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“Lacking The Will, Not The Votes”: Yet Another Year Of A Do-Nothing Republican Congress

Election Day 2014 is 258 days away, which in political terms, is an extraordinarily long time. In theory, in 258 days, policymakers in Washington could identify several national priorities, consider worthwhile legislation, and pass meaningful bills into law.

But Robert Costa makes clear in a new report that for House Republicans, the year that is just now getting underway is already effectively over. Three weeks after President Obama presented a fairly ambitious agenda to Congress in a State of the Union address, the GOP House majority fully expects to get nothing done between now and November.

After a tumultuous week of party infighting and leadership stumbles, congressional Republicans are focused on calming their divided ranks in the months ahead, mostly by touting proposals that have wide backing within the GOP and shelving any big-ticket legislation for the rest of the year.

Comprehensive immigration reform, tax reform, tweaks to the federal health-care law – bipartisan deals on each are probably dead in the water for the rest of this Congress.

“We don’t have 218 votes in the House for the big issues, so what else are we going to do?” said Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), an ally of House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio).

I feel like this assumption – legislating simply isn’t feasible because major bills can’t get 218 votes in the lower chamber – comes up quite a bit. Note that Boehner recently told Jay Leno, “I like to describe my job as trying to get 218 frogs in a wheelbarrow long enough to pass a bill. It’s hard to do.”

Except, it’s not that hard to do.

What we’re hearing isn’t an explanation for inaction and passive indifference towards governing, but rather, an excuse. GOP leaders look at their to-do list and wistfully imagine how nice it would be to tackle priorities like immigration and tax reform, but they quickly do imaginary head-counts and throw up their arms in disgust. As Nunes put it, “We don’t have 218 votes in the House for the big issues, so what else are we going to do?”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If House Republican leaders brought the popular, bipartisan immigration reform bill to the floor, it’d likely get 218 votes. If they brought the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to the floor, it’d have a decent shot at 218, too. The same goes for a minimum-wage increase and a variety of other measures that the public would be glad to see.

The missing ingredient isn’t votes. It’s political will.

It’s precisely why House Democrats are increasingly invested in discharge petitions – if only a sliver of House Republicans agreed to help bring popular bills to the floor for an up-or-down vote, Dems believe Congress can do more than spin its wheels for the next 258 days.

It is, to be sure, a longshot, and discharge petitions very rarely work. But the alternative is yet another year of a do-nothing Congress.

Postscript: Costa’s piece also quoted former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), who said, “If you’re a Republican in Congress, you’ve learned that when we shut down the government, we lose. Now that we’ve had some success in avoiding another shutdown, our fortunes seem to be rising, so maybe we don’t want big things to happen.”

That’s quite an inspiring message: “Vote GOP 2014: We only shut down the government once, not twice.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, February 18, 2014

February 20, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Election 2014 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What We Left Behind In 2013”: Americans Shouldn’t Accept The Low Standards Of Congress’s New Normal

I think we all breathed a sigh of relief this week when Congress finally did what it was supposed to do and passed a basic budget. Although the budget left many behind, this time there were no shutdowns, no debt ceiling scares, no fears of economic catastrophe. They just got down to work and passed a budget that allows our government to run.

I felt similarly relieved when the Senate changed its rules to put an end to the GOP obstruction that had kept seats on our courts across the country vacant out of misplaced political spite and pure obstructionism. Although Republicans are still doing everything they can to hold up the process, some long-blocked nominees are finally getting confirmed.

Yes, things are getting better. But that’s not saying much. Republicans have lowered the standards of Congress so much that the completion of a basic task like passing a budget or confirming a non-controversial judge is now cause for celebration. Americans shouldn’t accept the low standards of this new normal.

It’s like the relief of having a tooth pulled. The ache that’s been with you for so long is gone, the sharp pain of having it pulled is over. But there’s something missing.

As we look forward to the year ahead, let’s remember the tasks we left behind in the rancorous, bitter 2013. Relief is not enough. Progressives must redouble our efforts not only to make up lost ground but to make positive progress in the coming year.

Relief For Low-Income Americans. It was good news that Congress passed a budget. But that budget left some important programs behind. Last month, 47 million low-income Americans saw their SNAP (food stamp) benefits cut, leaving them with even less money to buy food for their families. Three days after Christmas, 1.3 million Americans will see their emergency unemployment insurance dry up, leaving many of the long-term unemployed with little to keep themselves afloat, and hurting the economy as a whole. Next year, Congress must work to boost our economy in a way that doesn’t leave behind those who are out of work or underemployed.

Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Gay-rights supporters rejoiced last month when the Senate passed a bill banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, a measure that garnered unexpected support from a number of Republicans. But Speaker Boehner shows no desire to bring the bill to the House floor. Progressives need to make sure House Republicans pay a political price if they kill a nondiscrimination bill supported by 70 percent of Americans.

