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“While The Rest Of The Country Suffers”: The Republican Congress Has Done Nothing But Help Big Business

On Thursday and Friday this week, House and Senate Republicans are at a joint retreat in Hershey, Pennsylvania, to listen to an array of speakers on different policy and political issues. This brief respite offers an opportunity to examine what the Republican priorities have been in the first 10 days of the 114th Congress, and it shows one clear winner: Big Business.

House Republicans began 2015 by immediately trying to roll back or delay a number of regulations in the Dodd-Frank regulatory reform law. Just a day into the new Congress, the House voted on a fast-track bill that would have watered down and rolled back a number of important regulations. In fact, the legislation, officially titled the Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act, was the combination of 11 bills that would, among other things, delay the Volcker Act for years and weaken derivative regulations. The bill was brought up under suspension of the rules and thus required a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell short of that goal, with 276 legislators voting for it and 146 against. It was an unexpected victory for progressives after 44 Democrats changed their votes, after voting for a similar bill in the 113th Congress.

But Republicans were not to be denied. They brought up the bill under the normal rules where a two-thirds majority was not required. On Wednesday, it passed, 271-154. It’s not clear if the Senate would take it up, or if Democrats would have enough votes to filibuster it. But Wall Street received another gift in the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which expired at the end of 2014 and allows the federal government to backstop commercial insurance companies in the case of a terrorist attack. Even if you think terrorism risk insurance should be the government’s prerogative, it undoubtedly benefits large corporations, insurers, and real estate companies. Wall Street’s real victory, though, was the inclusion of a provision to roll back another, albeit smaller, component of Dodd-Frank. President Barack Obama signed it on Monday.

In other words, Wall Street is a fan of the new Republican Congress. Other industries are, too. Republicans have also focused on energy regulations, most notably approving the Keystone XL pipeline. Last Friday, the House passed a bill to approve the pipeline. The Senate voted to allow debate on the bill and will likely take a final vote on it next week, when it is expected to receive more than the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. The question is whether Congress has the two-thirds votes necessary to overturn Obama’s veto.

The House also took a whack at Obamacare by passing a bill that would change the definition of a full-time worker from 30 hours to 40 hours for purposes of the employer mandate. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would increase the deficit by $53.2 billion over the next decade, much of it from employers no longer having to pay a penalty for not offering health insurance for employees who work between 30-40 hours. The Senate is also readying a bill to repeal the medical device tax, which a new report this week estimated would cost 47-1,200 jobs, in total.

It wasn’t hard to predict that the new Republican Senate’s top priority would be helping Big Business. Partially, that’s because enough Democrats have been eager to support these bills and overcome filibusters in the Senate (such as on the Keystone pipeline or medical device tax). Utah Senator Mike Lee explained this in November in The Federalist:

[T]he easiest bipartisan measures to pass are almost always bills that directly benefit Big Business, and thus appeal to the corporatist establishments of both parties. In 2015, this “low-hanging fruit” we’ll hear about will be items like corporate tax reform, Obamacare’s medical device tax, patent reform, and perhaps the Keystone XL pipeline approval.

As it happens, these are all good ideas that I support. But if that’s as far as Republicans go, we will regret it. The GOP’s biggest branding problem is that Americans think we’re the party of Big Business and The Rich. If our “Show-We-Can-Govern” agenda can be fairly attacked as giving Big Business what it wantswhile the rest of the country sufferswe will only reinforce that unpopular image.

Lee’s worries were prescient. The 114th Congress has only just begun, of course, so Republicans have plenty of time to put forward an agenda focused on the middle class. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could support other moderate Republicans in crafting a compromise to increase the minimum wage. The GOP could make an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit a priority. Lee and Florida Senator Marco Rubio have proposed a number of other policies that are focused on the middle class.

But right now, there are few signs that Republicans are going to do anything like that.


By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, January 15, 2015

January 17, 2015 Posted by | Big Business, Congress, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time For The GOP To Pitch In”: Passing Bills That Have No Chance Of Ever Becoming Law Is Not Best Advertisement For Effectiveness

With Republican majorities in both houses, the new Congress should begin by focusing on traditional GOP priorities: improving the nation’s sagging infrastructure, reforming an unwieldy tax code and finding ways to boost middle-class opportunity.

