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“Right vs Far-Right In Texas Primaries”: ‘GOP Establishment’ Has Co-opted The Tea Party With Its Own Savage Rhetoric And Policies

Yesterday was arguably the first big Election Day of the 2014 cycle, with Texas holding Republican and Democratic primaries statewide. And with Gov. Rick Perry (R) stepping down after 13 years as the state’s chief executive, voters saw competitive contests up and down the ballot, creating frenzied races Texans hadn’t seen in a while.

As the dust settles, it appears most of the establishment candidates prevailed. This New York Times piece helped summarize the conventional wisdom about the larger implications.

Establishment Republican leaders on Tuesday defeated challenges from the right in a statewide primary election as conservatives inspired by Senator Ted Cruz largely failed to topple mainstream incumbents, and a race for lieutenant governor headed for a runoff.

Similarly, the headline from The Hill reads, “Top Texas Tea Party challengers flame out.”

With candidates like Sen. John Cornyn (R), Rep. Pete Sessions (R), and gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott (R) easily dispatching rivals from the fringe, the notion that the GOP establishment reasserted itself certainly makes sense.

But it’s best not to push these assumptions too far. Ed Kilgore had an item on Monday – the day before the primary – about the likely results, which rings true two days later: “If no Tea Party insurgents … score a major victory, you will hear some observers declare the movement dead or dying, right there in Ted Cruz’s backyard. Others (myself included) will note that thanks to Cruz and following Rick Perry’s earlier lead, the ‘Republican Establishment’ in Texas has largely coopted the Tea Party movement with its own savage rhetoric and policies.”

If the top-line takeaway is that the GOP Establishment won and the Tea Party faltered, some might get the impression that more moderate conservatives prevailed over voices of extremism. That impression would be mistaken. Federal lawmakers like Cornyn and Sessions became some of the most conservative members of Congress in recent years as Republican politics in Texas became more radicalized.

In other words, yesterday pitted very conservative Republicans against hyper-conservative Republicans. That the former scored victories isn’t exactly a win for the American mainstream.

Looking ahead, Abbott, Texas’ attorney general, will face state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) in a high-profile match-up that’s likely to be a very expensive contest.

Also keep an eye on Rep. Ralph Hall (R), a long-time incumbent who was pushed yesterday into a May 27 runoff primary.

And perhaps most interesting of all will be the Republican runoff in the race for lieutenant governor.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) has been forced into a primary runoff and trails his challenger, sports broadcaster Dan Patrick (R).

Patrick leads Dewhurst by 43 percent to 28 percent with 24 percent of precincts reporting. The Associated Press has called that the race will head to a runoff.

In 2012, Dewhurst was the early frontrunner in the open U.S. Senate race, before he got crushed by Ted Cruz. As yesterday’s primary results helped make clear, his career hasn’t recovered well.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 4, 2014

March 6, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Tea Party, Texas | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pete Sessions And The GOP’s ‘Immoral’ Conservatism”: Allowing People To Die To Advance A Political Philosophy Isn’t Just Bad Policy

“It is immoral.”

That was the judgment of Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, on the House floor this week. But the subject of his sermon wasn’t the Assad regime in Syria or human trafficking. What Sessions found immoral was the repugnant notion that the government would help Americans who lost their jobs and are looking for work.

Sessions was preaching in response to Democrats’ pleas that the Republican majority hold a vote on restoring unemployment-insurance benefits to the 1.7 million who have lost them since the benefits expired six weeks ago and the 70,000 or so who are losing them each week. Sessions, on the floor to usher through the House “sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement” legislation, explained why he wouldn’t bring up jobless benefits: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployment to people rather than us working on creation of jobs.”

In fact, the economy has added about 8.5 million private-sector jobs in the last 47 months, and overall unemployment, at 6.6 percent in January, would be substantially lower if Sessions and his colleagues hadn’t been so successful in their “work” of cutting government spending when the recovery was fragile.

One result of the Great Recession, though, has been historically high long-term unemployment — 3.6 million people out of work 27 weeks or more, according to Friday’s Labor Department report. This is falling — by 1.1 million over the last year — but those still searching, from all parts of the country and all walks of life, need help.

Republican opponents of the benefits extension said they would consider extending that help if it were “paid for” by saving money elsewhere. So Senate Democrats drafted a three-month extension that was paid for using an accounting method Republicans have supported in the past. Republicans responded with another filibuster — and on Thursday they again succeeded in blocking an extension of benefits.

