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“Slavishly Beholden To A Small, Vocal Wing Of The Party”: Can John Boehner’s Catastrophic Speakership Get Any Worse?

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is not very good at his job. Or maybe he just hates the Republican Party. It’s impossible to tell anymore.

On Tuesday, Boehner finally threw in the towel on his foolhardy attempt to block President Obama’s immigration order via a fight over Homeland Security funding. It was a doomed attempt from the start, premised as it was on the belief that Democrats would magically give in to his demands. In the end, Boehner admitted a DHS shutdown was “simply not an option” and accepted the Senate’s bipartisan bill to fully fund DHS.

So what did Boehner accomplish from all this? Aside from placating his caucus’ insatiable right flank for a few months, nothing.

The DHS funding gambit was an exercise in cynicism from the start, and a transparent one at that. Boehner insisted for weeks that blame for a DHS shutdown should lie with Senate Democrats. But polls showed that a significant majority of Americans would have blamed Republicans. Even Fox News didn’t buy it.

By picking the losing fight anyway, Boehner once again painted his party as obstinate and clueless, and himself as slavishly beholden to a small, vocal wing of the party. It could have been worse. Had Boehner really allowed a DHS shutdown to occur — and weeks ago he said he was “certainly” willing to let that happen — it would have been a PR disaster for the party. Terrorism in the Middle East and Europe have dominated headlines for months, and a Homeland Security shutdown would have given Democrats a golden opportunity to assail Republicans for leaving America vulnerable.

Speaking of PR disasters, Tuesday also saw another calamity of Boehner’s creation, when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered a divisive speech to Congress blasting the Obama administration’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. The speech was condemned as a partisan stunt, in large part because Boehner invited Netanyahu without first informing the White House. Many Democrats refused to attend, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who did go, came away calling it an “insult to the intelligence of the United States.”

Tuesday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Boehner, but it was only the latest dismal chapter in his disastrous speakership.

Since grabbing the Speaker’s gavel, Boehner has been unable to figure out how to get around his party’s right wing. In every battle, Boehner must weigh the demands of an obstreperous cadre that considers “compromise” a four-letter word against a course of rational governance. And when the hardliners’ demands win out, Boehner forges ahead with no game plan to extricate his party from disaster. The fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling standoff, the government shutdown, the DHS fight, and on and on — all are products of Boehner’s floundering political machinations.

At times, Boehner’s stumbles have blown up in epic fashion. On multiple occasions, he canceled votes at the last minute when it became clear he lacked the votes to avoid humiliating revolts from his own caucus. In his race to please the base, he couldn’t even sue Obama properly, as two law firms quit his long-promised litigation over the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner’s bumbling makes sense to a point. In limp fits of self-preservation, he kowtows to the right before making a show of grudgingly dealing with Democrats. This would be perfectly understandable if not for the fact that Boehner keeps harming his own party in the process. The government shutdown torpedoed the GOP’s image. More petulant brinksmanship will only bring more of the same.

And to what end? Either Boehner truly believes he can stare Democrats into submission — and now that he’s formed a pattern of caving in fight after fight, there’s no reason why Dems would ever crack in the future — or he’s doing this all to save his own skin. Either he’s a horrible tactician, or a self-interested leader willing to save himself at his party’s expense.

In other words: Boehner is either terrible at his job, or he hates the GOP.

 

By: Jon Terbush, The Week, March 9, 2015

March 10, 2015 Posted by | Dept of Homeland Security, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bibi-Boehner Coalition”: Inviting The Leader Of Another Nation To Criticize Our Own President, And Netanyahu’s Decision To Accept

It was disconcerting to watch Congress cheer wildly as a foreign leader, the prime minister of one of America’s closest allies, trashed an American president’s foreign policy. It was equally strange that the Speaker of our House of Representatives interjected the United States Congress into an Israeli political campaign.

It fell to Isaac Herzog, Benjamin Netanyahu’s leading opponent in Israel’s March 17 election, to make the essential point: that Tuesday’s speech was “a very harsh wound to Israel-U.S. relations” and “will only widen the rift with Israel’s greatest ally and strategic partner.”

The rapturous greeting Congress bequeathed on Netanyahu for his attack on President Obama’s approach to negotiations with Iran no doubt created great footage for television ads back home and won him some votes at the right end of Israel’s electorate.

