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“Another Train Wreck For McConnell”: Wow, Republicans Revolting Against The Elimination Of Medicaid Expansion. Imagine That!

You might remember that back in early 2010 Senate Democrats used a rule called budget reconciliation to by-pass a Republican filibuster and tweak their version of the Affordable Care Act to make it consistent with the one in the House. As a result, Republicans had a bit of a hissy fit, making the dubious claim that a simple majority vote in the Senate signaled the end of democracy as we know it.

In a move that should break all of our irony meters, Senate Republicans will soon attempt to use that same budget reconciliation rule in an attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act with a vote on a bill that has already passed the House. And we wonder why the practice of politics gets a bad name.

But hold onto your hats. This one is running into some trouble because, even with 54 Republicans in the Senate, McConnell is going to have trouble rounding up the 51 votes he needs.

The first problem comes from the Senate’s version of insurgents – Cruz, Rubio and Lee – who say that simply throwing a monkey wrench into Obamacare is not enough.

“On Friday the House of Representatives is set to vote on a reconciliation bill that repeals only parts of ObamaCare. This simply isn’t good enough. Each of us campaigned on a promise to fully repeal ObamaCare and a reconciliation bill is the best way to send such legislation to President Obama’s desk,” the three senators said.

The House version of the bill also contains provisions that defund Planned Parenthood – which is a problem for some Republican Senators representing more moderate states.

But if the Planned Parenthood provision is in the final bill — Senate Republican aides say no final decisions have been made — a handful of votes from the moderate wing could also break away. They include Murkowski, and Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine.

And now a third front of opposition has opened up.

“I am very concerned about the 160,000 people who had Medicaid expansion in my state. I have difficulty with that being included,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia…

Sen. John Hoeven (R), who represents North Dakota, where an estimated 19,000 people gained access to Medicaid after Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple decided to broaden the program, said he was unsure about repealing the expansion.

“I respect the decision of our legislator and our governor on Medicaid expansion,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R) of Montana, which has a Democratic governor. “I’m one who respects their rights and voices.”

Wow, Republicans revolting against the elimination of the Medicaid expansion. Imagine that!

When you risk losing Republicans from red states like West Virginia, North Dakota and Montana, just imagine what that means to incumbents running for re-election in places like Illinois, Ohio, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Mitch McConnell proved himself to be a master at corralling Republicans into line to obstruct everything the Democratic majority tried to do for six years. But the job of getting them together to actually pass legislation has proven to be a much more difficult task. The fact that this particular effort will simply result in a presidential veto – even if successful – shouldn’t be lost on anyone. It is increasingly looking like another train wreck for McConnell.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, November 12, 2015

November 14, 2015 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Mitch Mc Connell, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Deluded And Dysfunctional, The Republicans Have Lost The Plot”: They’ve Run Out Of People To Blame For Not Compromising

Recently, in an effort to embarrass Republicans pandering to their scientifically challenged base, Senate Democrats proposed a series of votes on climate change. While most Americans and the overwhelming majority of scientists believe climate change is real and people are the primary cause of it, Republican voters are evenly divided on whether it exists at all, and reject the idea that we are responsible.

One amendment, by the Democratic senator Brian Schatz, stated simply that climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to it. Republican senator John Hoeven offered a compromise: take the word “significantly” out. When asked why, he said: “It was about finding that balance that would bring bipartisan support to the bill.”

Reaching across the aisle in search of compromise and consensus is the professed goal of almost every candidate for public office in the US, particularly in recent times, when presidents have come to personify not unity but division. Over the past six decades, the 10 most polarising years in terms of presidential approval have been under either George W Bush or Barack Obama.

As a means, bipartisanship is, of course, an admirable goal: the more politicians are able to work together, put the interests of their constituents first and get things done, the better. The grandstanding, bickering and procedural one-upmanship that characterises so much of what passes for politics is one of the things that makes electorates cynical and drives down voter turnout.

But as an end in itself, bipartisanship is at best shallow and at worst corrosive. For it entirely depends what parties are joining together to do. This is particularly true in America, where constituencies are openly gerrymandered, both parties are funded by big money, and legislation is often written by corporate lobbyists.

Bipartisan efforts over the past couple of decades have produced the Iraq war, the deregulation of the financial industry, the bank bailout made necessary by that deregulation, the slashing of welfare to the poor, and an exponential increase in incarceration. As the hapless Steve Martin says to his hopeless travel companion, John Candy, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles: “You know, I was thinking, when we put our heads together … we’ve really gotten nowhere.”

Comity in the polity is overrated and should certainly not be mistaken for what is right or even popular. And even if it wasn’t overrated, bipartisanship is not always possible. Half of Republicans still believe the US did find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, over half believe climate change is a hoax, and almost half do not believe in evolution. There is a limit to how much agreement you can reach with people with whom you disagree on fundamental matters of fact, let alone principle.

