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“Oil And Gas”: The Combustible Mix Of Ted Cruz And The House GOP

Congress will have to act fairly soon to approve a new stopgap spending measure, called a “continuing resolution,” to prevent a government shutdown at the end of the month. Leaders in both parties and both chambers seem fairly optimistic – especially now that President Obama has postponed an announcement on immigration executive actions – that an ugly fight can be avoided.

But as we learned during the Republican shutdown last fall, congressional leaders don’t always get what they want.

Sen. Ted Cruz again met with a small group of House Republicans late Tuesday night, this time to discuss over pizza a conservative strategy on the continuing resolution.

While many of the Cruz meetings have seemed to lack a specific agenda or resolution, members trickled out of Tuesday’s nearly two-hour meeting repeating a similar refrain: We want a new expiration date on the CR.

The House GOP leadership seems to have adopted a let’s-not-screw-this-up-again strategy. They’ll advance a “clean” spending measure that will keep the government open through mid-December, then act again during the lame-duck session that will follow the midterm elections. No muss, no fuss.

Cruz isn’t sure he likes that plan. The far-right Texan, for example, yesterday suggested members use “any and all means necessary” to prevent President Obama from using his executive powers to further address immigration policy. In the context of the continuing resolution, that presumably means Cruz would like to see measures added to the spending bill to tie the president’s hands – and if those measures aren’t there, then the spending bill should be blocked, regardless of the consequences.

The senator and his allies also have concerns about the length of the CR and a possible extension of the Export-Import Bank.

Whether their concerns have the traction necessary to shut down the government again is another matter entirely.

The fact remains that most House Republicans appear eager to spend as little time as possible on Capitol Hill before the elections. The goal, in general, is to keep the government’s lights on and get back to the campaign trail. Luckily for the GOP, most voters no longer seem to remember last year’s ridiculous shutdown, and so long as Republicans don’t do it again, they probably won’t face any real consequences for their actions at all.

And so when Cruz interjects to argue that he and his far-right cohorts should do it again, it’s a tough sell for the Texas Republican.

Still, strange things happen when Cruz and House Republicans huddle for private meetings.

As we discussed earlier in the summer, Cruz met privately with a group of House Republicans in late July to urge them to ignore their own leadership and oppose their party’s border bill. Less than a day later, House GOP leaders were forced to pull their preferred legislation – too many of House Speaker John Boehner’s members were listening to Cruz, not him.

It’s part of a growing pattern. Last September, for example, Boehner presented a plan to avoid a government shutdown. Cruz met directly with House Republicans, urged them to ignore their own leader’s plan, and GOP House members followed his advice. A month later, Cruz held another meeting with House Republicans, this time in a private room at a Capitol Hill restaurant.

This year, in April, the Texas senator again gathered House Republicans, this time for a private meeting in his office. In June, less than an hour after House Republicans elected a new leadership team, Cruz invited House Republicans to join him for “an evening of discussion and fellowship.”

In July, as Congress prepared for some 11th-hour legislating before their month-long break, Cruz and House Republicans met to plot strategy, and a week later, they huddled once more.

The Texas Republican doesn’t seem to get along with other senators, but he spends an inordinate amount of time huddling with House Republicans who actually seem to listen to his advice.

This time, though, the odds are against Cruz’s success. Will the House GOP majority really move towards a government shutdown – two months before Election Day – in the hopes of blocking executive actions on immigration that haven’t even been introduced? The fact that Cruz and his allies would consider such a tactic is itself remarkable, but he’s nevertheless likely to lose this round.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, September 10, 2014

September 11, 2014 Posted by | GOP, House Republicans, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Flying Under The Radar”: Senators Quietly Do The NRA’s Bidding In Spending Bill

Most lawmakers in both parties believe there will not be a government shutdown in two weeks, but to avoid one, Congress will need to pass something called a continuing resolution. It’s a temporary spending bill that will keep the government’s lights on through the end of the fiscal year. The House has already passed its version and the Senate is advancing its alternative.

Ordinarily, you might think the partisan disputes over the stopgap bill would be over spending levels and possible cuts, but as it turns out, the most contentious issue might be, of all things, gun policy. The New York Times reports that some unnamed lawmakers “quietly” added some “temporary gun-rights provisions largely favored by Republicans” to the CR.