But Herzog’s observation stands: John Boehner’s unprecedented act of inviting the leader of another nation to criticize our own president, and Netanyahu’s decision to accept, threaten to damage the bipartisan and trans-ideological coalition that has always come together on behalf of Israel’s survival.

Netanyahu may have spoken the words, “We appreciate all that President Obama has done for Israel,” but the rest of his speech painted the president as foolish and on the verge of being duped on a nuclear deal by the mullahs in Tehran.

The Israeli leader reached for the most devastating metaphor available to him, the appeasement of the Nazis that led to the Holocaust. He urged the United States “not to sacrifice the future for the present” and “not to ignore aggression in the hopes of gaining an illusory peace.” This is what he was accusing Obama of doing. No wonder House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi described herself as “near tears” over Netanyahu’s “condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran.”

Pelosi was on to something here because the differences between Obama and Netanyahu are not over whether the Iranian regime in its current form is trustworthy. Nobody believes it is. At stake is a balance of risks, a choice between two imperfect outcomes.

On one side is a deal that buys at least a decade in which Iran will not be able to produce a nuclear weapon and will be subjected to inspections and other limitations. On the other side is a decision to blow up the current negotiations because the guarantees of any likely accord would not be sufficiently airtight.

Yes, the emerging deal does carry the risk that down the road, Iran could get nuclear weapons. But failing to reach an agreement will not necessarily stop Tehran from going nuclear, and an end to negotiations would in no way ensure that the rest of the world would return to effective sanctions. Netanyahu’s rhetoric pointed toward his real goal, which is regime change, but how exactly could that happen without armed conflict?

Netanyahu evaded this by offering a thoroughly rosy scenario. “Now, if Iran threatens to walk away from the table — and this often happens in a Persian bazaar — call their bluff,” he said. “They’ll be back, because they need the deal a lot more than you do.” Really? If the Iranian regime is as horrible as Netanyahu says it is, why does he expect its leaders to be as flexible as if they were haggling over the price of a carpet?

The crux of the difference between Obama and Netanyahu is about a bet on the future. The Israeli prime minister argued that “the ideology of Iran’s revolutionary regime is deeply rooted in militant Islam, and that’s why this regime will always be an enemy of America.” He added, “I don’t believe that Iran’s radical regime will change for the better after this deal.”

Obama’s bet, by contrast, is that a deal opening up space and time provides the best chance we have of encouraging political evolution in Iran. Of course there is no guarantee of this, but it’s a reasonable assumption that ending the negotiations would set back the forces of change.

Skeptics of an agreement, Netanyahu included, can usefully push Obama to get the longest timeline and the toughest guarantees he can, and American negotiators can try to use the threat of opposition in Congress to strengthen the final terms.

But Netanyahu never gave a satisfactory answer to the most important question: What is the alternative? As for Netanyahu’s provocative and divisive intervention in American politics and Boehner’s meddling in Israel’s election, the voters of our friend and ally will render a judgment soon.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post; Featured Post, The National Memo, March 5, 2015

March 6, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Policy, John Boehner | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Dynamic GOP Often Bemoan’s”: Don’t Mess With Government Giveaways To The Well-Off

The Obama administration has given up on its plan to remove the tax benefits of 529 college investment accounts, which under current law allow parents to put money away, then withdraw it to pay for their children’s education without paying any taxes on the profits. Republicans not only basked in what looked like a White House defeat, but were emphatic in their defense of the 529 tax break: John Boehner called the proposal “a tax hike on middle-class families.”

As often happens with a punctured trial balloon, we say afterward, “How could they not have known this would never fly?”

If you want to know whether an idea like this has any chance of getting support in Congress, the first question to ask is, who is going to be harmed? The 529 proposal was targeted at what may be the single most dangerous constituency to anger: the upper middle class. That’s because they’re wealthy enough to have influence, and numerous enough to be a significant voting block.

The administration’s proposal may not have been policy genius, but it was certainly defensible. While 529 plans are open to anyone, they give their greatest benefit to those who have the disposable income to make substantial contributions to them, which of course are the wealthy and near-wealthy. While different surveys have produced slightly different figures (some are discussed here), it’s clear that most of the tax benefit was flowing to parents with six-figure incomes who could afford to pay taxes on the profits of their 529 accounts.

The administration’s idea was to increase other tax credits for education alongside removing the 529 benefit, so that more tax benefits would go to those who need them more. If officials had been thinking more about the potential backlash, they might have instead proposed taking away the 529 benefit only for those with incomes over some high level like $200,000 a year. But they didn’t, perhaps because that would have been another layer of complexity to the tax code, and one of their rationales for this proposal was simplifying the available tax benefits for education.

