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“Congress, Deal-Making, And How The Sausage Gets Made”: If You Want Bipartisan Cooperation, This Is What It Looks Like

The closer one looks at the $1.1 trillion spending package that barely cleared the House last night, the easier it is to notice its flaws. The so-called “CRomnibus” is filled with giveaways, rollbacks, and handouts that almost certainly don’t belong there.

Kevin Drum made a compelling case yesterday that many critics have overlooked an important, big-picture detail: if you want bipartisan cooperation, this is what it looks like.

This is one of those things that demonstrates the chasm between political activists and analysts on the one side, and working politicians on the other. If you take a look at the bill, it does indeed have a bunch of objectionable features. People like me, with nothing really at stake, can bitch and moan about them endlessly. But you know what? For all the interminable whining we do about the death of bipartisanship in Washington, this is what bipartisanship looks like. It always has. It’s messy, it’s ugly, and it’s petty. Little favors get inserted into bills to win votes. Other favors get inserted as payback for the initial favors. Special interests get stroked. Party whips get a workout.

That’s politics. The fact that it’s happening right now is, in a weird sense, actually good news. It means that, for a few days at least, politics is working normally again.

I think that’s largely correct. The old line about no one wanting to see how the sausage gets made applies to lawmaking for a reason – neither process is pretty. For many Americans – including plenty of Beltway pundits – there’s a sense that Democrats and Republicans can get stuff done if they just sit in a room and agree to work out a deal.

And here we have an excellent example of what happens when the parties do exactly that.

But I think there’s one other relevant detail to this that I’d add to the mix.

While it’s never pretty when these bipartisan, bicameral talks produce a thrown-together solution, what’s a little different about 2014 is that Congress, by historical standards, really is broken to an unusual degree. The legislative branch still exists, of course, but its capacity for governing has atrophied to a level with no modern precedent.

That’s relevant in this context for one simple reason: lawmakers realized that this spending bill was an extremely rare opportunity to advance their policy goals. Some of those goals had merit, and some were ridiculous, but in either case, members of Congress saw something unusual: a shortcut.

We all know that the usual legislative process is long and arduous. It involves a series of choke points – hearings, committees, amendments, chambers, etc. – all of which make failure easy. Apply that to the contemporary Congress, which struggles to complete even routine tasks, and members understand that their proposals are almost certain to die, regardless of popularity or merit.

But if a lawmaker can get that proposal squeezed into a spending package like this, all of a sudden, the choke points disappear. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the “CRomnibus” is, in legislative terms, the shortest distance between drafting and law.

To be sure, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon, but my point is, the need to take advantage of these rare opportunities is more acute when the usual legislative process has broken down to such a farcical degree.

This was members’ only chance to advance their ideas. Are we surprised they exploited it?


By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Congress, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Modern-Day Voter Suppression”: A Poll Tax By Another Name Is Still A Poll Tax

For supporters of voting restrictions, opposition to voter-ID laws seems practically inexplicable. After all, they argue, having an ID is a common part of modern American life, and if these laws prevent fraud, the requirements deserve broad support.

We know, of course, that the fraud argument is baseless, but it’s often overlooked how difficult getting proper identification – never before necessary to cast a ballot in the United States – can be in practice. To that end the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU published a report this week on “stories from actual voters” in Texas who are facing disenfranchisement for no good reason. Emily Badger flagged one especially striking example:

Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver’s license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.

He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver’s license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas’s new photo ID requirement.

One person was prohibited from voting because his driver’s license  ”was taken away from him in connection with a DUI.” Another Texan discovered he’d need a replacement birth certificate and a new ID, which required a series of procedural steps and a $30 fee he’d struggle to afford.

To hear opponents of voting rights tell it, voter-ID laws sound simple and easy. The practical reality is obviously far different – and in all likelihood, the laws’ proponents know this and don’t care. Indeed, a federal district court recently concluded that Texas’ law was designed specifically to discriminate against minority communities.

Under the circumstances, it seems hard to deny that we’re talking about a policy of modern-day poll taxes.

Jonathan Chait’s recent take of the larger dynamic summarized the issue perfectly.

During the Obama era … [Republicans] have passed laws requiring photo identification, forcing prospective voters who lack them, who are disproportionately Democratic and nonwhite, to undergo the extra time and inconvenience of acquiring them. They have likewise fought to reduce early voting hours on nights and weekends, thereby making it harder for wage workers and single parents, who have less flexibility at work and in their child care, to cast a ballot.

