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“We’re Going Home For Christmas”: GOP-Led Senate Failing At Its Most Basic Tasks

In light of the recent focus on counter-terrorism and national security, common sense suggests the Senate would want to quickly confirm Adam Szubin to serve as the Treasury Department’s under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes.

As the Huffington Post recently reported, we’re talking about a job that “involves tracking terrorists to prevent them from raising money on the black market and elsewhere.” Szubin is extremely well qualified; he’s worked on blocking terrorist financing in previous administrations; and he enjoys broad, bipartisan support in the Senate.

And yet, the Senate isn’t voting on his nomination. Politico reported overnight that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has grown impatient with mindless Republican obstructionism and tried to end this farce yesterday.

A frustrated Brown took to the Senate floor Wednesday to force a confirmation vote on Szubin and a host of other nominees stuck in his committee. The panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, swiftly objected to each of Brown’s attempts.

“That’s a policy decision,” Shelby said Wednesday of the nomination of Szubin, whom Shelby called “eminently qualified” during his confirmation hearing in September. “You know, he’s probably a nice guy in all this. But there is a lot of dissent in our caucus on that.”

Asked whether Szubin could move through his committee soon, Shelby responded: “We’re not going to vote now. We’re going home for Christmas.”

It’s not altogether clear what in the world Shelby was talking about. When he says Szubin is “probably a nice guy in all this,” it’s unclear what “this” refers to. When the senator added there’s “dissent in our caucus on that,” he didn’t say what “that” meant.

But even if we look past the ambiguity, the end result is the same: an uncontroversial, perfectly qualified counter-terrorism nominee is being delayed – without explanation – apparently because Republicans don’t like President Obama.

And while that may seem ridiculous – because it is – it’s important to understand that Szubin is hardly the only one.

The same Politico report explained, “Nineteen potential judges, a half-dozen ambassadors, a terrorism financing specialist and two high-ranking State Department nominees are awaiting confirmation votes on the Senate floor, a backlog that has this GOP-led Senate on track for the lowest number of confirmations in 30 years. The Senate Banking Committee hasn’t moved on a single nominee all year.”

The Banking Committee, by the way, is led by Alabama’s Richard Shelby – the one who’s praised Adam Szubin, but who also refuses to let the Senate confirm Adam Szubin.

The story on judicial nominees is every bit as exasperating. The Huffington Post reported this week on Luis Felipe Restrepo, who, for reasons no one can defend, has “endured nearly every type of Senate delay a judicial nominee could endure.”

The Senate should be voting Monday to confirm Restrepo to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. Senators typically vote on nominees in the order in which they were nominated, and Restrepo is first in line of any district or circuit court nominee. Instead, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) passed him over and teed up a vote on the next person in line, Travis McDonough, a Tennessee district court nominee.

Restrepo has been waiting his turn for a vote since he was nominated in November 2014. His nomination didn’t go anywhere last year, so President Barack Obama renominated him in January. Restrepo waited five months before he even got a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, thanks to his own state’s senator, Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), holding him up.

After his June hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) delayed the vote for another month, for no real reason. The committee finally voted to move Restrepo forward in July, unanimously, and he’s been waiting in line for a confirmation vote by the full Senate ever since.

The court seat Restrepo is supposed to fill has been vacant for nearly 900 days. No, that’s not a typo, and yes, it’s contributed to a “judicial emergency” on the 3rd Circuit, with a case backlog getting worse.

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein recently explained, “It’s a Senate engaged in pure partisan harassment of Obama, and indifferent to the smooth functioning of government.”

When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was promoted to his current post, he promised Americans we’d see a new, different kind of chamber. Nearly a year later, I suppose he was correct – because the Senate is now far worse.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 10, 2015

December 11, 2015 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Mitch Mc Connell, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“No Longer Any Political Margin To Be Gained”: Why Republicans Won’t Object To The Return Of ‘Death Panels’

There was a lot about the period leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act that was ridiculous and maddening, but perhaps no episode was worse than the controversy over “death panels.” Here you had a small provision of the bill that doctors, patient advocates, and health care experts all agreed would lead to better care, not to mention cost savings. Then Republicans concocted a lie about it, spread that lie as far as they could, and finally saw the provision removed from the final legislation.

