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“Absolute Opposition”: How The NRA Is Helping To Pass Gun Control

We’re in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I’ll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway.

And though it’s by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we’ll partly have the NRA to thank. That’s because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter. They’ve become more extremist in the last two decades, but most people didn’t realize it, because unless you’re a member and are getting their magazines and emails or seeing their representatives appear at conventions, you had no idea just how extreme they’d become. So the idea that the NRA is just the guardian of Americans’ gun rights could persist. An average gun owner who saw that the NRA endorsed a candidate could say, whatever else he thought of that candidate, “I suppose he’s all right when it comes to guns.” But now that Wayne LaPierre has been appearing on television shows, the whole country has gotten to see just what a maniac he is, and how extreme the organization has become. And now that there are concrete proposals on the table, voters can see that the NRA will oppose even universal background checks, which every opinion poll taken in the last couple of months has shown are supported by an astonishing 90 percent of the public. When even the host of Fox News Sunday is calling your arguments “ridiculous” and “nonsense,” you’ve got a problem.

So now, members of Congress who just a few months ago would never have considered bucking the NRA on anything may realize that it isn’t that much of a risk to oppose them on a particular measure, provided it has wide public support. Instead of worrying that they’ll be branded “anti-gun” for disagreeing with the NRA on anything, they may be saying to themselves that if they’ve got the public behind them, it may not be such a risk after all to support something like universal background checks.

The NRA’s model of influence—absolute opposition to any measure to restrict guns combined with apocalyptic rhetoric aimed at its supporters—worked as long as the gun issue was out of the spotlight. But now that we’re having an actual debate, things have changed. It’s becoming clear that while they represent a certain portion of gun owners, they definitely don’t speak for all gun owners, which is what they’d like legislators to believe. And that may provide just enough of an opening for legislation to pass.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 5, 2013

February 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Brag Wall”: The President Is Not There To Massage The Fragile Ego’s Of Capital Hill

If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you’d probably think, “What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you’re important. Sheesh.” In Washington, however, these “brag walls” can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one.

Maybe some offices do it just because that’s what everyone else does, but you’d think that if you’re a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you’re an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn’t be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you’ve been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that’s an understandable marketing effort. But when it comes to individuals, the only other place I can think of that I’ve seen that sort of thing outside of Washington is on MTV Cribs, in the homes of athletes, actors, and musicians, who often have displays of them with other celebrities. And they, I imagine, are also desperately insecure about their importance, forever fearful that it could evaporate at any moment and they’ll wind up the next Corey Feldman. So they put up the pictures of them hanging out with Tom Brady or Usher to assure themselves that they really are as big a deal as the people around them are contractually obligated to tell them.

I raise this because of an absolutely pathetic article in Politico today, detailing how Democrats on Capitol Hill aren’t feeling enough love from President Obama:

The topic of Obama’s relationship with his own party in Congress invariably draws raised eyebrows and did-you-hear-this-one stories.

One of the most well-connected Democrats in the capital said he came away from a recent meeting with Hill Democrats “astonished at the contempt they have for our president.” The members made clear that, after largely backing Obama in his first term, they would oppose him if he tried to make cuts to entitlements in the name of deficit reduction.

Obama and his top aides generally get along well with the Senate’s Democratic leadership — though there were real tensions over the fiscal cliff compromise – but while the likes of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer are in frequent contact with the White House, rank-and-file Democratic senators rarely hear from the president.

To bring up the topic of Obama and his old colleagues with members of Congress themselves, not a class of people lacking in pride, is often to get stared back with daggers. Hemming and hawing often take place, good-sport recollections of always hearing back from staff are brought up and occasionally come requests to go off the record. But, among some Democratic senators, there’s a willingness to put their names with their statements.

“I think they might have done more,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) when asked about the president’s outreach to the Hill in the first term. “I think they might have learned more by doing more.”

Now, I understand that building personal relationships with members of Congress is important, but it’s not important as an end in itself, it’s important because it helps the president accomplish his policy goals. To paraphrase the line spoken by a thousand reality show contestatnts, the president isn’t in Washington to make friends. Are there policy implications to Obama’s alleged indifference to congressional Democrats? Was there a critical bill that failed because some senators felt they weren’t being massaged enough? Provisions in big bills that Obama didn’t get because he couldn’t fend off a fit of pique from a member of his party over the lack of invitation to a late-night poker game up in the residence? You won’t find the answer in the story, because this is Politico, and they find policy questions like that to be dullsville.

