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“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

“Don’t Even Give Them A Fig Leaf”: Democrats Should Call The GOP’s Debt Ceiling Bluff

Ever since the last debt ceiling fight, Republicans have insisted that the next showdown would be different. Though they came away with zero concessions in October, surely, they said, they could score some policy victories in the future.

“We don’t want ‘nothing’ out of this debt limit,” Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in December.

With a deadline to raise the debt ceiling approaching this Friday (though Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has said he can manage until the end of February), House Republicans are indeed talking about what they’d like in exchange for upping the nation’s borrowing limit. However, their internal talks aren’t going so well.

The GOP’s two leading ideas for handling the debt ceiling — tying it to a provision mandating the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, or one tweaking ObamaCare — fell apart Wednesday due to a lack of Republican support. Both would have included a one-year extension of the debt ceiling.

More from The Washington Post’s Robert Costa:

Both ideas were debated at a conference meeting and members expected the conference to coalesce around one of the plans by later this week.

That playbook soon fizzled, however, once GOP leadership aides fanned out throughout the Capitol to take the temperature of members about the plans. Instead of finding growing support, they found unease and complaints, with myriad concerns raised by the House’s right flank. [Washington Post]

Sound familiar?

It should. Republicans folded twice last year on their debt ceiling demands after realizing that threats to plunge the nation into potential financial chaos aren’t too popular with voters.

Just a few months ago, Republicans entered the debt ceiling and government funding talks with a fantastical list of demands. The ask rapidly shrank, though, when Democrats refused to budge. Yet House leadership, fearful of angering the party’s right wing, refused to give in either.

The plan backfired, and Republicans came away with nothing except historically low poll numbers:

For Republicans to think they have any more leverage now is just delusional.

President Obama has insisted that Congress send him a clean debt ceiling bill, meaning one free of any extraneous provisions. Public opinion is on his side. A recent CNN survey found that 54 percent of Americans would blame the GOP if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. Only 29 percent would blame Obama.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly has a Plan B in the works that would swap the debt ceiling hike for the restoration of some military benefits. Yet there is no guarantee the plan could overcome the objections on the right, since it would technically raise spending, something anathema to Tea Partiers. And even if it were to somehow get the support of a majority of the GOP caucus, House Democrats reaffirmed Wednesday that they wouldn’t bargain, period.

The whole standoff is reminiscent of Rep. Marlin Stutzman’s (R-Ind.) oblivious remark about the debt ceiling standoff back in October: “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Republicans want something, anything, in exchange for a debt ceiling vote, but they can’t even settle on what that something might be.

The bottom line is that since Republicans caved in the past, there’s no reason to believe they won’t cave again. Boehner himself admitted earlier this week that “there’s no sense picking a fight we can’t win.”

The GOP can’t win. Democrats should call that bluff and not even give them a fig leaf.


By: Jon Terbush, The Week, February 6, 2014

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Way Out”: GOP Eyes “Obamacare Trap” Warily

Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R) held an event in his Indiana district this week, at which health care was a major topic of conversation. According to a local press account, not everyone in this Republican area necessarily opposes “Obamacare.”

But Stutzman seemed to realize at the event that simply condemning what he doesn’t like won’t be enough. “What are you replacing it with? That’s what everybody is asking right now,” the congressman said, adding, “There’s several Republican plans that are competing with each other right now just internally. After the first of the year, we are going to try to sort through that.”

That last part was actually rather newsworthy – we didn’t know that House Republicans are planning to finally present their alternative to the Affordable Care Act sometime in 2014. In fact, Byron York reported that intra-party talks are still underway.

[I]n private discussions, House Republicans stress their differences over the details of an Obamacare alternative. For example, there’s no agreement on precisely how to fix the tax inequity for people who don’t receive health coverage at work. There are similar disagreements over all sorts of other points of policy. “Getting unanimity is a tall order for a divided, leaderless party,” says the GOP aide.

As Democrats can attest, getting unanimity is a tall order for a united party with strong leaders, too.

Regardless, while York describes an “Obamacare trap” in which Republican lawmakers struggle with whether to fix or destroy the existing system, the circumstances lead me to believe a very different kind of trap is set.