Well, now Medicare is finally doing what that provision of the ACA would have done.

Under a newly proposed rule, it will reimburse doctors for the time they spend with patients planning how they want to be cared for near the end of their lives. And just you watch: this provision that Republicans said six years ago was so horrifying? They’re not even going to bother opposing it anymore, now that doing so serves no political purpose. It’s barely going to be a controversy at all.

That’s not what everyone else seems to be predicting. All over the web there are articles about this issue, many illustrated with photos of Sarah Palin, predicting that this is going to blow up into another angry debate. But I say it won’t. Here’s why: Republicans’ opposition to end-of-life counseling was always utterly cynical, a performance enacted for no purpose other than undermining the legislation. At this point, with the law implemented long ago and the major legal challenges over, there’s no longer any political margin to be gained in shaking their fists at patients and doctors talking about the options for end-of-life care.

Let’s review a little history. This whole thing got started when conservative activist Betsy McCaughey appeared on the radio in 2009, when versions of the legislation were working their way through Congress, and said this about the one in the House:

“And one of the most shocking things I found in this bill, and there were many, is on Page 425, where the Congress would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care. And by the way, the bill expressly says that if you get sick somewhere in that five-year period — if you get a cancer diagnosis, for example — you have to go through that session again.”

To paraphrase what Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman, every word of that statement is a lie, including “and” and “the.” The actual provision stated that if a patient wanted to have a consultation about their options, including how to create an advanced directive that would lay out what sorts of treatment they wanted and didn’t want if they got to a point where they couldn’t communicate it themselves, Medicare would pay the doctor for the time counseling the patient. Nothing was mandatory, nothing would require doctors to “tell them how to end their life sooner,” and nothing required anyone to have the session again. It was all lies.

But that didn’t prevent the claim from taking off like a rocket. Sarah Palin floated the “death panel” talking point. Chuck Grassley told a crowd back home, “We should not have a government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.” Although media outlets tried to explain that the allegation was false, millions of people believed it anyway. Chastened Democrats removed the provision from the bill.

So now that Medicare is finally moving ahead with this provision, are Republicans really going to fight it? No, they won’t. I’ve been looking around for condemnations from conservative media outlets or prominent Republican politicians, and so far I’ve come up empty. There was one small item on the National Review’s blog, with no substantive objection, just a little harumphing about bureaucracy. No outraged statements from Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, no thunderous denunciations from the presidential candidates, nothing.

Maybe they just haven’t gotten around to it yet, and the indignation is on its way. But I wouldn’t bet on it. In this somewhat cooler environment, it isn’t going to be easy for them to argue that patients shouldn’t sit down with their doctors and plan for their future care. And with congressional Republicans all but giving up on repealing the ACA, this isn’t a battle that offers much to be gained.

So five years after the ACA was passed, doctors will know that they can get paid for this absolutely vital service, explaining the options to their patients and making sure that when the time comes, those patients’ wishes are honored. The people like McCaughey, Palin, and Grassley who back then lied to the country in order to score a few points against Barack Obama ought to hang their heads in shame. But at least it’s finally happening. Better late than never.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 9, 2015

July 10, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Death Panels, Medicare | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Give Me Lipitor Or Give Me Death”: Last Call; Ted Cruz Signs Up For Obamacare

A day after announcing his White House bid – which included beating on the Affordable Care Act, his favorite punching bag – Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, says he’s signing up for Obamacare.

Yes, you read that correctly: The man whose signature applause line is a promise to “repeal each and every word of Obamacare,” went on Healthcare.gov and got himself some benefits. Hypocrisy? Sure, but not in the way you might think.

