“The Consequences Of Republican Obstruction”: We Need To Be Clear About Why Our Politics Is Broken Right Now
One of my favorite writers – Leonard Pitts – has weighed in on the topic du jour these days for pundits: what led to the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primary. He starts off with a quote from former Republican Senator George Voinovich: “If he was for it, we had to be against it.” That was the beginning of the Republican strategy against the newly elected President back in 2009.
The popular storyline goes that voters are seeking political outsiders this year in their frustration over a government where the legislative gears are frozen and nothing gets done. What that storyline forgets is that this gridlock was by design, that GOP leaders held a meeting on the very evening of the president’s first inauguration and explicitly decided upon a policy of non-cooperation to deny him anything approaching a bipartisan triumph…
Republicans and their media accomplices buttressed that strategy with a campaign of insult and disrespect designed to delegitimize Obama. With their endless birther stupidity, their death panels idiocy, their constant budget brinksmanship and their cries of, “I want my country back!” they stoked in the public nothing less than hatred for the interloper in the White House who’d had the nerve to be elected president.
And the strategy worked, hobbling and frustrating Obama. But as a bullet doesn’t care who it hits and a fire doesn’t care who it burns, the forces of ignorance and unreason, grievance and fear the Republicans calculatedly unleashed have not only wounded the president. No, it becomes more apparent every day that those forces have gravely wounded politics itself, meaning the idea that we can — or even should — reason together, compromise, form consensus.
Of course I agree with Pitts because I wrote basically the same thing recently. Just as it is critical for a doctor to accurately diagnose a disease in order to effectively treat it, we need to be clear about why our politics is broken right now in order to craft effective solutions.
One way to test the diagnosis Pitts has articulated is to think about what happened prior to the 2010 midterm elections – when Democrats had control of both houses of Congress – and afterwards. In the first 2 years of the Obama presidency, he and the Democrats managed to pass:
1. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
2. The Affordable Care Act
3. The Dodd-Frank Act
4. Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
5. The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act
6. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
7. The Fair Sentencing Act
8. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act
9. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act
10. The Hate Crimes Prevention Act
That’s a pretty impressive list for just two years, isn’t it? When you compare it to how little has been accomplished in the last 5 1/2 years, the contrast is astounding. The comparison is even more stark when you look at what the two Parties have been doing over those years. While the Republicans have spent most of their time trying to repeal Obamacare and threatening to blow up the economy if they don’t get their way, President Obama and the Democrats have put forward a list of policy proposals that have been either ignored or actively obstructed by the Republicans.
1. Comprehensive immigration reform
2. The American Jobs Act
3. Universal pre-K
4. Raise the minimum wage
5. Paid family/sick leave
6. Free community college
7. Gun background checks
8. Criminal justice reform
9. Restoration of the Voting Rights Act
As a thought experiment, it’s interesting to contemplate what might have happened over these last few years if either the Democrats had maintained their majorities in Congress and/or if the Republicans had taken the advice of people like David Frum and actually attempted to negotiate solutions.
There are voices out there who diagnose our political situation differently than the analysis above from Leonard Pitts. Some in the media are particularly fond of the “both sides do it” mythology. As we’ve seen, Bernie Sanders comes close to embracing that idea with his analysis that the entire political process is rigged by big money – both Republicans and Democrats. While money in politics plays a role, it is clear that Democrats have an agenda to address the challenges we face and Republicans have cast their lot with fanning the flames of fear/anger in order to obstruct progress. The consequences of that decision by the GOP are that: progress has been halted, the stage was set for a Donald Trump candidacy and our political system has been gravely wounded.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 8, 2916
President Obama hasn’t spent a lot of time with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), but the two leaders, joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), met at the White House this morning. The point, according to everyone involved, was to look for ways the policymakers can find some common ground and try to get things done in 2016.
To help set the tone, the Wisconsin congressman told reporters yesterday he was excited about the Iowa caucuses because “what it tells me is the days of Barack Obama’s presidency are numbered.”
He’s a real charmer, this one. You can just feel his enthusiasm for bipartisan policymaking in an era of divided government.
After the meeting in which the president tries to find areas of possible agreement with GOP leaders, Ryan will hold another vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act. The Washington Post reported:
The House is scheduled to vote Tuesday on overturning President Obama’s veto of legislation to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. The vote, appropriately scheduled for Groundhog Day, is expected to fail, leaving conservatives to gear up for a final year of budget fights with the president.
Asked about today’s events, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “Republicans are poised to host another vote in the United States Congress today for the 60th time to repeal Obamacare. It’s almost like it’s Groundhog Day, except today it is actually Groundhog Day and they’re doing it again.”
Earnest added, “So I’m not really sure that qualifies as the contours of a proactive legislative agenda but it does put some pressure on Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, and other Republicans in Congress, to lay out what it is exactly they support and try to find some common ground with the administration.”