When pigs fly, you say? Skepticism is definitely in order. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have a fundamental choice to make. They can acknowledge the obvious areas of common ground they share with President Obama — thus showing that the Republican Party can participate responsibly in government — or they can throw temper tantrums.

McConnell told The Post that one of his goals, as he takes leadership of the Senate, is to avoid doing anything that would make it harder for the party to elect a president next year. “I don’t want the American people to think that, if they add a Republican president to a Republican Congress, that’s going to be a scary outcome,” he said.

The scariness of the GOP field probably will also depend on Ted Cruz’s apocalyptic rhetoric and Chris Christie’s progress in anger management. But McConnell is right that the whole “Party of No” routine, which he helped orchestrate, is unlikely to yield further political benefit — and may, at this point, inflict more damage on Republicans than on Democrats.

It is perhaps inevitable that the GOP will use its control of Congress to highlight the party’s pet issues — advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline, for example, and opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Every once in a while, Republicans may even muster the needed 60 votes in the Senate — and force Obama to use his veto. But then what? Passing a bunch of bills that have no chance of ever becoming law is not the best advertisement for effectiveness.

McConnell told The Post he wants voters to see his party as a “responsible, right-of-center, governing majority.” Well, two obvious things such a majority should be doing right now are celebrating the economic recovery and looking for ways to ensure that more of its benefits reach the middle class.

Growth is accelerating, inflation is virtually nonexistent, stocks had a great year, unemployment is down and the U.S. economy is the envy of the developed world. That all of this has happened under the leadership of a Democratic president may be inconvenient for GOP leaders, but it’s the reality. Sourpuss grousing about how Obama is somehow “killing jobs” sounds ridiculous and out of touch. It seems to me that a “responsible” majority ought to be able to bring itself to say, “Nice job, Mr. President.” Even if it hurts.

Such a majority then should recognize that present economic conditions offer the opportunity to address big structural problems — and that addressing these problems can, in turn, broaden and deepen the recovery.

Infrastructure is perhaps the most obvious place to begin. Our airports are getting old. Many of our seaports cannot handle the newest generation of container ships. Thousands of our bridges need to be repaired or replaced. Century-old municipal water systems are breaking down. The electrical grid needs to be more robust and secure. And while we invented the Internet, citizens of other countries enjoy networks with faster speeds and lower costs.

Republicans used to agree with Democrats that good economic times offer the opportunity to invest in infrastructure — which creates jobs, both now and in the future. Deficits are falling rapidly and interest rates are at historic lows. What are we waiting for? Shouldn’t a “responsible” Congress have a bill on Obama’s desk by the end of the month?

Another subject on which Obama and the Republicans in Congress agree, at least in principle, is the need for corporate tax reform. Obama has acknowledged, and Republicans have long contended, that the current top corporate rate of nearly 40 percent is too high — and that the strategies corporations use to avoid paying those taxes, such as moving their headquarters overseas, are detrimental to the national interest. There is a larger debate to be had about overall tax policy, but couldn’t we just start by lowering the corporate rate and closing the loopholes?

Finally, a “responsible” party that’s prepared to govern would have some ideas about how to boost economic mobility, which is what we really mean when we talk about “opportunity.” If Republicans think the American Dream means the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, then no, they’re not remotely ready for prime time.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2015

January 16, 2015 Posted by | GOP, John Boehner, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Lawmakers Hit The Ground Running To The Far-Right”: House Republican Leaders Still Haven’t Mastered The Art Of Vote-Counting

In the weeks immediately following the 2014 midterm elections, there was an enormous amount of talk about the need to avoid “poisoning the well.” The point seemed to be, policymakers should be cautious about picking political fights in order to avoid partisan rancor in the new Congress.

Clearly, those concerns have been thrown out a Capitol Hill window.

House Democrats on Wednesday knocked down a GOP bill that would have delayed a key Wall Street reform known as the Volcker Rule, stunning Republican leaders who had expected it to pass with ease. […]

The bill would have allowed banks to hang onto billions of dollars in risky collateralized loan obligations for two additional years by amending the Volcker Rule, which is part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law. The rule bans banks from speculating in securities markets with taxpayer funds, requiring them to dump their CLO holdings. A Volcker Rule delay would be a major boon to the nation’s largest banks.

