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“A Self-Fulfilling Prophesy”: Cruz Opposes Lame Duck Sessions Of Congress, But He Has Some Responsibility For Them

The Hill reports that Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is leading an effort to ensure that Congress does not convene for a “lame duck” session at the end of the year. According to the publication, Cruz and “right-leaning groups see huge dangers in having a session after the November elections, which they think could be used to move legislation backed by President Obama or even to confirm his Supreme Court nominee.” As a rationale for the push, a letter organized by the Conservative Action Project states, “By promising now that there will be no lame duck session of Congress … the Republican-led Congress can take an important first step in restoring the American people’s trust in their government.”

The lame duck session of Congress has become a Washington, D.C. tradition. It takes place during election years after the votes are cast in November. Often the sessions are used to wrap up business that Congress didn’t get to before leaving to campaign for reelection, but the relative political vacuum of that time period can also provide members of Congress with the cushion necessary to take difficult votes they otherwise wouldn’t be able to cast. For those reasons, lame duck sessions of Congress often see the passage of large, sometimes expensive, and many times controversial pieces of legislation. Per The Hill, Cruz and his cohort seem to be concerned this year about the passage of trade legislation, the confirmation of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and passage of an omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government.

In some respects Cruz is right. Lame duck sessions of Congress are not the ideal way to legislate. The significant time constraints of these sessions mean that legislation is often rushed through without due time for consideration or amendment. Legislative packages that have been negotiated months ahead of time behind the scenes are presented to members of Congress as a fait accompli, leaving the legislators little choice but to vote for them or lose the opportunity for their consideration altogether. The situation is especially tenuous for omnibus spending bills, which contain the funding necessary to keep the federal government operating for the rest of fiscal year and are often considered “must pass” legislation (think the controversial 2014 “cromnibus” spending bill which narrowly averted a government shutdown). Other high profile examples have over the years included the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund environmental cleanup law and, in 2010, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Given a choice, I think we’d all prefer that Congress consider these bills through regular order, with ample time to understand what’s in them, debate the merits and discuss necessary changes. It’s certainly the way the rules of both the House and the Senate envision the legislative process would take place.

However, the reason there often isn’t regular order in Congress is because of people like Ted Cruz, which makes his current crusade kind of ironic. The obstinacy of the hard right and obstructionist tactics, like Cruz’s drive to shut down the government over health care policy in 2013, have made it increasingly difficult for Congress to either consider policy in a substantive way or find ways to compromise and move bills forward. Thus, the lame duck sessions and the political shield they provide have become necessary to pass some key pieces of legislation. And often, it is only because of the possibility of a lame duck session and the ability to resolve matters without a political glare that federal spending hasn’t been altogether halted and the government completely shut down.

Bringing the legislative process out into the light of day is a laudable goal, but really that’s not the goal of Cruz or his colleagues here – they want to close off an alternative to their obstruction. And even if they were sincere in their intentions, shutting down the lame duck session of Congress is not the way to achieve it. As things stand right now, that session will probably be necessary for Congress to accomplish anything at all this year. Cruz and his fellow conservatives talk order and transparency in Congress but if they were serious about that they could change the role they play in it. By showing a willingness to negotiate on policy rather than blocking everything they don’t agree with, they would significantly lessen the need for lame duck sessions. By far, that would be the best thing they could do to restore Americans’ trust in their government.

 

By: Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog, U. S. News and World Report, April 15, 2015

April 17, 2016 Posted by | GOP Obstructionism, Lame Duck Congress, Ted Cruz | , , , , | 1 Comment

“This SCOTUS Destroyed America”: How Citizens United Is Ruining More Than Our Elections

In the years since conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s landmark Citizens United v. FEC decision gave wealthy interests the political power they’d apparently lacked, the media has mostly been interested in how the ruling was affecting elections. On the presidential level, the consensus, at least among political scientists, is that the impact has been marginal. But in less rarefied air, like the grubby environs of Congressional campaigns or the sometimes sordid realm of state and municipal politics, the consequences of the ruling have been substantial. It is quite likely that dozens of state governments in the U.S. will reflect Kennedy’s vision — as well as that of the Koch brothers — for decades to come.

What has gone less-examined, however, is the role that dark money — which is spending by groups that are supposedly devoted to “social welfare,” and that consequently don’t have to reveal their donors — has played since 2010 in the crafting of legislation. This is somewhat odd, in retrospect, since the ostensible point of winning an election, after all, is to legislate. But perhaps the political and media class’s lack of attention to the new reality of sausage-making can be attributed to a campaign-finance version of climate change fatalism. One can gaze up at only so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles before wondering if one’s time would be better spent coming to terms with giving up.

And make no mistake: The reality of lawmaking in post-Citizens United Washington is enough to make even the most stalwart campaign finance reformers wonder if their advocacy and organizing is little more than professionalized windmill tilting. As the Huffington Post showed this week in a lengthy, impressive and profoundly dispiriting report, the walls separating the interests of the wealthy from the legislative process that a century of reformers fought to build have been leveled. They were never as lofty or sturdy as reformers would have wished, of course. But they now exist as little more than rubble and dust.

