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“The GOP Is One Heck Of A Dysfunctional Family”: Republican’s Having A Lot Of Trouble Getting That Governing Thing Down

If you wonder why Congress is so feeble these days that it can’t even find a simple way to pass a transportation bill, look no further than Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who proffered a little resolution on Tuesday night to oust John Boehner from the speakership.

The move was quickly dismissed by Boehner loyalists as showboating by a second-term member, and Meadows himself said he might not even seek a vote on his own measure. His hope is to provoke a “family conversation” among Republicans. It’s a heck of a dysfunctional family. The GOP these days may have its advantages on the Lannisters of “Game of Thrones” fame, but it’s a very long way from the Brady Bunch.

Perhaps by crushing Meadows’s insurrection, which many of even the most rebellious right-wing Republicans thought was ill-timed, Boehner will strengthen his hand. The more likely outcome is that this resolution to “vacate the chair” will once again remind Boehner of the nature of the party caucus over which he presides. I use “preside” rather than “lead” precisely because his difficulty in leading these folks is the heart of his problem.

The House GOP (and this applies more than it once did to Senate Republicans as well) includes a large and vocal minority always ready to go over a cliff and always ready to burn — fortunately, figuratively — heretical leaders and colleagues. More important, a significant group sympathizes with Boehner privately but is absolutely petrified that having his back when things get tough will conjure a challenge inside the party by conservative ultras whose supporters dominate its primary electorate in so many places.

This means that Republicans have to treat doing business with President Obama and the Democrats as something bordering on philosophical treason. Yes, on trade, where Obama’s position is relatively close to their own, they will help the president out. But it’s very hard to find many other issues of that sort. Politicians of nearly every kind used to agree that building roads, bridges, mass-transit projects and airports was good for everybody. Now, even pouring concrete and laying track can be disrupted by weird ideological struggles.

The text of Meadows’s anti-Boehner resolution is revealing. He complains that the speaker has “caused the power of Congress to atrophy, thereby making Congress subservient to the Executive and Judicial branches, diminishing the voice of the American people.” Actually, Congress has done a bang-up job of blocking Obama’s agenda since Republicans won control of the House in 2010. How, short of impeachment, is it supposed to do more to foil the man in the White House?

Meadows also hits Boehner for “intentionally” seeking voice votes (as opposed to roll calls) on “consequential and controversial legislation to be taken without notice and with few Members present.” He has a point. But since so many Republicans are often too timid to go on the record for the votes required to keep government moving — they don’t want to be punished by Meadows’s ideological friends — Boehner does what he has to do.

On the other hand, Meadows’s charge that Boehner is “bypassing the majority of the 435 Members of Congress and the people they represent” is absolutely true.

But the logic of this legitimate protest is that Boehner should allow many more votes on the floor in which a minority of Republicans could join with a majority of Democrats to pass legislation, thereby reflecting the actual will of the entire House. If Boehner had done this with immigration reform, it would now be a reality. Boehner didn’t do it precisely because he worried about what Republicans of Meadows’s stripe would do to him.

Meadows’s move bodes ill for the compromising that will be required this fall to avoid new crises on the debt ceiling and the budget. Republicans already faced difficulties on this front before the “vacate the chair” warning shot, as Post blogger Greg Sargent noted Wednesday.

And Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.), another Boehner critic, reacted to the resolution by invoking the Lord Voldemort all Republicans fear. Jones expressed the hope that “the talk-show hosts who are so frustrated would pick up on this thing and beat the drum.” It’s enough to ruin a speaker’s summer.

Republicans are talking a good deal about the threat to their brand posed by Donald Trump’s unplugged, unrestrained appeal to the party’s untamed side. The bigger danger comes from a Republican Congress that is having a lot of trouble getting that governing thing down.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 29, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Challenging The Tough On Crime Craze”: Obama Administration Works On Both The Front And Back End Of Criminal Justice Reform

Recently I wrote about Evan McMorris-Santoro’s profile of Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. In the course of describing her work on mandatory minimum sentences, he explains something interesting about the politics involved in criminal justice reform.

The divide is now between so-called front-end advocates, who want changes to sentencing laws and penalties given to criminals when they first enter the system, and so-called back-end advocates who would rather leave sentencing alone and focus on parole eligibility and anti-recidivism programs.

The politics are simple, and crucial. Front-end changes are more risky, opening up politicians to attack ads saying they favored lower sentences for criminals and reduced penalties for drug dealers. The most ardent criminal justice advocates are pushing front-end changes. Back-end changes are an easier sell politically, but have much less impact on prison populations, according to advocates. They’re usually the most favored solution by politicians who are still closely tied to the tough-on-crime model of criminal justice that produced mandatory minimums for drug crimes in the first place.

It’s important to note that while Deputy AG Yates is focused almost exclusively on ensuring that front-end changes are included in any criminal justice reform legislation, the Obama administration is not ignoring back-end reforms. For example, the ongoing work of the Clemency Initiative that has already commuted the sentences of 89 prisoners is an example of back-end changes.

Josh Mitchell and Joe Palazzolo report that the Obama administration has decided to implement another back-end reform.

