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“Undermining Their Own Priorities”: When GOP Obstructionism Becomes Self-Defeating

The point of congressional Republicans’ obstructionism, which has reached unprecedented levels in the Obama era, is obviously to block Democratic priorities. GOP lawmakers could, in theory, negotiate with Democrats and work on bipartisan compromises, but in recent years, Republicans deliberately chose an unyielding strategy: no concessions, no cooperation, no tolerance for progressive goals.

On several key issues, most notably economic growth and job creation, the GOP tactic has proven to be quite effective. But what if the plan has quietly backfired? What if, by simply blocking attempts at governing, Republicans have undermined their own priorities?

On combatting the climate crisis, for example, GOP officials are obviously outraged by the Obama administration’s decision to use the Clean Air Act to impose new rules to reduce carbon pollution. But Jamelle Bouie raises an underappreciated point: “If Republicans are outraged by the announcement, they only have themselves to blame.”

In 2009, President Obama threw his support behind climate legislation in the House, and the following year, a group of Senate Democrats – including Kerry – began work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan climate bill. The process fell apart…. It’s not that EPA action wasn’t possible, but that the administration wanted legislation and would make key concessions to get it. In the absence of a law, however, the White House was prepared to act alone. […]

With a little cooperation, Republicans could have won a better outcome for their priorities. They could have exempted coal from more stringent spectrum of regulations, enriched their constituencies with new subsidies and benefits, and diluted a key Democratic priority. Instead, they’ll now pay a steep substantive price for their obstruction, in the form of rules that are tougher – and more liberal – than anything that could have passed Congress.

Congressional Republicans, through filibusters and obstinacy, can stop much of the governing process, but not all of it. When a policy runs into a choke point, its proponents begin looking for an alternative route to implementation.

In the case of climate policy, GOP lawmakers assumed they’d win by simply folding their arms and refusing to do anything. In practice, this often-mindless obstructionism simply forced the administration to begin to work on its own – without any regard for whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would like it or not, since the White House didn’t need their approval.

In other words, Republican tactics were self-defeating – GOP officials would have produced a more favorable policy, from their own perspective, if they’d only agreed to work a little with Democrats.

This keeps happening.

On judicial nominees, for example, Senate Democrats were reluctant to pull the trigger on the so-called “nuclear option.” Instead of leveraging that reluctance, Republicans did the opposite, vowing to block a series of nominees they found unobjectionable in order to force the issue.

Had the GOP minority been a little less ridiculous, Dems wouldn’t have pursued the nuclear option and Republicans would probably still be blocking a variety of judicial nominees right now.

The Affordable Care Act offers an even more striking example. President Obama and his team were desperate to strike a bipartisan deal on health care – they started with a Republican-friendly reform blueprint; they were prepared to bargain away progressive priorities, and they even signaled a willingness to incorporate conservative goals like “tort reform” into the legislation.

GOP lawmakers, under strict orders from party leaders, balked anyway, refusing any and all offers. No matter what the White House offered, Republicans said, the GOP would reject any attempts at reform.

But again, the obstructionism worked against Republicans – they didn’t stop the legislation; they simply blocked their own opportunity to easily move the legislation to the right.

We may yet see a similar dynamic unfold on immigration policy. House Republicans refuse to consider a bipartisan solution with broad support, pushing the president to consider unilateral action. If GOP lawmakers worked with the White House, they’d get a package that reflected their priorities, but by refusing to govern, they’re likely to end up with a presidential directive that gives Republicans nothing.

Bouie concluded, “[A]fter five years of relentless obstruction in the name of small government, Republicans may have helped set the stage for a world where government is much bigger – and expansive – than it is now. And if it happens, we should remember to thank Republicans for helping to make it possible.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 4, 2014

June 6, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No, The World Didn’t End”: Maybe We’ll All Survive After All

I’m a bit amused at some of the articles dribbling out of Washington at present that find various silver linings for the demise of the filibuster against executive-branch and lower-court-judicial appointments. I mean, we all know it Killed the Senate As We Know It, at which act the angels are still weeping, and it spoiled the great and dignified work of the “gangs” cutting ad hoc deals to avoid this or that filibuster. I know it’s hard to imagine anything that would significantly offset such terrible damage–what will Lindsey Graham do between primary challenges?–but The Hill‘s Elise Viebeck finds one that has the added bonus of giving Republicans a trophy to mount on its wall:

Kathleen Sebelius may become the biggest loser in the Senate’s approval of filibuster reform.

The Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary has kept her job despite the botched rollout of ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges, but it will now be easier for Obama to replace her.

After the Senate’s vote, confirming an executive-branch nominee now takes just 51 Senate votes. Some think that raises the likelihood Sebelius will soon be a former Cabinet member.

“The president’s hands were previously tied,” said John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, who wrote a piece on the topic Thursday.

“Now, he has more breathing room and he is able to fire whoever he wants at HHS. That’s a very, very appealing approach, whether it fixes the problems with ObamaCare’s rollout or not.”

Better yet, Democrats can approve appointments to the Obamacare Death Panel without Republicans getting their hands dirty with complicity in genocide.