But if the parties cannot work together, they are at least supposed to work separately. What has become evident since Republican victories in November’s midterm elections, which delivered them both houses of Congress, is that they don’t just have a problem compromising with Democrats – they cannot even compromise with each other. For the past four years they have revelled in their dysfunctionality, using Obama as a foil. Apparently unaware that brinkmanship is supposed to take you to the edge, not over it, they have shut down the government and almost forced the nation to default on its debts through a series a spectacular temper tantrums.

As the Republican congressman Marlin Stutzman pointed out in a particularly candid moment 18 months ago, when Republican obduracy caused a government shutdown, “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

These hissy fits have invariably been aimed at forcing Obama to undo the very things he pledged to do if elected, and to which Republicans have no plausible, coherent response: during his first term that was Obamacare; now it is immigration reform. Opposition, in short, had become not a temporary electoral state but a permanent ideological mindset in which their role was not to produce workable ideas but to resist them.

When they won the Senate as well as the House, they were supposed to work together to produce Republican legislation that Obama would be forced to veto, definitively exposing the real source of the gridlock. In fact, they are simply imploding under the weight of their own obstinacy. They’ve run out of people to blame for not compromising with them. So now they’re blaming each other.

“The Republicans are like Fido when he finally catches the car,” the Democratic senator Charles Schumer told the New York Times. “Now they don’t have any clue about what to do. They are realising that being in the majority is both less fun and more difficult than they thought.”

Their current internal feud was prompted by Obama’s executive order for modest immigration reform, which was enacted last November. It aims to prevent the deportation of up to 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the US, provide many with work permits, and shift the focus of immigration control to deportations of convicted criminals and recent arrivals.

The Republican-controlled House, where funding bills must originate and legislation can be passed by a simple majority, has voted for a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) bill that would eviscerate Obama’s reforms. But to get the bill through the 100-seat Senate they need 60 votes. Senate Republicans have only 54 seats and Democrats, who are unanimously opposed to the bill, keep filibustering it.

In a functional party the Republican Speaker, John Boehner, would work out what changes he could make to the bill to give the Republican Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a fighting chance of getting the requisite majority to pass legislation they could both take credit for. Instead, Boehner has offered McConnell not compromise but commiserations. “He’s got a tough job over there; I’ve got a tough job over here. God bless him, and good luck.”

The House has sent the same bill to the Senate twice. The Senate has failed to pass it several times. In effect, they’ve treated the Republican-controlled Senate no differently to how they treated its Democratic predecessor, with similar results. Reflexively, House Republicans have their bottom lip extended and at the ready. “We sent them a bill,” representative Michael Burgess told Politico, “and they need to pass it. They need to pass our bill.” A tantrum is not far off. “Politically, [McConnell] needs to make a lot of noise,” says representative John Carter.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, roll their eyes, count to 10 and wait patiently for the noise to give way to reason. “We can go through the motions, sure, but I don’t think we’re fooling anybody,” said Republican senator Jeff Flake about the prospect of another doomed vote. “Because we need [Democratic] support to get on the bill.”

If they don’t find a solution by 27 February, then the DHS will be shut down and Obama won’t have had a thing to do with it. The true source of the gridlock over the past six years will be clearer than ever. The emperor will be out there, twerking, in the buff.

“It’s not an issue of commitment, it’s a matter of math,” said the Republican senator John McCain – perhaps failing to realise that math, like science, is no competition for blind faith and bad politics.

 

By: Gary Younge, The Guardian, February 9, 2015

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Congress, House Republicans, Senate | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Pipeline To Nowhere”: A Monument To Wasting Colossal Sums Of Money On Dirty-Energy Infrastructure

When Maria van der Hoeven summed up the 20-year outlook for global energy investment in London last year, she identified a couple of daunting challenges.

The amount of money required by 2035 is a staggering $48 trillion, the International Energy Agency chief and former Dutch economy minister said. And it’s not clear how many of those trillions of dollars will power climate-friendly options.

“Will policymakers succeed in steering investment towards a cleaner, more secure energy system — or are we locking in technologies and patterns of consumption that store up trouble for the future?” she asked.

There’s no better example of what van der Hoeven meant by “storing up trouble for the future” than the Keystone XL pipeline.

After years of being flustered by President Barack Obama’s procrastination, the pipeline’s conservative backers in Congress are trying to force him to green-light this conduit for some of the world’s dirtiest, most expensive, and most dangerous oil.

The House recently voted in favor of building the 1,200-mile pipeline for the 10th time. The Senate is poised to approve it too. Although dozens of Democrats are siding with Republicans in favor of this boondoggle, those lawmakers lack the votes, so far, to override the veto Obama has threatened.

Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and a leading Keystone XL proponent, has turned into a broken record touting what he calls “vital energy infrastructure legislation.”

Despite their similar names and obsession with all things energy, Hoeven and van der Hoeven are polar opposites. She’s a leading player in the effort to wean the world off its dependence on oil, gas, and coal. He’s a “drill, baby, drill” type.

There are many good arguments against the $8 billion pipeline on environmental and labor grounds. People like 350.org founder Bill McKibben and groups like Media Matters need no help explaining them.

Here’s another reason why the pipeline shouldn’t be built: It’s a waste of money.

First, plunging oil prices matter. A lot. They’ve sunk below $47 a barrel, losing more than half their value since last June. Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi declared a few weeks ago that he doesn’t care whether oil goes as low as $20 a barrel, a 16-year low. It just might.

By some estimates, a barrel of oil must fetch at least $95 for profits to be extracted from Canada’s tar sands. It’s impossible to say when prices will rebound to that level or if companies will give up on that oil patch, leaving the Keystone XL without much (if any) heavy crude to move.

Ultimately, there could be no oil to haul from Alberta to Louisiana to be refined — or not, if the U.S. scraps its ban on exporting crude — and then shipped to, say, China.

More importantly, tar sands oil production may stop within a few years even if it does prove profitable. You see, global climate talks are heading in a direction that’s likely to result in countries and companies leaving large amounts of oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

A new study published in the journal Nature spelled out where and what kind of fossil fuels would need to be left unexploited. Its authors predict that virtually all Canadian tar sands oil production will stop by 2020.

If it’s built by then, there’d be nothing for the Keystone XL to transport. As a pipeline to nowhere, it would become a monument to wasting colossal sums of money on dirty-energy infrastructure.

John Hoeven should listen to Maria van der Hoeven. If he did, he’d realize the benefits of losing this political battle.

 

By: Emily Schwartz Greco, Columnist and Managing Editor of OtherWords; The National Memo, January 16, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Big Oil, Climate Change, Keystone XL | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right Likes Massive Programs”: GOP Small Government Fetish Is Selective Garbage

The delicate immigration reform negotiations in the Senate were supposed to pass a bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to earn American citizenship — because that is the entire point of doing immigration reform, for reformers. It is also, apparently, supposed to make the process, and America’s immigration system in general, as inconvenient as possible — for conservatives who wish to see immigrants punished for their border crossing — without making the process so punitive that liberals could no longer support the bill.

Late in June, two Republicans, Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.) and John Hoeven (N.D.), inserted an amendment into the Senate bill to strengthen security at the American border with Mexico. No Democrats opposed the measure in a “test vote” before the Senate’s passage of the larger bill. The amendment’s proposals are referred to as a “border surge,” because “surges” are a great thing in Washington ever since “the surge worked” became a very popular catchphrase for a while. (Washington is full of very simple-minded people, on the whole.) So we will “surge” the border, just like we “surged” Iraq, and, like Iraq, we will Win the War, against Mexico and Mexicans.

Basically the “border surge” is a very expensive new expansion of a massive government program, only it’s the sort that conservatives like because it involves detaining people instead of giving them healthcare or something. The “surge” is a massive military buildup along the border, involving 700 miles of fencing, 20,000 new border agents, and more drones, perhaps even ones fitted with “nonlethal weapons,” for the Border Protection Agency to loan out to various other law-enforcement agencies. It will install, at various points along the border, an exciting array of new infrastructure and equipment of the sort usually not seen outside of actual war zones. Many lucky communities will soon have multiple new “fixed towers,” dozens of “fixed camera systems (with relocation capability), which include remote video surveillance systems” and “mobile surveillance systems, which include mobile video surveillance systems, agent-portable surveillance systems, and mobile surveillance capability systems,” and hundreds of new “unattended ground sensors, including seismic, imaging, and infrared.” Chuck Schumer described the entire deal as “a breathtaking show of force.” Even actual border-patrol agents are sort of confused by the proposal, which will double their ranks. “I’m not sure where this idea came from, but we didn’t support it, and we didn’t ask for it,” their union vice president told the National Review.

The whole thing will cost $38 billion. Fun fact! House Republicans recently attempted to cut $20 billion from the federal budget for food stamps. The measure failed when many Republicans decided the cuts weren’t large enough. But there is always money for new unattended ground sensors!

This week, two things happened as a result of the Corker-Hoeven “border surge” amendment. First, the Congressional Budget Office “scored” it. The CBO found that it will be expensive. Second, it found that under the proposal, illegal immigration “would be reduced by between one-third and one-half compared with the projected net inflow under current law.” Success! This, honestly, seems like one of those findings that the CBO just sort of made up. There will be … half as much illegal immigration, we guess. “CBO once again vindicated immigration reform,” Chuck Schumer said.