Cruz had been covered through his wife’s employer, Goldman Sachs. If some insurance plans are Cadillacs, hers was a chauffeured, solid-gold Fleetwood, reportedly worth some $20,000 a year — around half of Texas’ median income. Heidi Cruz is taking a year or so of unpaid leave to help him on his campaign, though, so her health care coverage evaporates along with her likely very substantial  paycheck.

Now, the senator – or maybe an aide, or an intern or campaign volunteer or someone – will schlep to the computer, log on to Healthcare.gov and hunch down over the keyboard to do the Obamacare two-step to get coverage for the upcoming year.

Cruz says he had to get health coverage Obamacare, and he’s right: Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, inserted an ACA amendment that requires all members of Congress to sign up through the federal exchange. That means Cruz has to if he wants health insurance, although, unlike a lot of Obamacare enrollees, his $174,000 annual Senate salary covers the premiums.

“Well, it is written in the law that members will be on the exchanges without subsidies just like millions of Americans so that’s – I think the same rules should apply to all of us,” Cruz told the Des Moines Register. “Members of Congress should not be exempt.”

Cruz has come up with his own Obamacare alternative, a plan which shifts a lot of control to the states — including ones like Texas, that opted out of Obamacare and all that federal money that went with it. If it were available, he probably would have signed up for Cruzcare instead.

Cruz: 2, Hypocrisy: Undecided. Still, let’s take a closer look.

If Cruz wanted to stand on no-Obamacare, no-way principle, however, perhaps he could opt out of government-sponsored health care entirely, just like the 6.3 million Texans who don’t have health insurance — in part because his state, and his party, decided to block it. That includes 1.2 million children just like Cruz’s two little girls who can’t get health care if they get sick.

That’s made Texas the state with the highest number of uninsured people, nearly twice the national average.

Further, if you squint, the changes the Cruz family are undergoing — loss of a job or a dramatic life change that reduces income — are the top reasons people lose health insurance, and among the reasons Obamacare exists in the first place. And if a parent or spouse gets sick without insurance, it can lead to some serious financial hardship.

It’s perhaps safe to say Cruz understands that intuitively, even if he probably would never say so explicitly. Which is probably why he signed up, and where the hypocrisy comes in.

Even though it exposes him to a modicum of ridicule, allegations of hypocrisy and getting the stink-eye from some of his die-hard supporters, Ted’s Excellent Obamacare Adventure speaks more loudly than his “repeal every word of Obamacare” applause line. When it came down to brass tacks and he lost his wife’s coverage, he opted-in.

He may be a fierce Obamacare critic, and he may agree with the decision to deny affordable health insurance to more than 6 million Texans who, one imagines, he assumes would rather have liberty than Lipitor. But when it becomes a personal matter involving his own family, his conservative ideals don’t necessarily apply.

 

By: Joseph P. Williams, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, march 24, 2015

March 25, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Ted Cruz, Uninsured | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Voting Rights Should Not Precede Gun Rights”: Conservatives Would Let Felons Vote And Pack Heat

It’s an idea so incredibly crazy it just might work: Restoring voting rights to non-violent felons—if they get back their right to own guns, too.

For some tough-on-crime conservatives, the right to bear firearms is a right that is as fundamental as the right to vote. Capitalizing on this sentiment, the strategy goes, could lead to a larger compromise on felons’ rights.

“If someone asked me if I would rather vote for mayor or have a gun, I’d rather have a gun,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a signatory to the conservative Right on Crime criminal justice reform coalition.

Criminal-justice reform is a hot topic in Washington, D.C. this Congress, driven by the prospect of bipartisan collaboration in an era of divided government. Leading lawmakers in both Republican and Democratic camps have proposed legislation that would address police militarization, civil asset forfeiture, and mandatory minimum sentences.

Groups such as the Brennan Center and the ACLU have also been working on reenfranchising felons in some way.

Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican, proposed a bill last year that would restore voting rights for nonviolent felons, joining the ranks of Democrats such as Sen. Ben Cardin who believe that at least some felons should have their voting rights restored.