Whatever the reason, this is what they came up with, and the details of the proposal made its demise inevitable. Not only was it opposed by Republicans, even Democrats didn’t like it; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi personally lobbied the President to drop it, and had encouragement from Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. Is it a coincidence that both members — Pelosi from San Francisco, and Van Hollen from Montgomery County in Maryland — have lots of wealthy and upper middle class constituents who have no doubt taken advantage of 529 benefits? Probably not.

The Republicans who are crowing about the White House’s retreat ought to remind themselves that this is yet another illustration of a dynamic they often bemoan: that it’s easy to give people a government benefit, but much harder to take it away once it’s in place. And while they sneer in disgust at the moochers who get food stamps or Medicaid, the program they’re now celebrating is a government giveaway, too, just one that is mostly given away to people who don’t need it.

Here’s the real lesson from this whole affair:  If you want to create a politically bulletproof government benefit, like the 529 program or the mortgage interest deduction (which costs the government about $70 billion a year), just make sure it’s technically open to anyone, but that the chief beneficiaries will be people who are doing well. They’ll squawk if it ever gets threatened, and it’s an absolute certainty that their representatives in Congress — Democrat and Republican alike — will hear them loud and clear.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 29, 2015

January 30, 2015 Posted by | Education, Republicans, Tax Credits | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Likud Lobby”: Let’s Stop Pretending Israel Isn’t A Partisan Issue

When House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without bothering to let the White House know, as is normal practice when dealing with foreign leaders, he no doubt thought he was getting a little sauce for the gander. You want to find ways to get Republicans mad, President Obama? Okay, how about if I invite the leader of one of our closest allies here to basically lobby against your position on Iran? How do you like that?

Boehner was right on that score: President Obama doesn’t like it very much. Neither did Nancy Pelosi, who blasted Boehner’s move this morning as “inappropriate,” adding: “It’s out of the ordinary that the Speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation.”

But maybe this skirmish over diplomatic protocol is a good thing for everyone. Maybe we can stop pretending that Americans and Israelis are nothing more than loving and committed allies offering unwavering support to one another, when the truth is that parties in both countries are active participants in each other’s partisan politics.

The current disagreement is about negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. There’s a bill in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, to impose new sanctions on Iran if a deal isn’t struck by June 30. The administration says that passing such legislation now, while the negotiations are at a sensitive point, would guarantee failure: the Iranians would pull out, then ramp up their nuclear program.

Republicans, and some Democrats like Menendez, don’t think so. They seem to believe that the only thing that produces results is being “tough,” and that even in diplomacy there are no carrots, only sticks. This also happens to be the position of the Netanyahu administration, which supports the sanctions bill. But not all in the Israeli government agree. Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, has been telling both the Obama administration and whatever American senators will listen that “if legislation that imposed a trigger leading to future sanctions on Iran was signed into law, it would cause the talks to collapse.”

So the Republicans have asked Netanyahu to come join them in this debate, and he is more than willing. Which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. For years we’ve had one party (the Republicans) that is fervently committed to the right-wing Likud’s vision for Israel, and another party (the Democrats) that is much more committed to the Israeli Labor party’s vision. When each holds the White House, they put those beliefs into policy. But both will say only that we all have a bipartisan commitment to “support” the Jewish state, as though what “support” means is always simple and clear.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has done what he can to help Republicans. In 2012, his all-but-explicit advocacy for Mitt Romney ended up getting him in trouble back home. The current Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is American-born political operative Ron Dermer; as Josh Marshall says: “His relationship with Netanyahu has been compared to Karl Rove’s with George W. Bush. And a main reason for his being Ambassador is his ties to DC Republicans.”

And here’s a colorful illustration of the symbiotic relationship between the GOP and Netanyahu’s Likud. The Republican Party’s greatest patron is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who spent somewhere between $100 and $150 million trying to unseat Barack Obama in 2012. And who is Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest patron? None other than Sheldon Adelson, who a few years ago created a free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, whose primary purpose is to blanket the country with news favorable to Netanyahu.