Those opposing unemployment insurance were conspicuously absent during the debate. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) was brave enough to issue a statement: “We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program.”

That echoes the Sessions complaint that extending benefits is “immoral.” And, as is often the case, these complaints, in turn, echo Rush Limbaugh. After President Obama on Jan. 31 signed a memorandum directing the federal government not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed, the radio host responded: “So he says, ‘I’m directing every federal agency to make sure we are evaluating candidates on the level, without regard to their employment history.’ What if they’re fired because they’re drunk? What if they’re fired because they were having affairs with the boss’s secretary? Doesn’t matter. Can’t look at that.”

Of course, the memorandum says no such thing. Limbaugh and his congressional apostles are justifying indifference to the unemployed much the way one denies a panhandler under the rationale that he would use the money only to buy more booze. But these are not panhandlers; these are, by definition, people who had been working and are trying to work again.

The Sessions/Inhofe/Limbaugh definition of morality is based in the ideal world of universal productivity they’d like to see, but it offers little help for human misery in the real world. This morality can be seen, too, in the attempt, led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and embraced by many conservative lawmakers, to repeal the “risk corridors” that protect health insurers from unanticipated losses under Obamacare. That would likely bring down the entire health-care law, as its foes desire. But a collapse would also cause 30 million to 40 million additional people to lose their health insurance suddenly, with no obvious solution or easy way back to the old system. “It would precipitate a crisis,” says Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

This morality is also at work in the decisions by 25 states under Republican control to reject the expansion of Medicaid offered under Obamacare. The states generally object because they are philosophically opposed to entitlement programs. But a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and City University of New York calculates that 7,115 to 17,104 more people will die annually than would have if their states had accepted the Medicaid expansion. The researchers, who favor a single-payer health system, examined demographic data and past insurance expansions.

Conservatives dispute the study’s findings, and I hope the critics are right. Allowing people to die to advance your political philosophy isn’t just bad policy. It’s immoral.


By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 7, 2014

February 10, 2014 Posted by | Medicaid Expansion, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Bother Us With Governing”: With Caucus-Wide Sentiment, House GOP Pushes Distractions Over Policy

At the start of every Congress, the leadership of both chambers generally set aside bill numbers as a way of designating their biggest priorities. The House Republican majority, for example, will set aside H.R. 1 through H.R. 10 for their top 10 most important bills – the ones they’re most eager to pass.

And in this Congress, H.R. 1 has nothing to do with immigration, health care, energy, or security. Rather, it’s tax reform.

For the last several months, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) has been quietly meeting with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on a major overhaul of the federal tax code – the first in a generation. It’s no easy task, and Camp has made clear he considers this the most important project of his political career.

The general proposition is pretty straightforward: if Congress eliminates unnecessary deductions, closes loopholes, and scraps superfluous tax giveaways, the result will be a simpler, streamlined tax code that produces more revenue. The benefit would mean more deficit reduction, lower rates overall, or both. The trouble, of course, is that those deductions, loopholes, and giveaways have their champions and they’re hard to get rid of, compounded by the fact that Democrats and Republicans disagree on what to do with the new revenue.

But that’s not the only trouble. Brian Faler had a report this morning on an angle I hadn’t considered.

[Some of Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp’s] fellow Republicans now don’t want him to release his long-awaited tax reform bill for fear it will allow Democrats to change the subject. They want the public’s focus on people who have lost their health insurance and those having trouble signing up at, and not on what will surely be a controversial tax-reform bill.

It’s a cruel bit of timing for Camp, who’s spent three years, almost since the day Republicans took control of the House, trying to build support for the first tax overhaul in a generation. He’s repeatedly promised his panel would take up legislation this year, and if it doesn’t soon, Camp – who faces term-limit restrictions on his chairmanship – may never get the chance.

Got that? Camp believes he’s finally made progress on H.R. 1 – ostensibly the one thing House Republicans actually want to pass in this Congress – and he’s eager to move forward. Camp, however, is effectively hearing from his own allies, “Don’t bother us with that now; we’re too busy raising a fuss about health care.”

Indeed, the Politico report added that lobbyists involved with the process believe House GOP leaders will “pressure Camp to pull the plug” on his tax-reform measure.