Ending the Judicial Vacancy Crisis. A minority of Senate Republicans can no longer block all of the president’s judicial nominees from getting confirmation votes, but there’s plenty of lost ground to make up. One in ten seats on the federal courts is now or will soon be vacant, and there’s a growing number of urgent “judicial emergencies.” And now Republicans are stepping up their obstruction in other ways, even indicating that they will send 55 nominees back to the president at the end of the year, forcing the White House and the Senate to start the nominations process all over again. The 41-vote filibuster may be dead, but the fight to put good judges on the courts is just as important.

Updating our Immigration Laws. There was a rare bit of bipartisan hope this year when the Senate’s bipartisan “Gang of 8” hammered out an agreement for a much-needed update to our immigration laws, including a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The bill provoked a Tea Party uproar and got stuck in the House, but with enough pressure from the public, next year presents an opportunity to create a chance for thousands of immigrant families.

Protecting Voting Rights. As soon as the Supreme Court struck down the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, states across the South started instituting restrictive new voting laws designed to keep people of color, low-income people, and the young from voting. This was an undeniable setback, but we now have an opportunity to update VRA’s protections…if reasonable members of Congress will work together to get it done.

Defending Choice in the States. Congress may have been at a standstill last year, but many state legislatures weren’t. On top of a barrage of voting restrictions, Republican state legislatures continued the recent flood of anti-choice laws making it harder for women to access birth control and abortions. In just the first half of the year, states adopted 43 restrictions on abortion. But there were also positive trends as state legislators across the country worked toward positive, pro-woman policies. The War on Women is far from over, but we have the chance to achieve positive women’s rights victories in the states.

Fighting the Influx of Big Money in Politics. The 2010 Citizens United decision was bad enough, opening the door to unlimited corporate spending in elections. But this year saw the Supreme Court considering another major campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, that could allow the wealthiest donors to flood our political system with even more money. Luckily, 2013 also made clear that “We the People” have had enough. The movement to reclaim our democracy from special interests has never been stronger. To date, 16 states and more than 500 cities and towns have passed resolutions or ballot initiatives calling on Congress to pass an amendment overturning Citizens United and putting the power of our democracy back in the hands of everyday Americans. And 145 members of the House and Senate are now on record as co-sponsors of an amendment.

Barely functioning is not enough. We have a lot of work to do. Here’s to higher standards in 2014!

 

By: Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way, The Huffington Post Blog, December 20, 2013

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boehner Might Be A Pragmatist, But He’s No Moderate”: The Budget Deal Has Passed, But Don’t Hold Your Breath For Bipartisanship

For the first time in months, Washington seems…optimistic. Not only did House Republicans pass the budget deal brokered by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and his counterpart in the Senate, Senator Patty Murray, but Speaker John Boehner made news with a small Howard Beale moment:

“Frankly I think they’re misleading their followers. I think they’re pushing our members in places where they want to be. And frankly I just think they’ve lost all credibility,” he told reporters at his weekly press conference Thursday. “There comes a point when people step over the line. When you criticize something and you have no idea what you’re criticizing, it undermines your credibility.” […]

“You know, they pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly the strategy I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government re-opened, one of the people at one of these groups stood up and said, ‘well we never really thought it would work.’ Are you kidding me?”

Asked if he thinks the groups should “stand down,” Boehner said, “I don’t care what they do.”

This looks like the establishment backlash we expected during the shutdown fight, or—as Molly Ball put it for The Atlantic—“House leaders stopped trying to get along with the enforcers of an impossible conservative standard and started fighting back.”

Now, the speculation is that, perhaps, Boehner is prepared to buck Tea Party Republicans on other issues. Immigration activists, for example, are hopeful that this development could change the calculus for reform, and give Boehner the room he needs to pass a bill with votes from pragmatic Republicans—who have an agenda they want to accomplish—and Democrats. Indeed, there’s the potential for a whole rush of activity around issues where Democrats and Republicans can come to narrow agreement, from an extension of unemployment insurance to the Employee Non-Discrimination Act.

The problem is that, aside from this budget deal, it doesn’t look like Boehner has broken from conservatives on much at all. In that same press conference, for instance, he repeated conservative boilerplate on repealing the Affordable Care Act. And afterwards he went to the House floor and blocked a vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits. Likewise, there’s no real indication that he’s changed his mind on the EDNA or unemployment insurance. The House Speaker might be a pragmatist, but he isn’t a moderate.