For the record, estimates vary on exactly how many times Republicans have tried to repeal all or part of the ACA, but the last time I checked, they were up to 62. In other words, Earnest might have been understating the case a bit.
Incidentally, shortly before the last repeal vote, Ryan was asked why he was moving forward with a bill to eliminate the Affordable Care Act before the Republican alternative is ready. The Republican leader told reporters with a smile, “Just wait.”
We later learned that this wait will continue past this year – because GOP lawmakers have already effectively given up on their plans to unveil a reform alternative in 2016.
As for today’s veto-override vote, there’s no chance of the bill succeeding. Paul Ryan and his team know that, of course, but they’re holding the vote anyway, just to go through the motions.
Postscript: In case anyone doesn’t get the reference, I should probably mention “Groundhog Day” was a classic movie from 1993 in which Bill Murray is stuck in a time loop, forced to live the exact same day over and over again. For those who haven’t seen the movie, I can assure you it’s far more entertaining than watching Republicans vote 63 times to take health care benefits away from millions of families for no particular reason.
Update: Reader F.B. emails, “In the movie, the character played by Bill Murray learns from each repetition how to live that day better. Unfortunately the Republicans show no similar improvement.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 2, 2016
Paul Krugman noted the other day that there’s a “mini-dispute among Democrats” over who has the best claim to President Obama’s mantle: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The New York Times columnist made the persuasive case that the answer is obvious: “Mr. Sanders is the heir to candidate Obama, but Mrs. Clinton is the heir to President Obama.”
The framing is compelling for reasons that are probably obvious. As a candidate, Obama was the upstart outsider taking on a powerful rival – named Hillary Clinton – who was widely expected to prevail. As president, Obama has learned to temper some of his grander ambitions, confront the cold realities of governing in prose, and make incremental-but-historic gains through attrition and by navigating past bureaucratic choke points.
But the closer one looks at the Obama-Sanders parallels, the more they start to disappear.
Comparing the core messages, for example, reinforces the differences. In 2008, Obama’s pitch was rooted in hopeful optimism, while in 2016, Sanders’ message is based on a foundation of outrage. In 2008, red-state Democrats welcomed an Obama nomination – many in the party saw him as having far broader appeal in conservative areas than Clinton – while in 2016, red-state Democrats appear panicked by the very idea of a Sanders nomination.
At its root, however, is a idealism-vs-pragmatism debate, with Sanders claiming the former to Clinton’s latter. New York’s Jon Chait argues that this kind of framing misunderstands what Candidate Obama was offering eight years ago.
The young Barack Obama was already famous for his soaring rhetoric, but from today’s perspective, what is striking about his promises is less their idealism than their careful modulation.
What Obama did eight years ago, Chait added, was make his technocratic pragmatism “lyrical” – a feat Clinton won’t even try to pull off – promising incremental changes in inspirational ways.
That’s not Sanders’ pitch at all. In many respects, it’s the opposite. Whatever your opinion of the Vermonter, there’s nothing about his platform that’s incremental. The independent senator doesn’t talk about common ground and bipartisan cooperation; he envisions a political “revolution” that changes the very nature of the political process.
The president himself seems well aware of the differences between what Greg Sargent calls the competing “theories of change.” Obama had a fascinating conversation late last week with Politico’s Glenn Thrush, and while the two covered quite a bit of ground, this exchange is generating quite a bit of attention for good reason.
THRUSH: The events I was at in Iowa, the candidate who seems to be delivering that now is Bernie Sanders.
THRUSH: I mean, when you watch this, what do you – do you see any elements of what you were able to accomplish in what Sanders is doing?
OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that Bernie has tapped into a running thread in Democratic politics that says: Why are we still constrained by the terms of the debate that were set by Ronald Reagan 30 years ago? You know, why is it that we should be scared to challenge conventional wisdom and talk bluntly about inequality and, you know, be full-throated in our progressivism? And, you know, that has an appeal and I understand that.
I think that what Hillary presents is a recognition that translating values into governance and delivering the goods is ultimately the job of politics, making a real-life difference to people in their day-to-day lives. I don’t want to exaggerate those differences, though, because Hillary is really idealistic and progressive. You’d have to be to be in, you know, the position she’s in now, having fought all the battles she’s fought and, you know, taken so many, you know, slings and arrows from the other side. And Bernie, you know, is somebody who was a senator and served on the Veterans’ Committee and got bills done. And so the–
THRUSH: But it sounds like you’re not buying the – you’re not buying the sort of, the easy popular dichotomy people are talking about, where he’s an analog for you and she is herself?
OBAMA: No. No.
THRUSH: You don’t buy that, right?
OBAMA: No, I don’t think – I don’t think that’s true.
The electoral salience of comments like these remains to be seen, but the president is subtly taking an important shot at the rationale of Sanders’ candidacy. For any Democratic voters watching the presidential primary unfold, looking at Sanders as the rightful heir to the “change” mantle, here’s Obama effectively saying he and Sanders believe in very different kinds of governing, based on incompatible models of achieving meaningful results.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 25, 2016
“A Study In Contrasts”: Take A Moment To Think About How It Is We Chose People To Be Our Political Heroes
I’m about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.