The Obama administration plans to restore federal funding for prison inmates to take college courses, a potentially controversial move that comes amid a broader push to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The plan, set to be unveiled Friday by the secretary of education and the attorney general, would allow potentially thousands of inmates in the U.S. to gain access to Pell grants, the main form of federal aid for low-income college students. The grants cover up to $5,775 a year in tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.

They go on to explain that this will be a 3-5 year experimental study on the impact of education on recidivism rates. That is mostly due to the fact that in 1994 Congress prohibited state and federal prisoners from getting access to Pell grants, but the Dept. of Education has the authority to temporarily waive rules in order to study their effectiveness.

I’d suggest that there’s not much doubt about what the results will be.

A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t.

It is encouraging to watch as, one by one, the reactionary policies of the war on drugs and the 90’s era “tough on crime” craze are challenged and revoked.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 30, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, Mass Incarceration | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Stench Of Death”: No White House For You, Rand Paul

All happy campaigns are alike, but each unhappy campaign is unhappy in its own way. Those unique experiences of campaign failure provide some of the best entertainment of the long and arduous journey, and the pain is compounded by the observed scientific reality that a political corpse is capable of continuing to trudge forward well after its viability has expired. We begin our study of failure with Rand Paul.

Many failed campaigns are doomed attempts to rise above obscurity. Paul actually began his in a blaze of grandeur. Time put him on its cover and called him “The Most Interesting Man in Politics.” Such disparate pundits as the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, NBC’s Chuck Todd, National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart, and former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele tabbed Paul as not merely a possible nominee but the early front-runner. Paul seemed to combine two opposing traits: He inflamed the passions of tea-party activists, but also had a plausible-sounding blueprint for expanding his party’s general election appeal.

It has not worked out. Paul finds himself languishing in every metric of campaign success: polls, fund-raising, insider support, media attention. Two pre-postmortems today convey the stench of death that clings to Paul’s once-buoyant presidential hopes.

Alex Isenstadt has the most comprehensive autopsy of the things that have gone wrong for Rand Paul 2016. His campaign manager resents his chief strategist. Paul, incredibly, turned down a chance to attend a retreat with the Koch Brothers, who are kind of a big deal in the Republican Party. Staff morale is abysmal. The candidate hates fund-raising. Donald Trump has overshadowed him. Paul has “peppered aides with demands for more time off from campaigning, and once chose to go on a spring-break jaunt rather than woo a powerful donor.” And the campaign has retained the services of an utterly terrifying figure:

The senator was mingling with the crowd while John Baeza, a 280-pound retired NYPD detective and Paul family loyalist, stood behind him and provided security. [Campaign manager Chip] Englander barged over, convinced that the ex-cop was getting in the way of supporters eager to snap pictures with the senator.

“What the fuck, Baeza?” Englander said, grabbing his shoulder. “Why are you always getting in our fucking shot?”

“Don’t ever put your hands on me again,” the bodyguard fired back.

David Weigel and Ben Terris report the campaign’s explanations for its lack of success, which Paul and his minions gamely present as a shrewd long-term plan. Is it bad that Paul has fallen out of the public debate? No, no: “they insist there is minimal downside to being out of the media glare six months before the Iowa caucuses.” Paul, they report, has skipped two Citizens United “freedom summits” and the RedState Gathering. But that’s okay, Paul says, because, “The message of his state supporters is the message from the campaign: Anyone doing more than Paul is probably phoning it in at his real job.” If there’s one thing voters will reward, it’s a sterling record of Senatorial vote-attendance.

Paul is presenting his failure to attract attention as a reflection not of his love for spring break but rather a principled aversion to campaign high jinks. The candidate recently offered, with a touch of pathos, that he would not set himself on fire to compete with Donald Trump — but he’s not above cheeseball antics like setting the tax code on fire.

Perhaps Paul’s problem is that he started off setting things on fire, and, since his election in 2010, has spent his half-decade in office tamping down the flames to make himself acceptable to the party Establishment. Paul’s highest priority has been rendering himself acceptable to the Republican elite, by trimming his positions on issues like Israel and defense spending. Instead of bringing together activists and the Establishment, he has failed to reassure the latter, and bored the former. Paul has no principled aversion to facilitating the influence of the very rich over the political system. He’s just lazy and bad at it.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, July 29, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Establishment Republicans, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Zombies Against Medicare”: The Right Has Never Abandoned Its Dream Of Killing The Program

Medicare turns 50 this week, and it has been a very good half-century. Before the program went into effect, Ronald Reagan warned that it would destroy American freedom; it didn’t, as far as anyone can tell. What it did do was provide a huge improvement in financial security for seniors and their families, and in many cases it has literally been a lifesaver as well.

But the right has never abandoned its dream of killing the program. So it’s really no surprise that Jeb Bush recently declared that while he wants to let those already on Medicare keep their benefits, “We need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others.”

What is somewhat surprising, however, is the argument he chose to use, which might have sounded plausible five years ago, but now looks completely out of touch. In this, as in other spheres, Mr. Bush often seems like a Rip Van Winkle who slept through everything that has happened since he left the governor’s office — after all, he’s still boasting about Florida’s housing-bubble boom.