It has long been true that the debate about what Israel should do — with regard to the Palestinians or anything else — is infinitely more varied and robust in Israel itself than here in the United States, where the only allowable public position for a politician to take is that we support whatever the Israeli government wants to do. This unanimity is maintained by a variety of forces, most notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” but in practice has for decades been not the Israel lobby but the Likud lobby, representing one particular faction in Israeli politics.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of his country, but he’s also the leader of that faction, and at the moment he’s in the midst of an election campaign (one the Obama administration would be all too happy to see him lose). If Congressional Republicans want him to come be a spokesperson for the Republican position in the debate over Iran, that’s fine. But we should use the occasion to allow ourselves a little honestly. Yes, the United States and Israel are close allies whose core interests are aligned. But in neither country is there agreement about how to serve those interests. There’s no such thing as a “pro-Israel” position on this issue, because Israelis themselves have a profound dispute about it, just as there’s no such thing as one “pro-America” position on anything we argue about.

So we can call this speech what it is: an effort by one conservative politician to help a bunch of other conservative politicians achieve their preferred policy. Maybe afterward, John Boehner can return the favor and cut some ads advocating Netanyahu’s reelection. Though I’m not sure how well that would go over in Israel.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 22, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A New Day For Liberals”: What We Learned In The Epic Clash Over The Spending Bill

The House passage of the omnibus spending act is on its face a defeat for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party that fought to block it. In the end, though, risking a government shutdown over the bill’s ugliest provisions – restoring government protection to risky bank maneuvers and raising the cap on party contributions, astronomically – was probably too much to expect. According to Greg Sargent, Dem sources say that while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi fought it ferociously, in the end she signaled that members could vote their conscience.

And what did that vote tell us about the Democratic Party? Most of the departing Blue Dogs who lost their seats voted for the bill, predictably. In a break with President Obama, who lobbied for it, most of the Congressional Black Caucus did not. The remaining House Democrats are going to be more reliably critical of Wall Street, and less inclined to bow to the White House. 2015 is going to be interesting.

I admit, for a few hours on Thursday I thought Democrats might be able to win the public relations battle if they blocked the bill. Why should taxpayers protect risk-taking banks? The story of how Citigroup wrote the provision, and Wall Street’s friends snuck it in, is so outrageous I thought it had a chance to carry the day. So Republicans wouldn’t pass a spending bill without this giveaway to Wall Street? That would make them responsible for a government shutdown. But Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies may have thought the same thing about their message when they shut down the government last year.

We’ll never know if Democrats could have mustered populist outrage over Washington catering to Wall Street in the event of a new shutdown. But what else did we learn from the battle?

We now know that Nancy Pelosi is through guaranteeing the votes for ugly messes liberals hate (like the debt ceiling and sequester deals) but that House Speaker John Boehner can’t pass alone. In a new Congress where many Blue Dogs lost their seats, this sets the stage for House Democrats to block elements of the GOP agenda, especially when there can be left-right alliances.  Tea Party defenders say it was partly inspired by outrage at the 2008 Wall Street bailout and corporate-government cronyism; it would be nice if House adherents remembered those roots.

We also know that Elizabeth Warren wasn’t tamed by her ascent into Senate Democratic leadership; she was emboldened. While her star turn may increase the pressure on her to run for president, I’m with Elias Isquith here: I still hope she doesn’t. A President Warren would lack a Sen. Warren protecting her left flank. Giving Warren more progressive Senate allies would be more politically productive than elevating her to the White House.

We’re also seeing a more clearly defined bloc of Wall Street critics emerge in the Democratic Party, just in time for 2016. The Warren-led battle over Treasury nominee Antonio Weiss is also heating up – and both fights pit the popular progressive against President Obama.

Many news accounts have depicted the spending bill battle as Warren vs. Obama, setting up an ongoing clash between the two Democratic leaders. But I think the Warren vs. Obama story line can be overblown. It’s probably too much to expect the president to veto the spending bill and effectively shut down the government – clearly he doesn’t share my optimism that Democrats could win that P.R. battle.  But if the noxious measures hidden in the bill came to him as individual pieces of legislation, he’d be under a new level of pressure from congressional Democrats to veto them, and I expect he would. Obama made clear that while he wanted Democrats to support the spending bill he shared their opposition to both provisions.

In fact, the next two years will be a test of who the president really is: the change agent who inspired progressives, or the guardian of Wall Street power that his left-wing detractors claim he is. Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel makes the case that Warren, rather than being an Obama opponent, could be the best protector of his legacy that the president has. We’ll see.

 

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, December 12, 2014

December 13, 2014 Posted by | Big Banks, Democrats, Federal Budget | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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