In fact, a better question for a piece like this might be, if Obama does so little to massage the fragile egos on Capitol Hill, how was it that he got so much legislation passed? He did more legislatively in his first term, even with an unusually intransigent opposition, than any president since Johnson. Could it be that the non-personal factors end up being much more important than how many members of Congress get to utter the phrase, “As I told the president when I was at the White House the other day…” on a regular basis?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, February 4, 2013

February 5, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Under The Money Tree”: Corporations Aren’t The Only Ones Benefiting From Low Corporate Taxes

If you are Exxon Mobil, Verizon or General Electric, chances are filing taxes over the past few years has been significantly less painful than for the average American.

And Sunlight Foundation senior fellow Lee Drutman says that’s because everyday Americans don’t have lobbyists on the hill fighting for them.

“If you think you wound up paying too much in taxes this year, maybe you ought to hire a lobbyist or two or 20,” Drutman writes in a recent report. A Sunlight Foundation study shows that of the country’s 200 largest corporations, the eight companies that dished out the most money for lobbying on Capitol Hill between 2007 and 2010 saw major savings in corporate taxes. Six of the companies even saw a more than 7 percent drop in their tax rate over the years.

AT&T for example, a company that spent more than $70 million on federal lobbying saw a 40.4 percent decrease in their rate, a more than $7 billion savings on corporate taxes. Northrop Grumman’s tax rate also decreased from nearly 33 percent to just over 20 percent after they doled out $57 million for lobbyists to pitch their causes on Capitol Hill.

All together the “Big Eight” paid $540 million for federal lobbying and saved over $11 billion in taxes. Drutman estimates the return on investment to be roughly 2,000 percent.

With all of the changes in tax code, it’s easy to see how companies can save so much in just a few years.

“In 2005, the President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform counted approximately 15,000 separate changes to the tax code since 1986,” Drutman said.

And the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, the country’s written tax code document, has more than doubled from 33,000 pages in the mid-1980s to more than 72,000 pages today.

However, corporations are not the only ones benefiting from low corporate taxes.

Drutman says that congressmen who sit on the House Ways and Means Committee, the congressional arm in control of tax regulation, receive about $250,000 more in fundraising contributions than their fellow lawmakers.

“Being on Ways and Means is like having Christmas every day,” says Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University and expert on influence in politics. “They barely have to raise any money. It rains down upon them. They are standing under the money tree.”

 

By: Lauren Fox, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World report, April 17, 2012

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Basic Civility: Who Will Teach Congress to Behave?

To make sense of the  vitriol, lack of cooperative spirit and just bad manners being displayed on  Capitol Hill, look no further than Massachusetts.

It’s not that the Bay State is unusually mean or even  rude. Visitors flocking to the Cape, the Berkshires or Boston’s North End will  surely find friendly people. But recent news in Massachusetts demonstrates just  how high our tolerance for—even celebration of—bad behavior has become.

The Boston Globe informs us  that the Boston School Committee is drafting rules for basic civility  at its  public meetings. This is not a response to shouting and  disruption by children,  who by definition are still learning how to  behave in public and how to  adjudicate disagreements with honor and  mutual respect. No, the school  committee’s actions are a sad response  to the heckling and all-around disrespect  shown by adults—parents and  teachers—who have been unhappy with school closings  and other matters  before the committee. Disruptive students have been at the  meetings,  too, which makes it worse, since the lesson they are learning at the   meetings is that it’s acceptable to shout and be rude to display one’s   unhappiness with a public policy. One protestor last December yelled  “liar”  at Superintendent Carol R. Johnson. Was this individual merely  parroting the  behavior of Rep. Joe Wilson, who yelled, “You lie!” at the President of the  United States during a live, nationally-televised speech in the House chamber?

Remarkably, some of the adult activists have not been  shamed at the  fact that they must be treated as recalcitrant children. The Globe  quotes the teacher’s union  president, Richard Stutman, jokingly  comparing the decorum rules to Stalinist  Russia. That’s not only an  insult to the people who lived in the brutal  dictatorial regime, but an  insult to public education. Surely, teachers do not  instruct their  students that self-control and civility are akin to  totalitarianism.