The provisions, which have been renewed separately at various points, would prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from requiring gun dealers to conduct annual inventories to ensure that they have not lost guns or had them stolen, and would retain a broad definition of “antique” guns that can be imported into the United States outside of normal regulations.

Another amendment would prevent the A.T.F. from refusing to renew a dealer’s license for lack of business; many licensed dealers who are not actively engaged in selling firearms can now obtain a license to sell guns and often fly under the radar of the agency and other law enforcement officials, which gun control advocates argue leads to a freer flow of illegal guns.

A final measure would require the bureau to attach a disclaimer to data about guns to indicate that it “cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crimes.”

Keep in mind, it’s pretty tough to defend the provisions in question. What’s wrong, for example, with having gun dealers conduct inventories to make sure firearms haven’t been lost or stolen? I don’t know, but under a Republican measure in the temporary spending bill, the ATF would be prohibited from enforcing this basic regulation.

Also note, some of these ideas aren’t new — they’ve been temporary policies included in previous spending bills — but the new GOP-backed proposals make the policies permanent.

What’s worse, these provisions appear likely to pass because Senate Democrats see related measures in the House bill as even worse.

[A Democratic Senate] aide characterized the permanent provisions as a trade-off in negotiations that occurred late last year with House appropriators, who had sought to make additional gun-related riders permanent in the continuing resolution. Other riders — such as one banning the activities of the ATF from being transferred to another government entity, such as the more powerful FBI — are included in the Senate bill but not on a permanent basis.

According to the Senate aide, House appropriators also sought to include another provision that Democrats and the White House viewed as far more objectionable. […]

Although the Senate’s gun language was agreed to late last year — before the fatal shooting of 20 first-graders at a Connecticut elementary school — gun-control advocates and some Democratic members of Congress said the deal now looks like poor timing. They said it undermines a concurrent effort in both chambers to crack down on gun violence.

Third Way’s Jim Kessler, a former aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), told Roll Call, “It shows that the NRA is always on offense and rarely on defense. Even in a very adverse situation for them, in which many in Congress and the White House are trying to do something constructive to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and crazy people, the NRA continues to advance its agenda.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 15, 2013

March 16, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Senate | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Crisis To Crisis Management”: Congress’s Continual Game of Political Chicken

The proposal from the House of Representatives to push off the debt ceiling crisis for three months came with an ironic rhetorical frame: If the Senate will, in that time frame, pass a budget, we can start facing our long-term fiscal challenges instead of managing crisis to crisis. Oh, and if they don’t pass a budget all lawmakers will stop drawing salaries.

The basic idea that crisis to crisis management is the worst form of governance for our country is right on the money: Short-term continuing resolutions and other stop-gap measures ensure inefficiency because government agencies are hamstrung by their inability to plan beyond a few months. And absolutely the Senate should present a budget that lays out a vision for how to put our country on a path towards a healthy fiscal future. But, the politics over the debt ceiling in the last three years have been a leading contributor to the culture of avoiding hard decisions in favor of incendiary rhetoric we see in Congress today.

The debt ceiling debate in the summer of 2011 spawned the so-called “super committee” and so-called “fiscal cliff.” So, in the past two years we’ve seen the creation and failure of the super committee, an underwhelming fiscal cliff deal that paired special interest tax breaks with an increase to the rates for higher income individuals, and a short delay of the looming threat of sequestration, the across the board spending cuts that were supposed to motivate the super committee—and Congress—to come together to act. In the next two months we have another opportunity to avoid the sequester and the expiration of the current continuing resolution, the bill that funded government for six months at fiscal year 2012 levels in lieu of passing actual appropriations bills. And of course a debt ceiling vote is on the horizon.

All of these crises are manufactured. Those willing to put off raising the debt ceiling to make a political point are willing to hurt our economy and our standing in the world to make that same point.

At the root of these manufactured crises are a winner-take-all approach to the disagreements between and even within the political parties. At each crisis, Democrats and Republicans demand a total victory and a grand bargain only to end up placating one another with crumbs of a bad deal and promise to revisit the issues at the next manufactured crisis. Our nation cannot afford this continual game of political chicken. We cannot afford the impact of defaulting on our debts. Policymakers need to work together and come up with reforms to spending, taxes, and entitlements. No more political theater, no more back room discussions on grand bargains. It’s time for the hard work of legislating solutions to the nation’s fiscal challenges.

January 25, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

With Truants And Teabaggers In Congress, How Do We Stop The Next Shutdown Threat?