Earlier this year, Boehner bucked conservatives by violating the “Hastert rule”—the faux requirement that all legislation passed by the House have support by a majority of the majority—to pass a deal on the fiscal cliff, authorize aid for Hurricane Sandy, and renew the Violence Against Women Act. The prediction was that this could be the new normal, and that Boehner could restore a modicum of sanity to the House by refusing to rely on Republican votes for legislation.

What followed, instead, was a year of inaction, culminating in a government shutdown and a stand-off over the fiscal cliff.

All of this is to say that we shouldn’t hold our breath about Boehner and his “new” approach. The Ryan-Murray deal was a necessity: Not only does it preclude Tea Party conservatives from forcing another shutdown, but it preserves most of the sequester and hands Republicans a solid victory.

As for the other agenda items? Most Republicans don’t want them and there’s no reason for Boehner to go against the tide.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, December 13, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Budget, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Giving Republicans A Pass”: Media Mantra, It’s Congress That’s Historically Unproductive, Not The GOP

As the calendar races towards 2014, and Congressional members log their final few days in session while facing daunting deadlines for a long list of pressing and unfinished initiatives, the press has been busy chronicling the futility, assigning collective blame, and giving the president permanent failing marks.

According to historians, 2013 is on track to become the least productive single legislative year in modern American history. And it’s not even close. In 1995, 88 laws were passed, setting the previous low-water mark. This year, it’s doubtful 70 will make it to the president’s desk. (And lots of the bills that have passed are ceremonial or rather trivial in nature.) The press is not happy about the trend.

“The paltry number of bills Congress has passed into law this year paints a vivid picture of just how bad the gridlock has been for lawmakers,” announced NBC. The Wall Street Journal noted this year’s session has been “long on partisanship, indecision and brinkmanship.” USA Today bemoaned the inability “to find common ground.” And the Los Angeles Times pointed to “partisan dysfunction” as the main Congressional culprit.

See? “Congress” remains in the grips of “gridlock” and “brinkmanship.” Congress just can’t find “common ground” and suffers from serious “dysfunction.”

So that’s why immigration reform, the farm bill, a budget deal, unemployment benefit extensions, workplace discrimination legislation, and the defense spending bill haven’t been passed or dealt with yet? And that’s why the government was shutdown for 16 days in October?

Bipartisan gridlock!

Wrong. The current Congress obliterated all previous records for diminished output because the Republican Party, and especially those in the Republican-run House, purposefully bottled up as many initiatives as possible and unleashed “procedural sabotage.” (They even obstructed disaster relief aid for victim of Hurricane Sandy.)

Yet eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are equally responsible for so little getting accomplished, the press gives Republicans a pass for their purposeful dysfunction.

By the way, are you also experiencing media flashbacks to the government shutdown, which the Republican Party proudly engineered by reneging on a budget deal they had agreed to with the last-minute demand that Obama essentially repeal his signature legislative accomplishment of his first term, the Affordable Care Act? Back then, the one-sided shutdown maneuver was nearly universally portrayed as bipartisan “Washington dysfunction at its absolute worst” (ABC News), a “partisan logjam” (Wall Street Journal), and a “fiscal stalemate” (The Hill).

Yet today, even as some Republican members brag about how little they’ve allowed Congress to accomplish, even as a plurality of voters says the GOP’s top priority is to cause trouble for the president, while a majority blame Republicans for the lack of productivity in Washington, the press still prefers to portray the Capitol Hill standstill as bipartisan “gridlock.”

Because, of course, both sides are always to blame.

But they’re not. Look at the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In a rare example of fleeting bipartisanship, the bill to prohibit most employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation was approved by the Senate 64-32 last month. In the House, there are more than enough votes from both parties to pass ENDA into law, but Speaker of the House John Boehner will not allow a vote.

The same goes for immigration reform. It passed by an even larger margin in the Senate (68-32), and likely enjoys even more bipartisan support in the House. But again, Boehner won’t allow members to vote on the bill. He won’t even allow the House to enter into negotiations with the Senate to try to hammer out a final bill.

So how is it “gridlock” when a bipartisan, filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a clear bipartisan majority in the House support a bill but aren’t allowed to vote on its final passage?

Politically, the sabotage strategy works for Republicans. At least in the short term. Note that Obama’s standing among Hispanic voters has dropped precipitously this year. Analysts assume that’s because Obama hasn’t delivered on his promise to pass immigration reform. That may also be because so little of the news coverage stresses the poignant fact that the bipartisan votes are there to pass immigration reform, it’s just that Republican leaders in the House won’t allow the “yes” vote to take place. They won’t allow Obama to take credit for passing a popular law.

And yes, it really did become a scorched-earth situation this year; a nearly across-the-board effort to sabotage Obama’s every move. Republicans aren’t just denying the president the ability to sign meaningful bills into law. The unprecedented minority strategy includes hardcore attempts to block his cabinet picks, executive branch appointments, and judicial nominees. And specifically, blocking judicial nominees who Republicans agree are completely qualified to sit on the federal bench.