Let’s say, after five years of effort, House Republicans finally emerge from behind closed doors with a health care reform package they’re proud of and willing to present to the public. What then? The GOP plan will be subjected to some policy scrutiny, which is where the party is likely to run into some trouble.

It’s easy to imagine a side-by-side comparison, in which the Affordable Care Act is tested against the Republican alternative. Which covers more uninsured Americans? Which reduces the deficit more? Which offers the stronger consumer protections? Which is more effective in controlling long-term costs?

I’d bet good money that on all of these questions, the GOP plan will lose – not because Republican policies are necessarily worse than Democratic policies, but because Republicans have already said their approach to health care would eschew regulations and public investments. And while it’s possible to create a health care plan without spending or safeguards, it’s not possible to create a good health care plan without them.

Ultimately, that’s the “trap” GOP officials need to be mindful of. On the one hand, they can continue to offer nothing in the way of an alternative, effectively telling the public they’re not serious about the issue and they prefer to take cheap shots rather than govern. On the other, they can build a consensus around an Obamacare alternative that almost certainly won’t be nearly as good as the ACA. (Remember, the basic framework of the Affordable Care Act was the Republican policy up until a few years ago.)

The trap is set. The question isn’t whether Republicans will fall in, but rather, whether they can get out.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 18, 2013

December 19, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Reform | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Risky Business”: Corporate Leaders Bemoan Tea Party Default Crisis Created By Their Own Donations

America’s great minds of business and finance have reached a consensus on the government shutdown and worse, the prospect of a debt default: While the latter is worse, both are bad. Those same great minds are well aware how the shutdown came to pass and why default still looms on the horizon, whether next week, next month, or next year.

Yes, the frightened corporate leaders surely know how this happened — because their money funded the Tea Party candidates and organizations responsible for the crisis.

Consider Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a Tea Party freshman whose outspoken stupidity on a default’s potential benefits, such as an improved U.S. credit rating, has provided a bit of dark humor in these dark days. Yoho, a large-animal veterinarian, announced months ago that he would never vote to raise the debt ceiling.

Like most Republican candidates, he had no problem raising contributions from business interests, notably including contractors, insurance companies, manufacturers and agricultural processors — all of which presumably share the horror of default expressed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But no doubt Yoho parroted the usual right-wing clichés about taxes, regulation, labor, and health care, so all the business guys wrote a check without caring that Yoho is an ignorant yobbo.

Or consider Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), who came to embody the idiocy of the shutdown when he declared “we’re not going to be disrespected” by the White House, but couldn’t articulate precisely what Republicans needed in order to reopen the government and avoid default.  Another low-wattage Tea Party newcomer, Stutzman likewise raised plenty of money from commercial banks, real estate firms, insurance companies, and various manufacturers. Why do these executives write checks to elect someone like him?

Then there are the Tea Party leaders in the upper chamber, including such adornments of democracy as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and of course Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Johnson says there need be no debt default, no matter what Congress does, while Cruz, the “Defund Obamacare” mastermind, is more culpable than any other single legislator for the paralysis gripping Washington and the country. Johnson’s top donors include an investment firm called Fiduciary Management, Inc., ironically enough, as well as Northwestern Mutual, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Mass Mutual Life Insurance, and naturally, Koch Industries (which now claims, disingenuously, that it doesn’t favor the Cruz shutdown strategy or a debt default).

As for Cruz, guess who paid for his campaign? Very close to the top of the list of donors for the despised Texan is none other than Goldman Sachs — whose chairman Lloyd Blankfein showed up at the White House a few days ago to bemoan the catastrophic threat of default. Not only did Blankfein and his fellow bankers warn of what might happen if America breaches its full faith and credit, but he even hinted that the fault lies with Republican hostage takers. Which is only partially right, because Blankfein and his fellow financiers need to look in the mirror, too. Cruz also got a big check from Berkshire Hathaway, corporate home of the venerated Wall Street sage Warren Buffett, who just compared the impact of default to “a nuclear bomb.” If that nuke wipes out the markets, Berkshire’s investment in Cruz will have lit the fuse.

If any of these business leaders honestly cared about fiscal responsibility and economic growth – let alone the constant threat of shutdowns and defaults – they could step up to warn the Republicans that the money won’t be there anymore unless they cease and desist from such assaults on democracy. They have more than enough money and power to end this crisis – and make sure it never happens again – but they seem to lack the necessary character and courage.