I began work as chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore on Nov. 13, 1995, one day before the first of two government shutdowns that year. I arrived to find a stack of furlough forms on my desk; I spent the day introducing myself to new colleagues . . . and laying them off. Throughout the building unease was palpable: People had bills to pay, and junior White House staffers had little cushion in their bank accounts.

Too many in government faced, and narrowly escaped, that same fate last week. The prospect of future shutdowns still looms, and the pain from a shutdown of any duration would be widespread. Effects of the 1995 shutdown included a halt in toxic cleanups at more than 600 sites; delays in deploying hundreds of new border agents and processing more than 200,000 passports; and closure of more than 300 parks, with losses to the tourism economy.

How did we get to the brink? And what lessons can we apply from the past to ensure this scenario doesn’t arise again?

There would be no political winners in a shutdown. Many Democrats recall the 1995 shutdown as a pivotal point in the Clinton presidency — the moment when his political comeback was cinched and the GOP began its slide to defeat in 1996. But the truth is more complicated. President Bill Clinton’s approval ratings fell during the shutdown and rose again only after the government reopened. The GOP’s political debacle stemmed in large part from Newt Gingrich’s comment that the shutdown was “payback” for a bad seat on Air Force One — a remark that former representative Tom DeLay later described as causing “the whole moral tone of the shutdown [to be] lost.” While Democrats emerged from this confrontation with a strong hand, there is no guarantee that a future crisis will end well. Undisciplined mistakes could foil their party as easily as the GOP.

Republicans would approach the next juncture in an even weaker position. Recent events showed that some learned from the severe political fallout from the 1995 shutdown, but others still believe the real mistake was compromising with Clinton to end the standoff. House Speaker John Boehner said last week that “there’s no daylight between the Tea Party and me,” just a day after Tea Party protesters chanted “shut it down, shut it down” near his office. And this deal didn’t make it less likely the speaker will reach one next time.

President Obama won this round, navigating difficult currents to take command of the situation and protecting nascent economic growth.

But this economy will continue to be far more fragile than the one Clinton managed during the confrontation in 1995, so simply putting this crisis behind us isn’t enough.

To lessen the odds of a repeat when the current year’s appropriations inevitably remain unfinished this fall, the president should do four things.

First, he has to continue to drive home — as he has in recent days — what the American people have at stake in a government shutdown. Obama must seize the moment, as Clinton did in 1996, to prepare for future confrontations; highlighting the Tea Party’s lusty cheering for a shutdown underscores both an ideological zeal that is indifferent to a shutdown’s real-world effects, and a contrast that can shape the governing and political dynamic for the final two years of his term.

Second, he should use this reprieve to direct his advisers to reexamine the basic legal framework for any future government shutdown: a January 1981 memo from outgoing Attorney General Ben Civiletti, and a subsequent directive from the Office of Management and Budget, that created the dichotomy that sends most federal workers home in a shutdown, except those whose activities are deemed “essential.” The attorney general could preemptively broaden the list of activities considered essential, substantially lessening the stakes in future standoffs. A 1990 amendment to the relevant federal statute narrowed room for creative interpretation of the law, but in the 1995 shutdown Clinton authorized 50,000 workers to return to their jobs, saying that their processing of Social Security and veterans benefit applications was “essential” to avoid a soaring backlog. A similar expansion of the definition of “essential activities” would minimize the portion of the government that could be held hostage in a future stalemate.

Third, he can explore the path employed to end the U.S. government shutdown in January 1996 — which ended not with a year-long agreement to fund the government (that didn’t come until April) but with a continuing resolution that included language categorizing all activities by federal workers as essential, allowing them to return to work even when funding expired. Putting such a measure in place now, in advance of the next crisis period, would ensure that workers remain on the job even when future battles over policy riders and spending levels rage.

Finally, the president should use the momentum gained in this confrontation to press for enactment of an automatic continuing resolution that would keep the entire federal government functioning at the prior year’s spending level when no other funding plan is in place. Congress has passed the regular appropriations bills on time in fewer than 10 of the past 60 years; the odds of success this year are remote. Tolerating unmanaged uncertainty about government funding is like walking around Washington in April without an umbrella: You will get wet; the only question is when.

President Obama averted disaster this time. But steps must be explored to prevent such near misses in the future.

By: Ron Klain, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 8, 2011

April 9, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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