What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker – but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.
As we’ve seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital just prior to the 2012 election.
It’s interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren’s web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long…all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for – going after Wall Street – she sponsored the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013,” which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.
Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.
Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?
I point all this out because I’d like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?
When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.
By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015
“Jeb Bush’s Minimum Wage Radicalism”: The Abolition Of A Federal Minimum Wage Of Any Sort Is Now A Mainstream Republican Position
Every so often I feel the need to write the column that says: The one thing our political system needs more than any other single feature is a strengthened moderate wing of the Republican Party. I say this of course as a liberal, whose party registration is Democratic, which means you might think I’d say we need more liberals; and while I think that, I believe without question that having a strong moderate faction within the GOP would do far more to change our politics for the better than—yes—even having more Americans who think exactly as I do!
Having more liberals would if anything merely deepen the intensity of our civil war and produce more stalemate. The presence of a more muscular moderate Republican wing, however, would change everything. Then, there would be pressure on Republicans to adopt some sensible moderate positions, instead of what we have today, which is unceasing pressure to play this game of one-upmanship to see who can take the most reactionary, ignorant, and borderline racist position imaginable. Then, you’d have some Republicans from blue districts and states who would find it to be in their electoral self-interest to compromise with Democrats and vote for a Democratic president’s bill once in a while. Then, our political culture really would change.
And, then, people like Jeb Bush, the alleged moderate in the GOP presidential field, wouldn’t say jaw-dropping things like this, about the minimum wage, which he said Tuesday in (where else, somehow) South Carolina:
“We need to leave it to the private sector. I think state minimum wages are fine. The federal government shouldn’t be doing this. This is one of those poll-driven deals. It polls well, I’m sure—I haven’t looked at the polling, but I’m sure on the surface without any conversation, without any digging into it, people say, ‘Yeah, everybody’s wages should be up.’ And in the case of Wal-Mart, they have raised wages because of supply and demand and that’s good.
“But the federal government doing this will make it harder and harder for the first rung of the ladder to be reached, particularly for young people, particularly for people that have less education.”
Now it’s great that Wal-Mart and McDonald’s and Target and the others are voluntarily raising their minimum wages. One might argue that we’ve come to a particularly sad pass when the Walton family is doing more for its beleaguered workers than Congress can rouse itself to, but however you want to spin it, good for Wal-Mart.
But to take this little boomlet from what is still a small number of employers (although of course they do employ millions of people) and say that’s it, we should now have no federal minimum wage, is logical sleight of hand, and it’s a very radical position. A little background.
We first got a minimum wage in 1935. Then the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional (which could happen again, with this lot). Then it was passed again in 1938. We’ve had it ever since, although, as you probably know, it hasn’t gone up since 2009. That rise was the third and final phase of a 2007 law that raised the wage in increments. We haven’t had a new law to that effect in those eight years since.
It is true that in the 1980s, economists debated whether a federal minimum wage was desirable. Even The New York Times once editorialized against it, in 1987. At the time, economists thought it had deleterious effects on low-wage employment. Then, in the mid-1990s, the economists David Card and Alan Krueger studied this question in New Jersey and Pennsylvania (the former had increase its minimum wage, while the latter had not), and they found no employment impact.
That changed the academic consensus. An increase was passed in 1996. Some conservative economists continued to spoon out the “job-killer” Kool-Aid, as indeed they still do, but evidence continues to support the idea that there is no serious job-killing effect.
The parties disagreed strongly about how much the wage should be increased, but at least they agreed on increasing it—the 2007 increase, for example, passed the Senate 94-3, and the House by 233-82. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 standard bearer, voted for the 2007 increase. And Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, ran on supporting a modest increase and even indexing the minimum wage to inflation, which Barack Obama also supported and which would prevent Congress from having to pass legislation on the question ever again—a pretty progressive position, really.
So the last two mainstream, establishment GOP candidates—the last three, counting George W. Bush—supported an increase. But now, the mainstream, establishment candidate is against it. And if the mainstream, establishment candidate is against it, where are the others going to line up?
And so, one more hard-right pirouette by a party that keeps finding new ways to radicalize itself. But this one is particularly shocking coming from Bush, because it means that the abolition of a federal minimum wage of any sort is now a mainstream Republican position. And remember: The minimum wage, if it had kept pace with inflation, would be around $13 today, so it’s already insanely low at $7.25.
Which brings me back to how I opened this column. If there were a moderate wing of the GOP, this is most certainly an issue on which we’d have bipartisan agreement. The position Bush has just embraced would be seen across party lines for exactly the radical pandering that it is. Indeed he would not have taken it. That would be a nice world, but the world we have is the one we have. And if Bush can take this position, completely out of step with his party’s conservative mainstream in recent history, then what else will he prove himself capable of?
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2015