The filibuster vote could also make it easier for Obama to fill the healthcare law’s controversial cost-cutting board, another big advantage for the president.

Known as IPAB, the panel has no members yet is meant to submit its first proposed cuts in January. Any nominees from Obama require Senate confirmation, which is now an easier prospect.

Before Thursday’s vote, Obama’s nominees needed 60 votes to survive procedural motions. Now they need 51.

And hey, maybe the nuclear option shattered the deal-making dreams of “moderate” Republicans, but it might help keep some Democratic “centrists” in the Senate:

Beyond helping Obama, the change could make life easier for some of the Senate Democrats who face tough reelection contests in 2014. The chamber is controlled by 53 Democrats and two Independents who caucus with the majority party.

“Obama now has breathing room among Democrats,” Hudak said.

“He can actually let some of the Democrats who are in tough races off the hook, which has some real electoral implications for those members.”

So see? Maybe we’ll all survive after all.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 25, 2013

November 26, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Real World Consequences”: Why The Senate’s Nuclear Option On Filibuster Reform Matters

If you care about reproductive rights, the environment or worker rights, the decision by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the chamber’s Democrats – including courageous votes by this state’s senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet – Thursday to reform the filibuster on presidential appointments matters. A lot.

This is not just inside-the-Beltway jabberwocky. Invoking the “nuclear option” so that a simple, 51-vote majority is all that’s needed to confirm judges below the Supreme Court level and other presidential appointments will have a profound effect on the everyday lives of many Americans. Courts are missing judges thanks to an unprecedented refusal by Republicans to confirm the president’s nominees. This is purely political, not about qualifications: as Senate Republicans have bluntly admitted, all Obama nominees are bad.

And this obstruction has real world consequences both in terms of shorthanded courts and the decisions they make.

So, for example, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is located here in Denver and handles all federal court appeals for not only Colorado but also Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming, has two vacancies thanks to GOP filibustering. And as Colorado Ethics Watch has noted, 98 percent of all federal appeals are decided at the Circuit Court level, meaning that, “decisions of the 10th Circuit on important issues such as the environment and federal land policy, reproductive freedom, voting rights and money in politics, and civil rights are often final and binding for the states in the Circuit.”

In addition to refusing to act on qualified judges to the 10th Circuit, Republicans have repeatedly blocked qualified judicial nominees to the District of Columbia Circuit Court. Per Ethics Watch, “The D.C. Circuit is a traditional stepping-stone to the U.S. Supreme Court, with four of the current justices having previously sat on the D.C. Circuit. Currently, three of the D.C. Circuit’s 11 judgeships are vacant, including one that has been open since its previous occupant, John Roberts, was confirmed chief justice of the United States in 2005.”

Judicial vacancies and court rulings matter. Without fair courts that have diverse and impartial judges, we won’t have justice when it comes to women’s health and reproductive rights.

To wit, on November 1, with three judicial vacancies thanks to Republican obstruction and no Obama nominees on the bench,  the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception in their health insurance plans violated religious freedom. Denver’s 10th Circuit, with two Republican-blocked vacancies, decided a similar case the same way, setting up a Supreme Court challenge on whether or not women have the right to birth control regardless of their employers’ religious beliefs. This has profound and dangerous implications even beyond reproductive rights: it threatens to upend the very notion of secular labor law. What if an employer decided their religious beliefs meant they didn’t have to pay Social Security taxes, follow wage and hour guidelines, or hire workers of a different race?

So this isn’t some arcane procedural maneuver by the Senate, it’s the end result of the Republican Party refusing to respect a Democratic president. As for the argument from the right that a future Republican majority will use this move against Democrats: Republicans have broken every deal they’ve made so far to avoid the “nuclear option.” There’s little doubt that they’d change the rules anyway if they magically got the majority.

At least this way a Democratic President, Barack Obama, sees that he, his judicial nominees and appointments, and the American people get a bit more justice.

 

By: Laura Chapin, U. S. News and World Report, November 22, 2013

November 24, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Calling-Out Bad Analysis”: False Equivalency And Crocodile Tears

I’m delighted to see that amongst the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the “nuclear option’s” invocation, there’s some robust calling-out of bad analysis and crocodile tears.

WaPo was Ground Zero for “centrist” bemoaning of the terrible partisanship this step would unleash. But Jonathan Chait was having none of it:

The bizarre, defining feature of this argument is that, unlike the crocodile tears being shed by Republicans, the centrist Establishmentarians all take the view that the Republican judicial blockade was completely unacceptable. They argue that the solution to the unacceptable blockade is that, as the Post piously insists, “Both parties should have stepped back and hammered out a bipartisan compromise reform.”

That Republicans did not offer to compromise or in any way back down from the stance the Post calls unacceptable is a fact so fatal to this argument that none of the three [WaPo]writers in any way acknowledges it. I would agree that a 50-vote threshold for lifetime judicial appointments represents a sub-optimal arrangement. It would be better if there were some way for the Senate to filter out extreme nominees without having the power to wantonly blockade a vital court for nakedly partisan reasons. Given the refusal of Republicans to back down, I prefer majoritarianism to the existing alternative. The Establishmentarians refuse to grapple with the trade-off. They are against fires and fire hoses alike.