However, advocates of criminal justice reform are nervous about Sen. Chuck Grassley, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has not been gung ho about some of these ideas. He’s skeptical about reforms to mandatory minimums, for example, viewing them as a source of “stability in the criminal justice system.”

The thinking goes that Grassley—a senator with an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association—might be brought to the negotiating table on voting rights if the right to bear firearms were in the mix (Grassley’s office did not comment for this article).

It’s a long-shot idea, and in its embryonic stage. But tough-on-crime conservatives aren’t likely to budge on the restoration of voting rights to felons—who, they suspect, will not vote for their candidates if re-enfranchised—if they don’t get something in return.

“It is the obvious compromise,” Norquist said. “Many conservatives willing to restore voting rights would not be willing to suggest Second Amendment rights are second-class rights… In talking to conservatives, some are more or less excited about speeding up voting rights restoration. But all, when asked, agree voting rights should not precede gun rights.”

Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik should know something about the way the criminal justice treats felons—he’s also an ex-convict.

“[Lawmakers] should give at least equal attention to voting rights, Second Amendment rights… that you are deprived of as a result of the conviction,” Kerik told The Daily Beast.

A former cop, Kerik was appointed by the Bush administration to be an interim Iraqi minister of interior following the U.S. invasion, and was also once nominated to be U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. He withdrew his nomination after he acknowledged failing to pay taxes for a nanny he hired. After pleading guilty to charges relating to this tax issue, he was sentenced to several years in federal prison.

The theft of oysters or harvesting too many fish commercially can make you a felon, Kerik said. And, as he too well knows, so can a federal tax charge.

“I possessed a firearm for this country for 35 years. I’ve used a firearm personally when my partner was shot in a gun battle… I was convicted of false statements on tax charges primarily relating to my children’s nanny, but I can never possess firearms again for the rest of my life. Is it fair? No.” Kerik told The Daily Beast.

Kerik is also planning to launch a nonprofit organization to press for criminal justice reform in the next several weeks.

Among libertarians working on the criminal justice issue, there is some initial support for the idea, even in its early stages.

“Obviously, we’d need to see details of any proposal, but we’d be very likely to support a bill that restored voting and Second Amendment rights to nonviolent offenders who made youthful mistakes,” said David Pasch, spokesman for Generation Opportunity, a Koch-backed youth advocacy group.

Clark Neily, a senior attorney at the libertarian Institute for Justice, said he has heard about the prospect of combining voting and Second Amendment in a broader effort to restore rights to some felons. He approves of rights restoration broadly, but disapproves of the idea of a political trade on the issues.

“If what is going on is trying to limit the extent to which people are dispossessed of political rights, great. But if it’s a political ploy, I find it distasteful,” he said. “If it is in fact a trade-off, I don’t like the idea of horse-trading when it comes to liberties, or constitutional rights.”

Much of the momentum for criminal justice reform on the right has been created due to renewed efforts by libertarians like the Koch brothers.  However, many of the major groups operating in this policy area—such as the Charles Koch Institute, the Institute for Justice nor the Right on Crime coalition—have yet to take a formal stance on the restoration of Second Amendment rights to nonviolent felons.

Under federal law, felons lose their right to bear firearms, unless their rights are individually restored by a federal agency or through litigation. Felons are subject to the laws of their state when it comes to their right to vote after their time is served. In 11 states, felons lose their right to vote forever, while in two states felons continue to have the right to vote even while in prison. The remainder of the states have some sort of limitation on voting rights for felons.

For now, as the idea is being mulled, the legislative prospects for the trade-off are not good. If any compromise is made on the issue, it will likely be first formed off of Capitol Hill by outside criminal justice reform groups, away from the political poison pill of restoring rights to felons, even nonviolent ones.

“Tons of momentum in the public for criminal justice reform, but not nearly as much in the Republican caucus,” said a top Senate aide who works on the issue. “Many of the Republican caucus were elected when tough-on-crime was a driving force.”