One of the things the report from HuffPo’s Paul Blumenthal and Ryan Grim makes clear is the way Citizens United’s pernicious effect on lawmaking is at once deliberately opaque and ploddingly simple. To take one of the many examples of now-kosher corruption they detail as a case in point, look at the story of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI) and the 2014 election. Blumenthal and Grim note that PCI is lucky enough to have two former aides to Speaker of the House John Boehner on its lobbying team. Even better for PCI, the trade group had the foresight to donate significant chunks of money as of late to pro-Republican outside groups: $185,000 since 2012, they report.

But they weren’t done there. In addition to all of those obviously stringless donations to arms of the GOP machine, PCI also decided to give $75,000 to Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove-affiliated “social welfare” nonprofit, and $25,000 to the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a “non-partisan” nonprofit. Both organizations, according to HuffPo, are run by Steven Law, who just so happens to be a member of now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “inner circle.” Incidentally, both groups also happened to spend large amounts of money to support McConnell in his 2014 campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Outside groups spent $1.3 million in support of Grimes and $16.4 million in opposition, while McConnell got $5.7 million outsider bucks in his favor and $10.5 million going the other way.

For PCI, the pro-McConnell donations ended up being money well spent. McConnell obliterated Grimes after a campaign that had been, for the most part, surprisingly competitive. And because GOP Senate candidates in Iowa and Georgia, who also were supported by outside groups using PCI money, defeated their Democratic opponents, too, McConnell became the new majority leader of the Senate. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the first things the McConnell-run Senate did with the reins of power was to pass a provision rolling back capital standards on insurance companies that were implemented by Dodd-Frank. Believe it or not, this was an act of deregulation that PCI strongly supported.

Now, is this all proof that McConnell engaged in a quid pro quo with PCI and other members of the insurance industry? That the current Senate majority leader told the folks at PCI to make a gesture or two (or three, or 4,000) to show how much they care about supporting a “coalition” to enhance Kentucky’s “opportunity”? No, it’s not. It may be suggestive — and to the jaundiced eye, extremely so — but it’s hardly irrefutable evidence. As defenders of these types of arrangements are quick to note, it’s eminently possible that removing obscure provisions of Dodd-Frank just happens to be an issue on which the Kentucky senator and big insurance fortuitously agree.

But what’s lost in all the fuzziness, which Blumenthal and Grim deftly filter out, is that the world Justice Kennedy’s decision created was, by his own admission, supposed to be one in which even the appearance of corruption was negated. Democracy would suffer no harm, Kennedy assured us, by letting “independent” groups like Crossroads GPS or the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition spend at will with precious little regulation. “[I]ndependent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption,” Kennedy writes in the majority opinion for Citizens United. “That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt,” he assures. “And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy.”

At the time that the ruling was delivered, Kennedy’s faith that access and influence would not corrupt the system was exceeded in curiousness only by his belief that the American people would feel similarly. But as the years have passed, and as studies showing the U.S. to be a donor-run system akin to oligarchy have gone mainstream, his declaration has begun to make a bit more sense. Just so long as “the electorate” is defined as the lobbying industry and its clients, his prediction looks downright clairvoyant. I bet the fine people at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America — who are probably investing right now in the Jeb Bush-affiliated Right to Rise “social welfare” group — would strongly agree.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, February 28, 2015

March 4, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Citizens United, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Efficient Metaphor For What’s Wrong With Congress

We know Congress isn’t getting along. But that’s no good  reason to spend less time together.

The House’s 2012 calendar is out, and it reflects some of  the  divisions the chamber is experiencing. Majority Leader Eric Canto has scheduled   just 109 days in session, a schedule he said will  make for a more streamlined legislative process while giving  lawmakers the  opportunity to spend time with their constituents. House  Democratic Whip Steny  Hoyer complained that the schedule is “more of  the same.” This year so far,  the House has conducted legislative  business for just 111 days, Hoyer noted,  nearly equal to the 104 days  spent in recess or in pro forma session.

Let’s be clear: when the House is back home, they are not  on  vacation. Their work schedules in the district are sometimes more  arduous  than those they have in Washington, since lawmakers are  expected to travel  around their districts, speaking to a myriad of  constituencies. They also have  to raise campaign cash during these  trips, a task that is becoming an  increasingly larger part of their  jobs.

Nor is Congress slacking off when they are not actually  on the floors  of the House and Senate. They have committee hearings, meetings  with  constituents, and (hopefully) negotiating sessions with fellow  lawmakers.

But spending less time in Washington is not going to heal  the  divisions in Congress. In fact, it’s likely to get worse. Especially in  the  House, with its 435 members, personal relationships are critical to  achieving  compromise. Lawmakers who barely see each other will never  get past the  party-identification barrier.

Further, the calendar (like this year’s) is out of synch  with the  Senate calendar. The two chambers take week-long recesses at different   times, making it harder for the House and Senate to reach the  compromises  necessary to pass legislation.