Unfortunately, now that the “nuclear option” has been officially recorded as the efficient cause of whatever happens next in the descent to partisan polarization, it will become the ever-ready justification for future false equivalency arguments of the sort Chait eviscerates.

An even more interesting deconstruction of today’s wailathon comes from Jonathan Bernstein, writing, as it happens, at WaPo’s Plum Line. He suggests it may have been the “reasonable” Senate Republicans pitching the biggest fits about the nuclear option who precipitated it by their languid-at-best attempts at a preemptive deal, and who may actually welcome it privately because it gets them out of a jam:

The problem with the summer compromise is that it was horrible for deal-making Republicans. The deal essentially said: Republicans will continue to filibuster nominations, but will supply enough votes for almost all of them so that the filibusters will be defeated. But that meant that in practice a handful of Republicans were forced to tag-team their votes, making sure that Democrats always had 60. What’s more, the shutdown fight — which began right after the Senate deal was struck — revealed that radical Republicans led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were eager to scapegoat those same deal-making Republicans. That raised the cost of the executive branch nominations agreement for tag-teamers such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). In other words, the summer deal might or might not have been stable, but it certainly couldn’t hold in a world in which the majority of Republican senators are looking for ways to separate themselves from mainstream conservatives, and then using that separation to attack them.

Now Obama gets his judges, and “mainstream conservatives”–especially those like Alexander and Graham who are facing 2014 primary threats–can happily vote against them. What’s not to like?

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, November 22, 2013

November 23, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Journalists, Senate | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“From The Party Of No To The Party Of Oops”: How Republican Intransigence Keeps Backfiring

Exasperated with repeated Republican stonewalling of President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees, Senate Democrats on Thursday went nuclear, striking down two centuries of precedent regarding the chamber’s arcane filibuster rules.

By a 52-48 vote, the Senate voted to allow confirmation of federal judge and Cabinet nominees with a simple majority vote. The move did not, however, change the filibuster rules regarding legislation and Supreme Court nominees.

For Republicans, it was the latest defeat to come as a result of the party’s refusal to engage with their Democratic colleagues on even minor issues. The GOP has earned a reputation under Obama as the “party of no” for its intransigence, which in recent months has proven self-defeating more than once.

Take the filibuster.

For a full year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) threatened the nuclear option to circumvent Republican inaction. Most recently, Republicans blocked three nominees to the powerful U.S. District Court of Appeals, not because of any qualms with the candidates’ credentials, but merely because they didn’t want Obama filling vacancies on an influential court that tilts conservative.

With the GOP refusing to back down, Reid finally dropped the bomb, ensuring Obama’s nominees could get an up-or-down vote — and, as a bonus, handing liberals a procedural reform they’ve long sought.

“The American people believe the Senate is broken,” Reid said on the Senate floor Thursday, “and I believe the American people are right.”

Outraged Republicans vowed retribution, saying they would use the process to stack future courts in their favor once they’re back in control. Except to do that, they would need to first retake the Senate and White House, which may not be so easy by 2016.

In the meantime, Democrats have a little extra muscle to help Obama staff his administration as he sees fit (which, let’s remember, used to be common practice). That could be immensely important, since House Republicans have shown no interest in dealing with the president on anything substantive like immigration reform.

As New York‘s Jonathan Chait detailed more thoroughly here, “Obama has no real legislative agenda that can pass Congress,” so his “second-term agenda runs not through Congress but through his own administrative agencies.”

With the filibuster tweak, Obama can now more readily advance his administrative agenda — and Republicans allowed that to happen by forcing Reid’s hand on the filibuster. At that point, he didn’t have much choice: Had he set the precedent of allowing the minority party to prevent judicial vacancies from being filled, Republicans would only have been encouraged to do it again.

“Eventually this escalation would have become untenable,” wrote Salon’s Brian Beutler, “and somebody would have had to go nuclear.”

That’s the same argument Democrats made during the government shutdown, another instance of GOP obstinacy backfiring spectacularly. Had Democrats and President Obama acceded to the GOP’s hostage-taking, it would have established a precedent that government shutdowns and threats of debt default were the norm for legislative negotiations.

And by letting Republicans dig in, Democrats reaped the political benefits of seeing the GOP’s approval ratings tank.

The same dynamic could soon play out on health care, too.

ObamaCare face-planted out of the gate, and Republicans have rightly criticized the administration’s extensive failings in implementing it. However, the GOP has yet to offer a credible alternative health-care plan. The party’s playbook for winning the PR battle over the law, outlined Thursday by the New York Times, is heavy on strategy but light on substance.

“Rather than get out of Obama’s path of self-destruction and focus energy on creating and promoting a positive, forward-looking health-care agenda” wrote National Journal’s Ron Fournier, “the GOP has chosen to cement its reputation as the obstructionist party.”

Republicans will keep stepping on rakes if they opt merely for “no” instead of “no, but instead.” And with ObamaCare possibly set to make something of a comeback in the coming weeks, the clock is ticking.

 

By: John Terbush, The Week, November 22, 2013

November 23, 2013 Posted by | Filibuster, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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