The effect of all these policies is identical to a poll tax…. It imposes burdens of money and time upon prospective voters, which are more easily borne by the rich and middle-class, thereby weeding out less motivated voters. Voting restrictions are usually enacted by Republican-controlled states with close political balances, where the small reduction in turnout it produces among Democratic-leaning constituencies is potentially decisive in a close race.

The simple logic of supply and demand suggests that if you raise the cost of a good, the demand for it will fall. Requiring voters to spend time and money obtaining new papers and cards as a condition of voting will axiomatically lead to fewer of them voting.

There is ample reason to believe that for Republican opponents of voting rights, this is a feature, not a bug. For all the rhetoric about “voting integrity” and imaginary claims about the scourge of systemic “voter fraud,” the underlying goal is to discourage participation, and in the process, improve GOP candidates’ odds of success.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 30, 2014

November 3, 2014 Posted by | Poll Tax, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mangled Mandate: How Paul Ryan And The GOP Are Misreading The American People

As with any election, there are competing narratives about what message the voters were sending last November when Democrats got routed in the mid-terms. Each party has offered a view on the meaning of the election. In the Democrats’ view, an economically anxious electorate was focused on jobs and repudiated Obama’s party for not delivering on job growth. In this telling, voters did not reject a liberal agenda but saw health care and other issues as diversions from their immediate pressing economic concerns. And there is some evidence to support this view: Nearly two out of three voters picked the economy as the single most important issue in deciding their vote, and Republicans won that vote. Republicans, on the other hand, argue that voters threw out Democrats in record numbers because they recoiled at incredible levels of government spending. And, indeed, some exit polling showed that voters registered their opposition to a more activist federal government: 56 percent said the government is doing too much, while only 38 percent said the government should do more to solve problems. Meanwhile, 40 percent of voters favored deficit-reduction.

Now, Republicans are intent on using their interpretation of the election to achieve their policy goals. They are offering a budget blueprint that slashes spending on Medicare and Medicaid and other government programs. Representative Paul Ryan’s plan dramatically cuts services to the middle class. As my colleague Jonathan Chait has pointed out, these cuts would be made by lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations. The whole proposal, in other words, represents a giant redistribution of wealth away from the middle class toward the rich. As the Congressional Budget Office notes about Ryan’s plan for Medicare, for example, “most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system.” What Ryan is really saying, then, is in the middle of this recession, after a decade of declining wages, the real problem in our country is that middle-class Americans have too many services and the rich have been too put upon. And he seems to think he has public support to back him up.

But are Ryan and other Republicans about to walk over quicksand, fooled by the illusion of firm ground beneath their feet after the November elections? Do Americans really want slashes to programs that serve them? Evidence suggests not—meaning Paul Ryan is teetering on the edge of a cliff, threatening to take all House Republicans down with him.

Even the Tea Party movement, whose momentum was built on outrage at government spending, seems to be waning somewhat; the movement’s rallies that once boasted huge numbers now bring only hundreds to the Capitol. As poll analyst Charlie Cook has pointed out, independents have also shifted to being more neutral toward government intervention in the economy over the last few months—from 60 percent saying the government was trying to do too much in October to only 47 percent agreeing with that idea now. (Or, seen from another angle, in the same time frame, people saying the government should do more has risen from 38 percent to 51 percent). And, perhaps even more ominous for Republicans, according to a recent Kaiser poll, 56 percent of Americans do not support any Medicare reductions, 35 percent support minor reductions, and only 8 percent support major reductions. The story is the same with Medicaid: 47 percent do not support Medicaid reductions, 39 percent support minor reductions and 13 percent support major reductions.

Dress it up as he likes, Paul Ryan is proposing to do just what polls show the American people don’t want—to shift more costs shift to individuals, including middle-class Americans. And many House Republicans agree with him, although, already, a few members are refusing to embrace the Ryan budget proposal. Politico has reported that several more vulnerable Republican members, including Blake Farenthold, Sean Duffy, and Ann Marie Buerkle, have called the plan bold, yet not embraced the details.

After every election, the victors try to define and act on their mandate. As Ryan and other Republicans rush through their effort to slash spending, however, they would do well to ask themselves whether it’s what the public really wants—or whether they’re woefully misreading the voters, and setting themselves up for disaster in the next election.

By: Neera Tanden, The New Republic, April 7, 2011

April 11, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Health Care, Ideology, Jobs, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Medicare, Middle Class, Politics, Populism, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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