By: Joe Conason, Featured Post, The National Memo, October 11, 2013

October 14, 2013 Posted by | Big Business, Default, Government Shut Down | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pride Goeth Before The Shutdown”: The “Special Role” Of Boehner And The Screaming Tykes

It’s remarkable how much the current crop of House Republican radicals seems bent on repeating the mistakes of their Gingrichian forebears. First, of course, they shut down the government. The ostensible reason was implacable opposition to Obamacare in the name of “ the American people” (even if the American people actually support neither rolling back the Affordable Care Act nor shutting down the government), but as the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman detailed Saturday, that message has gotten muddled in a GOP talking points funhouse mirror where conservatives are suddenly defenders of government and seekers of compromise.

But the most plausible reason enunciated to this point – now openly verbalized by at least two Republican House members – also happens to be the most offensive: pride.

Florida GOP Rep. Dennis Ross told Weisman that the shutdown is imperiling the “significant gains” conservatives have made on cutting spending because – wait for it – “there’s no connection now between the shutdown and the funding of Obamacare.” So what’s going on then? “I think now it’s a lot about pride,” said Ross, a tea party conservative who has elsewhere acknowledged that the GOP has already “lost the [continuing resolution] battle.”

Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman, another denizen of the conservative fringe, told the Washington Examiner’s David Drucker that “we’re not going to be disrespected. … We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Side note to Congressman Stutzman: While it’s often said “respect must be earned,” that’s actually not the case in Washington. Inside the beltway titles and offices get their due respect – disrespect must be earned. And there’s no surer way to do that than shutting down the government and refusing to reopen it on the grounds that “we have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

In any case, Stutzman later issued a statement trying to walk back his comment, saying that he had “carelessly misrepresented the ongoing budget debate.” But if he was careless it was only in the sense of committing the classic Washington gaffe: telling the truth. As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote on Thursday:

Stutzman is right. The fight over the shutdown has become unmoored from any particular policy demands the GOP believes it can secure. It’s become an issue of pride and politics. At this point, Republicans simply need something so they can tell themselves, and their base, that they didn’t lose. They don’t know what that something is, exactly. But it needs to be something.

Decoupled from Obamacare, the shutdown has become about soothing the flustered tea party wing of the GOP. These pols have adopted a kindergarten-esque view of legislating: they deserve some sort of reward just because they tried really hard and because they really, really want it. The government’s been shut down? It’s all good because, in the memorable words of Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, “This is about the happiest I’ve seen members in a long time, because we see we are starting to win this dialogue on a national level.” (Given the initial polling of the shutdown, she seems to have a unique definition of winning.)

As I noted yesterday, the Times reported that Boehner and his team know that they’ve got an untenable position but are determined to drag the showdown on long enough wrap the debt ceiling fight into it. They want to minimize the number of tantrums the caucus’s conservative fringe throws over its inability to win on either of its quixotic quests.

This view of shutting down the federal government as some sort of tea party therapy strategy brings us back to the ghosts of 1995. One of the turning points of the first government shutdown came when the New York Daily News (a corporate cousin, as both it and U.S. News & World Report are owned by Mort Zuckerman) published a famous front page portraying then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich as a cry-baby. Gingrich had complained to reporters about feeling slighted after he had been made to sit at the back of Air Force One and exit through the rear door when he flew back with President Clinton from the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. “This is petty,” Gingrich said. “I’m going to say up front it’s petty, but I think it’s human.” The public got the basic pettiness of bringing the work of governance to halt over personal pride.

John Boehner, with his endearing crying jags and carefully timed minor profanities isn’t so stupid as to articulate the reasons for shutting the government down in terms of personal or movement pride. But if the Daily News recycles its famous front page some time in the next few days it won’t be a caricature of one giant crybaby but instead one of a hapless Boehner surrounded by dozens of screaming tykes. How long will it be before more members of the tea party fringe, empowered by their unshakable belief in their own special role of spokesperson for “the American people,” follow the lead of Stutzman and Ross?


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, October 6, 2013

October 6, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , | Leave a comment

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