Note, a majority of the House voted for the measure, but because Republican leaders brought the bill up under the suspension calendar, it needed a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell far short.There are a few ways to look at yesterday’s failure. The first, of course, is that House Republican leaders still haven’t mastered the art of vote-counting. The second is that GOP lawmakers clearly remain committed to using their power to do Wall Street’s bidding.

But even putting that aside, let’s not miss the forest for the trees: on only the second day of the new Congress, House Republicans immediately turned their attention to a controversial proposal, backed by financial-industry lobbyists. These guys really aren’t wasting any time.

Indeed, it’s amazing to see just how aggressive the new Republican majority has been since taking its oath of office on Tuesday.

Barring crisis conditions, the start of a new Congress can generally be compared to the start of new school year: folks like to get settled in before tackling a lot of work. On Capitol Hill, some members, especially the freshmen, are still unpacking and learning their way around.

And it’s against this backdrop that House Republicans this week are voting to undermine the Volcker Rule, undermine Social Security, undermine the Affordable Care Act, approve the Keystone pipeline, and impose irresponsible “dynamic scoring” rules – all in the first three days.

It’s one thing when lawmakers furiously try to get stuff done before the end of a Congress – they tend to move quickly when facing an inflexible deadline – but the House GOP majority seems desperate to get this new Congress off to a fast, far-right start, just for the sake of doing so.

What’s more, we’re not even going to touch the newly introduced legislation – including major new abortion restrictions proposed yesterday – which will be considered in the weeks and months to come. I’m just talking about measures on the House floor this opening week.

E.J. Dionne Jr. reminded us this morning, “This will be no ordinary Congress.” Republicans are eager to prove this prediction true.


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, January 9, 2014

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Time For The Laugh Track!”: Republicans Have A Veto-Proof Math Problem

Behold Washington’s new math.

The first anti-Obamacare bill of the new Congress, the Save American Workers Act of 2015, was written to undo the part of the law that defines “full employment” as holding a job for as little as 30 hours per week. It passed, and on the way, it became even more partisan in color than the 2014 version of the bill. In the last Congress, 18 Democrats voted with every Republican to pass the bill, but Thursday only 12 did, including all but one of the 2014 supporters (not Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop) and two new Blue Dogs (Florida Rep. Gwen Graham, Nebraska Rep. Brad Ashford).

By turning on the bill, the Democrats made clear that they would sustain the veto already promised by President Obama, and, yes, they have the votes to do so. If every member of the 114th House of Representatives shows up for a vote, 48 Democrats need to join every Republican to override a veto. Three times this week, when the GOP brought forward bills to approve the Keystone pipeline and delay part of the Volcker Rule, the Democrats denied them all but a handful of votes.

Just as interesting as the Republican math problem were the arguments Democrats used to hold back their votes. In its veto message, the White House said the 30-hour work week bill “would significantly increase the deficit” and cited 2014 numbers from the Congressional Budget Office to say it would “increase the budget deficit by $45.7 billion over the 2015 to 2024 period.” In the Senate yesterday, in a conversation with reporters, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin repeatedly mocked Republicans for offering changes to the ACA without offering up the mechanisms to pay for them.

“I’m just not going to buy the premise Republicans now want to sell, that deficits don’t count,” Durbin said. “Since they’re in the majority, they’re going to use dynamic scoring—time for the laugh track!—they’re going to use dynamic scoring to prove that they can cut any tax without an impact on the deficit. That doesn’t work. That’s why we’ve stopped short of repealing the medical device tax, because the payfor has never been explained.”

Of course, the Democrats had a terrible election—no news there—and in the process they watched Republicans leap ahead of them in voter trust on key issues. Republicans pulled into a tie on health care, which had always been a Democratic advantage, and they built huge leads on taxes, the economy, and the deficit. Yet in the months after the election, they watched President Obama’s approval rating tick up, and saw a dynamite series of jobs reports followed by 5 percent GDP growth in the final quarter.