This reminds me a bit of a story from March, when Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) said he wanted to tackle legislation regarding loan guarantees to clean-energy companies, but he dropped the legislation because “he chose to focus more” on Benghazi and Fast and Furious.

In other words, the congressman had a policy priority, but it was abandoned – a partisan crusade got in the way.

Seven months later, it seems Camp is running into a similar issue. He wants to follow through on years of work on tax reform – for the record, I have a hunch I won’t care for his plan – but his effort is getting in the way of Republicans’ anti-healthcare fun.

And since it’s a post-policy party, the conflict between governing and gamesmanship isn’t much of a contest, at least with the House GOP majority.

Don’t forget, just last week Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) boasted that the House Republicans’ top priority should be “messaging,” not problem solving. As Dave Camp is apparently realizing, this is a caucus-wide sentiment.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 13, 2013

November 14, 2013 Posted by | Congress, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Purpose Driven Lies”: Crocodile Tears From The Koch Brothers

They may say otherwise, but the evidence is clear: Republicans had no interest in Obama’s success.

The latest campaign from Americans for Prosperity—the Koch-funded conservative group—is a $7 million ad buy meant to highlight the disappointment of various Obama supporters. The commercial, which runs for one minute, will air on broadcast and cable in 11 battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. CNN has a few excerpts:

“I had hoped that the new president would bring new jobs–not major layoffs, not people going through major foreclosures on their homes,” one woman says in the ad.

Another voter adds: “He said he was going to cut the deficit in his first term. I’ve seen zero interest in reducing spending. He inherited a bad situation, but he made it worse.”

Piling on, a third voter says: “I still believe in hope and change. I just don’t think Obama is the way to go for that.”

At the Washington Post, Greg Sargent calls this an “emerging GOP tactic for dealing with Obama’s personal popularity.” He paraphrases, “We didn’t want Obama to fail; we shared his high hopes for his presidency; but …”

If Republicans go this route, I hope reporters take a page from Michael Grunwald, who details GOP obstruction of the stimulus in his just-released book The New New Deal, and reveals the extent to which the GOP never intended to work with Obama, regardless of what he did. This anecdote is typical of how Republicans approached Obama from the beginning of his administration:

In early January, the House Republican leadership team held a retreat at an Annapolis inn. Pete Sessions, the new campaign chair, opened his presentation with the political equivalent of an existential question:

“If the purpose of the Majority is to Govern…What is Our Purpose?” […]

“The Purpose of the Minority is to become the Majority.”

The team’s goal would not be promoting Republican policies, or stopping Democratic policies, or even making Democratic bills less offensive to Republicans. Its goal would be taking the gavel back from Speaker Pelosi.

“That is the entire Conference’s Mission,” Sessions wrote.

Grunwald shows how Republicans developed a strategy of maximum obstruction before Obama even took office, and stuck to it throughout the first two years of his presidency. As this election unfolds, conservatives will try to mournfully attack Obama, as if they wanted him to succeed.

They’re lying.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, August 15, 2012

August 16, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Discussions In The Quiet Room”: Bipartisanship Was Never Part Of The GOP Plan

Republicans never planned on working with President Obama.

This hasn’t received enough attention:

As President Barack Obama was celebrating his inauguration at various balls, top Republican lawmakers and strategists were conjuring up ways to submarine his presidency at a private dinner in Washington. […]

According to Draper, the guest list that night (which was just over 15 people in total) included Republican Reps. Eric Cantor (Va.), Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), Paul Ryan (Wis.), Pete Sessions (Texas), Jeb Hensarling (Texas), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.) and Dan Lungren (Calif.), along with Republican Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Ensign (Nev.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.). The non-lawmakers present included Newt Gingrich, several years removed from his presidential campaign, and Frank Luntz, the long-time Republican wordsmith. Notably absent were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) — who, Draper writes, had an acrimonious relationship with Luntz.

For several hours in the Caucus Room (a high-end D.C. establishment), the book says they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.

In other words, there was nothing President Obama could have done to build common ground with Republicans. From the beginning, the plan was to relentlessly obstruct Obama, regardless of whether that was good for the country The GOP’s high-minded rhetoric of compromise and bipartisanship was bunk; cover for a plan to keep Democrats from accomplishing anything. It’s truly remarkable, and in an ideal world, would color any attempts from the GOP to portray itself as the victim of Democratic partisanship.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, April 26, 2012

April 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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