But still unsure what to call the Republican brand of anarchy, the press continues to play dumb about the magnitude of the planned interference. For instance, amidst the sabotage, the New York Times reported that while judicial nominations remain an issue of deep contention, “Among senators of both parties, there is agreement that a president should be granted deference in picking members of his cabinet and top executive branch positions.”

False.

Last November, Republicans launched an unprecedented, preemptive campaign to make sure Susan Rice was not picked as Obama’s next Secretary of State. Then they engineered an unprecedented campaign to try to stop Republican Chuck Hagel from becoming Secretary of Defense. And as late as July, two of Obama’s nominated cabinet picks still hadn’t received votes in the Senate, thanks to determined obstruction.

So no, contrary to the Times reporting there is no widespread agreement that presidents should be able to pick their cabinet members and top executive branch positions. There used to be. Then Republicans ripped up that pact. The Times and others just won’t say so as they blame both sides for a do-nothing Congress.

By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, December 9, 2013

December 10, 2013 Posted by | Congress, Media, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP Anti-Life Syndrome”: Are Politicians Who Cut Food Stamps And Deny Health Access Truly “Pro-Life”?

When Wendy Davis proclaimed that she is “pro-life” – a description long since appropriated by conservatives opposed to abortion rights – the right-wing media practically exploded with indignation. How could she dare to say that? But having won national fame when she filibustered nearly 12 hours against a law designed to shutter Lone Star State abortion clinics, the Texas state senator with the pink shoes doesn’t hesitate to provoke outrage among the righteous.

Speaking to a crowd at the University of Texas in Brownsville last Tuesday, Davis, now running for governor as a Democrat, made a deceptively simple but profound declaration: “I am pro-life. I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry their children’s future and their ability to provide for that.”

Her argument directly pierced to the contradiction within the right’s “pro-life” sloganeering. So far the feeble answer from the right is that Davis must be “lying” because nobody who supports a woman’s right to choose is pro-life.

But that response is merely a repetition that seeks to evade her deeper philosophical thrust. Whatever anyone may think about abortion, the persistent question for self-styled pro-lifers is why they tend to insist on making life so much more difficult for so many children who have entered the world. The same Republicans – and they are nearly all Republicans – most vocally opposed to reproductive rights are also most likely to cut assistance to poor families, infants and children at every opportunity, from the moment of birth long into adolescence and beyond.

The imperiled Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is only the latest instance of this drearily familiar anti-life syndrome. This week, more than 48 million Americans, including 22 million children, saw their food stamp benefits cut as a temporary enhancement of the program expired. That was worse than bad enough. But next year if the Republicans have their way, the government would cut $40 billion from the program over the next 10 years – immediately depriving four million people of food assistance and then another three million every year.

Supposedly the excuse for this cruel scheme is to encourage able-bodied adults to work, even though jobs continue to be scarce. But what about the children who will go hungry, thanks to the budget advanced by the “pro-life” House leadership?

Incidentally, these are the same “pro-lifers” who will do almost anything to frustrate the long-sought national objective of universal health insurance. On that issue, one of their favorite complaints is that expanding health care to all will increase the availability of family planning, including abortion. But what of the tens of thousands of Americans who die every year because they lack insurance? Saving their lives is evidently not a “pro-life” priority.

Wendy Davis is right, but perhaps she didn’t go far enough. You see, the other self-serving sobriquet appropriated by the right is “pro-family,” a code term for opponents of reproductive rights, marriage equality, and other progressive policies that actually empower families of all kinds. Again, these same politicians tend to disparage not only Obamacare, but extended unemployment insurance, Social Security’s old age and disability assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, student loans, tuition assistance, family leave, the earned income tax credit, and the entire panoply of successful government programs that help to keep real working families from disintegrating under economic, social, and medical stress.

In fact, Davis might reasonably question whether the minions of the religious right and the Tea Party are even truly “anti-abortion,” although they have long since tried to escape that category.  It is true that right-wingers have tried incessantly (and unsuccessfully) to outlaw abortion. But today they often seek to restrict contraception and effective sex education as well, even though preventing unwanted pregnancies is the most obvious way to reduce the number of abortions.

How would conservatives behave if they honestly wanted to save the family – as House Republicans will now claim when they kill the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, banning workplace bias against lesbians and gays? They might begin by reconsidering their ideological project of dismantling federal programs, long supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, that help families maintain stability, care for each other, maintain healthy children, and advance in each generation.

The real enemies of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for American families are those who seek to polarize incomes, destroy the social safety net, and impose misery on women and children in the name of religious morality.

 

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, November 7, 2013

November 9, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Pro-Choice | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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