Democrats paid attention to new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s maiden speech, and how “the [economic] uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress.” To counter that claim, Democrats in Congress want to reframe the GOP’s bills as deficit-busters, and make sure Republicans get none of Barack Obama’s credit if the economy continues to improve.


By: Dave Weigel, Bloomberg Politics, January 9, 2015

January 11, 2015 Posted by | Deficits, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Can Always Count On Fox”: Fox Captures The Culprit For The Paris Attacks; Bill de Blasio, With An Assist From Obama

My first thought on hearing about the killing of at least a dozen Parisians at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo—including editors, cartoonists, and one cop shot on the sidewalk, execution-style, in front of cell-phone cameras—was that Bill Maher will feel even more justified in denouncing Islam as a “violent religion,” all the eloquent arguments by Reza Aslan and others notwithstanding. The murders were an attack not just on journalism, but on comedy itself, not unlike the hacking of Sony over the cartoony Seth Rogen movie The Interview.

My second thought was, “Will journos and comedians now need bodyguards?” Unfortunately, they already do—one of the cops killed Wednesday had been assigned to protect editor Stéphane Charbonnier because of Charlie‘s previous cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammed and jihadist terror groups. The offices were firebombed in 2011 because of Charbonnier’s fearlessness.

Third thought: “How will Fox cover this?” Will they be torn between hating the terrorists and defending the “surrender monkey” French? Will they somehow connect this to the two cops killed in New York and blame Mayor de Blasio and protesters around the country marching against police violence? Nah, they can’t manage that, can they?

But you can always count on Fox. Within hours of the breaking news this morning, host Martha MacCallum and New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin were throwing the Paris attack and the NYC story into the same blender. After the Ferguson and New York protests, Goodwin said, “Police started to second guess themselves” for fear of being unjustly blamed or worse, killed, for acting too aggressively. The cops, he said, were like journalists who “censor themselves” for fear of being attacked.

Martha nodded. Whether it’s journalists holding their tongues for the sake of political correctness or cops holding back on choke-holds and shooting unarmed black men, “that makes things a lot softer,” she said.

Fox’s Eric Bolling raised the stakes on Outnumbered, saying, “This should be a test case for New York City and cities everywhere. Here’s the point: there’s a very serious push from the left that the police should not be militarized. We should over-militarize.”

An hour earlier, Fox & Friends had been jumping back and forth between the Paris attack and Obama’s threat to veto the first two bills coming out of the new Republican Congress, with Elisabeth Hasselbeck teasing before two commercial breaks: “Coming up: Hypocrisy brewing over president’s veto threats?” The idea is to link two unrelated things—terrorism and Obama’s promised veto of the Keystone pipeline—by weaving them into the same time and space. Weave and repeat: It’s simple and effective propagandistic association.

Ultimately, Fox connects everything under a still-larger narrative: YOU are under attack. Different Fox hosts Wednesday morning went on to tie the Paris attack to the release of Guantanamo prisoners, the Benghazi terrorists who haven’t been apprehended, and the likelihood that enhanced interrogation techniques—i.e., torture—won’t be used on any perpetrators because Obama is just too soft on Islamic terrorists.

On cable news this morning, you did hear the caveat to not blame all Muslims—Bobby Ghozi warned against that impulse on CNN; on MSNBC, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Islam was “a “peaceful religion.” And even on Fox, a counterterrorism expert said, “Islam is not the definition of terrorism. Far from it.” But he added that unless we start calling it “what it is—radical Islamic terrorism,” we can’t beat them.

In other words, while much of the liberal media are still trying to sort out just what happened and who did it, Fox is already out of the gate incorporating the attack into its ongoing agenda. And no matter whether or not this terrorist assault helps the authoritarian right over here like 9/11 did, in France it will almost certainly boost the Islamophobic Marine le Pen and the right in France 2017 elections.

As political commentator and Huff Post French editor Philippe Moreau Chevrolet said on Al Jazeera, “The far right doesn’t need to campaign anymore. [The attack] is doing the campaigning for them.”


By: Leslie Savan, The Nation, January 7, 2015

January 8, 2015 Posted by | Fox News, Paris Shootings, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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