Actually, before I get to Mr. Bush’s argument, I guess I need to acknowledge that a Bush spokesman claims that the candidate wasn’t actually calling for an end to Medicare, he was just talking about things like raising the age of eligibility. There are two things to say about this claim. First, it’s clearly false: in context, Mr. Bush was obviously talking about converting Medicare into a voucher system, along the lines proposed by Paul Ryan.

And second, while raising the Medicare age has long been a favorite idea of Washington’s Very Serious People, a couple of years ago the Congressional Budget Office did a careful study and discovered that it would hardly save any money. That is, at this point raising the Medicare age is a zombie idea, which should have been killed by analysis and evidence, but is still out there eating some people’s brains.

But then, Mr. Bush’s real argument, as opposed to his campaign’s lame attempt at a rewrite, is just a bigger zombie.

The real reason conservatives want to do away with Medicare has always been political: It’s the very idea of the government providing a universal safety net that they hate, and they hate it even more when such programs are successful. But when they make their case to the public they usually shy away from making their real case, and have even, incredibly, sometimes posed as the program’s defenders against liberals and their death panels.

What Medicare’s would-be killers usually argue, instead, is that the program as we know it is unaffordable — that we must destroy the system in order to save it, that, as Mr. Bush put it, we must “move to a new system that allows [seniors] to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.” And the new system they usually advocate is, as I said, vouchers that can be applied to the purchase of private insurance.

The underlying premise here is that Medicare as we know it is incapable of controlling costs, that only the only way to keep health care affordable going forward is to rely on the magic of privatization.

Now, this was always a dubious claim. It’s true that for most of Medicare’s history its spending has grown faster than the economy as a whole — but this is true of health spending in general. In fact, Medicare costs per beneficiary have consistently grown more slowly than private insurance premiums, suggesting that Medicare is, if anything, better than private insurers at cost control. Furthermore, other wealthy countries with government-provided health insurance spend much less than we do, again suggesting that Medicare-type programs can indeed control costs.

Still, conservatives scoffed at the cost-control measures included in the Affordable Care Act, insisting that nothing short of privatization would work.

And then a funny thing happened: the act’s passage was immediately followed by an unprecedented pause in Medicare cost growth. Indeed, Medicare spending keeps coming in ever further below expectations, to an extent that has revolutionized our views about the sustainability of the program and of government spending as a whole.

Right now is, in other words, a very odd time to be going on about the impossibility of preserving Medicare, a program whose finances will be strained by an aging population but no longer look disastrous. One can only guess that Mr. Bush is unaware of all this, that he’s living inside the conservative information bubble, whose impervious shield blocks all positive news about health reform.

Meanwhile, what the rest of us need to know is that Medicare at 50 still looks very good. It needs to keep working on costs, it will need some additional resources, but it looks eminently sustainable. The only real threat it faces is that of attack by right-wing zombies.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 27, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Jeb Bush, Medicare | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Why Progressives Must Stay United”: A Split Would Only Play Into The Hands Of The Right

A new report finds more U.S. children living in poverty than before the Great Recession. According to the report, released Tuesday from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 22 percent of American children are living in poverty (as of 2013, the latest data available) compared with 18 percent in 2008.

Poverty rates are nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians. Problems are most severe in South and Southwest. Particularly troubling is a large increase in the share of children living in poor communities marked by poor schools and a lack of a safe place to play.

Which brings me to politics, power, and the progressive movement.

The main event at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Arizona last weekend was a “Presidential Town Hall” featuring one-on-one discussions between journalist and undocumented American Jose Antonio Vargas and presidential candidates Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders.

It was upstaged by ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter activists who demanded to be heard.

It’s impossible to overcome widening economic inequality in America without also dealing with the legacy of racial inequality.

And it is impossible to overcome racial inequality without also reversing widening economic inequality.

They are not the same but they are intimately related.

Racial inequalities are baked into our political and economic system. Police brutality against black men and women, mass incarceration disproportionately of blacks and Latinos, housing discrimination that has resulted in racial apartheid across the nation, and voter suppression in the forms of gerrymandered districts, voter identification requirements, purges of names from voter registration lists, and understaffed voting stations in black neighborhoods – all reveal deep structures of discrimination that undermine economic inequality.

Black lives matter.

But it would be a terrible mistake for the progressive movement to split into a “Black lives matter” movement and an “economic justice” movement.

This would only play into the hands of the right.

For decades Republicans have exploited the economic frustrations of the white working and middle class to drive a wedge between races, channeling those frustrations into bigotry and resentment.

The Republican strategy has been to divide-and-conquer. They want to prevent the majority of Americans – poor, working class, and middle-class, blacks, Latinos, and whites – from uniting in common cause against the moneyed interests.

We must not let them.

Our only hope for genuine change is if poor, working class, middle class, black, Latino, and white come together in a powerful movement to take back our economy and democracy from the moneyed interests that now control both.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, July 22, 2015

July 30, 2015 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Progressives, Racial Inequality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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