But if the school meetings aren’t distressing enough,  Massachusetts  can look to its professional football team, the New England  Patriots.  The team recently signed Albert Haynesworth, whose behavior, on and  off  the field, was so poor that the Washington Redskins couldn’t stomach  him  anymore. In sports, the bad boys are often given a pass if their  on-field  passes are complete. But Haynesworth—who was paid $35 million  to play in 20  games and didn’t always show up for practice because he  didn’t like the coach’s  defense strategy—became just too much for the  ‘Skins, who traded him to the  Patriots for a fifth-round draft pick. At  least Haynesworth won’t be a double burden to the Pats, since Randy  Moss, another behavior problem, left the team last year and announced  Tuesday he would retire from the sport. Defenders note that Patriots  coach Bill Belichick whipped Moss into shape. Haynesworth could be a  heavier list; at one point, he was juggling four different legal cases  against him even as he feuded publically with his coach.

We should expect more from members of Congress, who have  been  through campaigns and theoretically should know better. But the  public—even  as they deride the dysfunction and bad manners in the  Capitol—are enablers,  rewarding malcontented lawmakers with campaign  contributions. Republican Wilson  and former Democratic  Rep. Alan Grayson, who famously accused Republicans of  wanting people  to die as a way of saving on health costs, were two of the  biggest  fundraisers last election cycle, with much of the cash coming from out   of state. Grayson lost, but the message was clear: acting up is  profitable. And  both Democrats and Republicans are raising money off  the recent uproar over  Republican Rep. Allen West, a Tea Party movement favorite who sent an email to  a colleague, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz,  calling her “the most  vile” member of the House. Wasserman Schultz had  criticized West’s approach to  Medicare, although she did not name him  in the floor speech that led West to  accuse Wasserman-Schultz of not  acting like “a Lady.”

The Boston School Committee may be able to teach civility  to adults  who apparently never learned how to sit still and listen. And perhaps   Belichick can control Haynesworth. Who will do the same for members of   Congress?

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, August 2, 2011

August 2, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, GOP, Government, Lawmakers, Politics, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rejecting The GOP’s ‘Hezbollah Faction’: Where Are The Sane Republicans?

I found a lot to disagree with in Thomas Friedman’s column today, but his criticism of the Republican Party’s base rings true.

The Tea Party … is so lacking in any aspiration for American greatness, so dominated by the narrowest visions for our country and so ignorant of the fact that it was not tax cuts that made America great but our unique public-private partnerships across the generations. If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the G.O.P. on a suicide mission.

This strikes me as fair, and it got me thinking about a question a friend of mine asked me the other day: where are the “sane Republicans” willing to “stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst”? Where are Bob Dole and John Warner? Why can’t John Danforth and Colin Powell express their disapproval for what their party is doing? Maybe some of Reagan’s old guard, like Ken Duberstein, could speak up?

The party is not without elder statesmen and women. They couldn’t possibly see their party’s antics on Capitol Hill and feel a sense of pride. Maybe it’s time they say so?

A regular reader recently passed along this item from Robert Prather, published a week ago on the center-right Outside the Beltway blog, about his sense of what’s become of the GOP.

I’ve been moving to the left for a few years now, but these idiots are radicalizing me. I’ve never voted for a Democrat in my life (full disclosure: I didn’t vote the last two elections due to moving), but I doubt I’ll ever vote for a Republican again. They’re either stupid or evil, but either way they’re dangerous and bad for the country.

I don’t know much about Prather’s political background, and maybe he’s an anomaly. But shouldn’t there be a legion of Republicans — former office holders, party loyalists, life-long members, all of the above — who are sympathetic to this perspective?

We’re not talking about GOP officials taking a hard line on some random piece of legislation, or nominating some radical for a key public office. We’re talking about congressional Republicans who’ve decided to play a game of chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States — something no American institution has ever done in more than two centuries — and who are fully prepared to trash the constitutional principle next week as part of a hostage strategy gone horribly awry?

Are there no noteworthy Republicans watching this, willing to say, “My party is simply going too far”?

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 27, 2011

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, Dictators, Disasters, Economic Recovery, Economy, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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