Second, Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat from Texas, quit the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, after the caucus failed to do anything to stop the amendment from passing. He posted an explanatory message on his Facebook wall, saying:

I grew up on the border, and until recently, border towns in Mexico and the United States shared a common economic and cultural vitality. Now we have border fences, and they don’t work. They harm the environment, inconvenience everyone and promote fear between neighbors.

And: “Mexico is a friend, neighbor and one of our top three trading partners. The US-Mexico border should not remind us of places like East Berlin, West Berlin, North Korea and South Korea.”

(As Molly Ball reports, Vela’s decision came after two immigrant advocacy groups turned against the Senate bill for its inclusion of the Corker-Hoeven proposal.)

The best hope for getting something that resembles the Senate bill through the House is with a great deal of Democratic support. This probably isn’t a great time for the bill to start dropping liberals. Especially if the House ends up passing something after all, and then security is “beefed up” even more in conference with the Senate. (“Let’s say, 100,000 new agents, plus maybe some tanks, and also the drones can talk now.”)

Still, it looks like the price for a legal route to security for millions of undocumented Americans is the total militarization of vast swaths of the country at great expense, simply so that some conservatives feel we’re being sufficiently “tough.”

 

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, July 5, 2013

July 7, 2013 Posted by | Big Government, Immigration Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Future Is Now”: It’s Time For Republicans To Choose Sides On Immigration Reform

The future of immigration reform is, for now at least, not up to House Speaker John Boehner. It is in the hands of a group of moderately conservative Republican senators who have to decide whether their desire to solve a decades-old problem outweighs their fears of retaliation from the party’s right wing.

These senators are clearly looking for a way to vote for a bill that is the product of excruciating but largely amicable negotiations across partisan and ideological barriers. But these Republicans — they include Bob Corker, John Hoeven, Susan Collins, Dean Heller and Rob Portman — want enough changes in the measure’s border security provisions so they can tell Tea Party constituents that they didn’t just go along with a middle-of-the-road consensus.

Here’s their problem: Changes that so complicate a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as to render it meaningless are (and should be) unacceptable to supporters of reform, including most Democrats. But if the GOP senators accept something short of this, they will face furious attacks from the hardcore opponents of any move toward large-scale naturalization of those who came here illegally.

In the end, there is no way around their dilemma. If they want a bill, they will have to take political risks.

Boehner got a lot of attention the other day for what appeared to be a firm statement that he would not let an immigration bill through the House without majority support from Republicans. On its face, his statement would seem to doom reform, given where that majority now seems to stand.

But as he typically (and, in his partial defense, perhaps necessarily) does, Boehner left himself wiggle room. “I have no intention of putting a bill on the floor that will violate the principles of our majority and divide our conference,” he said.

Ah, yes, and let’s remember that this week’s “intention” does not necessarily determine tomorrow’s strategy. It’s in Boehner’s interest to keep the large right end of his caucus at bay and to stake out a hard line to extract as many concessions from the Senate as he can. In the House at the moment, tomorrow is always another day.

What may matter is not how many Republican votes he gets but whether a majority of his caucus quietly decides that passing immigration reform is better for the party than blocking it. Many in such a majority might actually vote against a bill they privately want to see enacted. By doing so, they could satisfy their base voters back home while getting the immigration issue off the political agenda and ending the GOP’s cold war with Latino voters.

This is not unduly cynical. Many essential laws have passed because legislators found a way to balance their political needs with their convictions. The movie Lincoln is instructive on the matter.

Such calculations explain the tensions among Senate Democrats over the best way forward. Politico recently reported on differences between Sen. Charles Schumer, the leading architect of the compromise bill, and Sens. Dick Durbin and Harry Reid, the majority leader.

Schumer is more willing to accept further compromises in order to get broad Republican support. He wants 70 votes for a bill, believing that a big margin would increase pressure on the House to act. He also wants to deprive Republicans of the chance to use procedural complaints as an excuse for voting no.

Durbin and Reid are wary of giving any more ground. They want to preserve negotiating space with the House and believe enough Republicans already know they have to support reform. They see the House as so unpredictable that watering down the bill may not, in any event, be very helpful.

Here’s the potential positive news for immigration reformers: This difference may produce, if unintentionally, a good cop/bad cop dynamic that could keep the key group of Senate Republicans from undercutting the bill. Schumer can be open to a variety of border security changes, as long as they don’t disrupt the path to citizenship. He can also be clear that there are limits on how far his party can go in providing the swing Republicans with political cover.

Which brings it all back to Corker and his allies. A Congressional Budget Office report on Tuesday showing that immigration reform could cut some $900 billion from the deficit over the next two decades should make it easier for them to make a deal. But in the end, they have to choose: Which side are they on?

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 20, 2013

June 20, 2013 Posted by | Immigration Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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