The 2012 calendar is campaign-friendly, however. After  October 5,  members are free until after the 2012 elections, giving them the  time  to keep their jobs, but not actually do their jobs. The new calendar is   indeed more efficient, as Cantor contends. But it’s an efficient  metaphor for  what has gone wrong with Congress.

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, October 28, 2011

October 31, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Elections, GOP | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Olympia “Snowe” Keeps Falling

Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) published a joint op-ed in the Wall Street Journal the other day, calling for new measures to make the legislative process more difficult. No, seriously, that’s what they said.

For two years in a row, the Democratic-led Senate has failed to adopt a budget as required by law. Meanwhile, our gross national debt has climbed to almost $15 trillion — as large as our entire economy. Our bill puts in place a 60-vote threshold before any appropriation bill can be moved through Congress — unless both houses have adopted a binding budget resolution.

We can certainly have a conversation about the breakdown in the budget-writing process, but let’s think about what Snowe and Sessions are proposing here: they want to make it harder for Congress to approve appropriations bills, regardless of the consequences.

Jamison Foser explained, “Republicans, including Sessions and Snowe, have filibustered even the most uncontroversial of measures — and that knee-jerk opposition to just about anything the Senate majority wants to do is a significant part of the reason why the Senate hasn’t adopted a budget. Now Sessions and Snowe cynically use that failure to justify structural changes that would make it harder for the Senate to pass any appropriations bills.”

Snowe and Sessions went on to call for additional “reforms” that would make it far more difficult for Congress to approve “emergency” spending without mandatory supermajorities, too, because they’re horrified by efforts to “spend money we don’t have,” which might “bankrupt the country.”

Of course, Snowe and Sessions see no need for mandatory supermajorities when it comes to tax cuts, alleged “bankruptcy” fears notwithstanding.

But in the larger picture, have you noticed just how far Olympia Snowe has fallen lately? Last week she demanded the administration act with “urgency” to address the jobs crisis, only to filibuster a popular jobs bill just one day later. A week earlier, Snowe prioritized tax cuts for millionaires over job creation. Just a couple of weeks earlier, Snowe tried to argue that government spending is “clearly … the problem” when it comes to the nation’s finances, which is a popular line among conservatives, despite being wrong.

It’s tempting to think the fear of a primary challenge is pushing Snowe to the far-right, but the truth is, the senator’s GOP opponents next year are barely even trying. She may fear a replay of the Castle-O’Donnell fight that played out in Delaware, but all indications are that Snowe really doesn’t have anything to worry about.

And yet, she’s become a shell of her former self, leading to this op-ed — written with a right-wing Alabama senator, no less — demanding that the dysfunctional Senate adopt new ideas that make it more difficult to pass necessary legislation.

There is some prime real estate in the political landscape for genuine GOP moderates who could have a significant impact. Instead, Congress has Olympia Snowe, who now bears no resemblance to the centrist she used to be.

If I had to guess, I’d say most mainstream voters in Maine have no idea of the extent to which Snowe has moved to the right, which is a shame. I wonder how those who supported her in the past would even recognize her anymore.

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 25, 2011

October 27, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Deficits, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Income Gap, Independents, Jobs, Middle Class, Right Wing, Swing Voters, Taxes, Unemployed | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Discrediting the Legislative Process Itself

John Boehner-House Minority Leader of "No"

So far in the health-care debate, Republicans have attacked the legitimacy of private negotiations, parochial dealmaking, the budget reconciliation process, self-executing rules, the Congressional Budget Office’s analyses, and even the constitutionality of the legislation. It’s a good theory: Make people hate Washington and mistrust the legislative process and you’ll make people hate and mistrust what emerges from that process.

But it’s also dangerous. As Republicans well know, private negotiations between lawmakers, deals that advantage a state or a district, and a base level of respect for the CBO’s scores have long been central to the lawmaking progress. As the parties have polarized, reconciliation and self-executing rules (like deem and pass) have become more common — and the GOP’s own record, which includes dozens of reconciliation bills and self-executing rules, proves it.

The GOP’s answer to this is that health-care reform is important. Stopping the bill is worth pulling out all the stops. And I’m actually quite sympathetic to this view. Outcomes are, in fact, more important than process. But once you’ve taken the stops out, it’s hard to put them back in. Democrats will launch the very same attacks when they’re consigned to the minority, and maybe think up a few new ones of their own.

The result of this constant assault on how a bill becomes a law — a process that has never before been subject to such 24/7 scrutiny from cable news and blogs and talk radio — will be ever more public cynicism. Evan Bayh put it well in his New York Times op-ed. “Power is constantly sought through the use of means which render its effective use, once acquired, impossible,” he wrote. Republicans, who’re likely to return to power with a majority that’s well below 60 seats in the Senate and a 40-vote margin in the House, will soon find themselves on the wrong end of that calculus.

Photo credit: Melina Mara/Washington Post.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 19, 2010

March 19, 2010 Posted by | Health Reform | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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