), but it does accurately describe the operating theory upon which much of conservative pro-Israel advocacy in Washington is based.

But it’s an increasingly rare point of view outside the conservative opinion bubble. After her service in the Obama administration, it’s pretty clear Hillary Clinton would not again allow herself to be represented as simply ratifying whatever policy is yielded by Israeli elections (presumably the only way one is permitted to deduce “decisions of the Israeli people,” who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s policies towards Palestinians and indeed towards the rest of the world).

It’s against this backdrop of a growing tendency among Democrats to reject the idea of “Israeli exceptionalism” as the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy that you can understand the perilous path the current Israeli government is pursuing in demanding the same–or perhaps greater– unconditional American support as in the past. This posture is not only liberating Democrats to assert national interests as superior to those of any foreign country in formulating U.S. foreign policy, but as I think we will see in 2016, leading public sentiment in the same direction.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Wasgington Monthly, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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