Prison reform, civil asset forfeiture reform, and a juvenile justice bill are far more likely to pass in the current political environment, the aide said.

But Norquist argued that if progressive lawmakers are serious about helping felons rejoin society, the restoration of firearms rights should be on the table.

“If someone thinks [ex-felons] should not be trusted with a gun, why would you trust him with voting for the government, which is the legal monopoly on force?” he said.

 

By: Tim Mak, The Daily Beast, February 8, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Felons, Gun Ownership, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Routine Partisan Lip Service”: Immigration, Impeachment, And Insanity On The Republican Right

Obstructing, denouncing, and demonizing Barack Obama are so central to the existence of the Republican Party today that its leaders simply ignore the real purposes of the president’s proposed immigration orders. So someone should point out that his imminent decision will advance priorities to which the Republican right offers routine lip service: promoting family values, assisting law enforcement, ensuring efficient government, and guarding national security.

Much of the argument for immigration reform, and in particular the president’s proposed executive orders, revolves around the imperative of compassion for immigrant families. That is a powerful claim — or should be, at least, for the self-styled Christians of the Republican right. If they aren’t moved by empathy for struggling, aspiring, hard-working people, however, then maybe they should just consider the practicalities.

America is not going to deport millions upon millions of Latino immigrants and their families to satisfy Tea Party prejudices, even if that were possible. Attempting to do so would be a gigantic waste of taxpayers’ money, an unwelcome burden on thousands of major employers, and an inhumane disgrace with international consequences, none of them good. It might or might not be “legal,” but it would surely be stupid.

Instead the Obama administration aims to relieve the terrible pressure on immigrant laborers and their children, and to direct resources where they will best accomplish national objectives, by deporting serious felons and other illegal entrants who may endanger security. By insisting on those broad yet clear distinctions, the president will protect the innocent and prosecute the not-so-innocent – exactly what he should be doing with the support of Congress.

Those wise objectives don’t interest the congressional majority, compared with the chance to rile their base by muttering threats against Obama. Just the other day, a tweet appeared under the name of Chuck Grassley, long among the dimmer members of the Senate, warning that the president is “flagrantly violating his oath” and “getting dangerously close to assuming a Nixonian posture.” For the Iowa Republican, that’s subtlety. In case you missed it, he was blustering about impeachment, and he isn’t alone.

Like so many of the familiar accusations against the president, complaints that his executive orders on immigration are “Nixonian” or “lawless” lack merit. Such orders are well within the recognized authority of his office, and considerably more conservative than the official conduct of some of his predecessors, such as George W. Bush – who issued about a hundred more executive orders than Obama has done so far.

With respect to constitutional principle, the camouflage favored by Obama’s antagonists, their flexibility is telling. The separation of powers only matters when they say so. They say nothing when the president uses executive orders to tighten immigration and deport more people than all his predecessors combined. Indeed, when the outcome pleases Republicans, then nobody needs to worry about executive overreach, let alone high crimes and misdemeanors.

Nor does a presidential executive order – even one granting “amnesty” to immigrant children – trouble the Republicans when a Republican president implements that kind of reform. When Presidents Ronald Reagan and then George H.W. Bush took action to keep immigrant families together during their respective administrations, refusing to wait for Congress to move, there was no barking from the likes of Grassley. (According to The Hill, the two GOP presidents made those adjustments following the passage of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which created a “path to citizenship” for about 3 million undocumented workers. It was signed by the sainted Reagan.)

Republicans in the Senate and House have rejected every legislative opportunity on immigration, including measures to strengthen border security. That’s because they prefer partisan confrontation – and that is what they will get. The consequences for their party promise to be politically devastating – and still worse if they are foolish enough to believe their own rhetoric about impeachment.

 

By; Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, November 14, 2014

November 17, 2014 Posted by | Immigration Reform, Impeachment, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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