Congress

Yes, Being a Woman Makes You Poorer

AP Images/Susan Walsh
S enate Republicans blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act yesterday, a bill that would make it illegal for employers to punish workers for discussing wages and would require them to share pay information with the Employment Opportunity Commission. President Barack Obama has already signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from punishing employees who talk about their pay. These two actions were pegged to the somewhat made up holiday called “Equal Pay Day” celebrated Tuesday, and were discussed by many in Washington in merely political terms : evidence of attempts by Democrats to woo women voters and a continuing sign of Republicans' “difficulties” with them. Elsewhere, pundits and writers wanted to discuss whether the pay gap really existed. A few years ago, some conservatives and a few liberals began to attack the much-talked-about fact that women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar as untrue, based largely on the idea that the gap itself was mostly accounted for by...

The Obscure Heroes Behind Congress’s Great Moment

AP Images
O n Tuesday July 2, 1963, Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall caught an early morning flight to Dayton, Ohio. Six days before, Marshall’s boss, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, had appeared before a House Judiciary Subcommittee to present the newly introduced civil-rights bill that his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had committed himself to enacting during a powerful nationwide television address on June 11. The Kennedy brothers’ outspoken attachment to advancing racial equality was entirely newfound. For the first two years of the Kennedy administration, civil-rights activists had been repeatedly disappointed by the brothers’ unwillingness to live up to the promises John Kennedy had voiced during the 1960 presidential campaign. Only the horrific violence visited upon interracial groups of “Freedom Riders” in May 1961, as they sought desegregation of interstate bus stations, and white racists’ attacks upon federal officers during the October 1962 desegregation of the...

Is the "Mend It" Period of the Affordable Care Act's Evolution Beginning?

All of a sudden, people in Washington seem to want to fix the Affordable Care Act. And regardless of their motivations, that should be—well, maybe "celebrated" is too strong a word, but we can see it as a necessary and positive development. Is it possible that the arguments about whether the ACA was a good idea or should have been passed in the first place are actually going to fade away, and we can get down to the businesses of strengthening the parts of it that are working and fixing the parts that aren't? It might be so. Sure, cretinous congressional candidates will continue to display their seriousness by pumping paper copies of the law with bullets , probably for years to come. But with this year's open enrollment period coming to an end in a few days, a particular reality is starting to set in, namely that, however you feel about the law, millions of Americans have now gotten health insurance because of it. Repealing it would mean taking that insurance away. So let's look at...

The Disgraceful Rejection of Debo Adegbile

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
Debo Adegbile, President Obama's nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, was rejected by the Senate earlier this week. This is a dismaying vote, a combination of Republicans increasingly hostile to civil rights and a small but crucial number of Democratic senators too timorous to stand up to Republican smear campaigns. The primary ostensible basis for the rejection of the eminently qualified Adegbile was his small role in the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer, and as Michael McGough says it's fair to say that Abu-Jamal has been "the beneficiary of uncritical adulation and a form of 'radical chic'" from some activists and celebrities both home and abroad. Certainly, Abu-Jamal is not my idea of a hero, but this is all irrelevant to Adegbile. He wasn't spending his time leading "Free Mumia" rallies or defending the murder of police officers. He simply part of the team at the NAACP...

A Confederacy of Dunces

President Obama is not afraid of this man. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
You probably saw a news item about a hearing yesterday of the House Government Oversight Committee. The reason you saw it is that it ended with some shouting, which is a relatively rare occurrence on Capitol Hill, and therefore that became an irresistible piece of news. But what really mattered about that hearing wasn't Darrell Issa cutting off Elijah Cummings' mike, causing Cummings to get extremely angry. It was that the hearing was happening at all. I'm not sure if there's ever been an opposition party more thoroughly convinced of a president's corruption yet so utterly incapable of doing anything about what they see as his crimes. You might think that's because Barack Obama is not particularly corrupt, and that's part of the story. But the Republicans' buffoonery—and Issa's in particular—when it comes to making Obama pay for his alleged misdeeds seems to know no bounds. If I were a Republican, I'd really be wondering right now whether Issa can tie his own shoes, much less whether...

In Shocker, GOP Proposes Cutting Taxes For the Wealthy

Perhaps the world's only caricature of Dave Camp, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. (Flickr/Donkey Hotey)
For some time, I've been saying , perhaps naively, that we ought to have a real debate about tax reform, and maybe actually accompish something. Sure, Democrats and Republicans have different goals when it comes to this issue—Democrats would like to see the elimination of loopholes and greater revenue, while Republicans want to reduce taxes on the wealthy—but there may be a few things they could agree on somewhere in there. You never know. So today, Representative Dave Camp, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, is releasing the latest incarnation of Republican tax reform. And it's...exactly what you'd expect. Unfortunately. In fact, though we're waiting for details, it looks almost exactly like the plan Republicans released two years ago. The centerpiece is an elimination of most tax brackets, leaving only two, at 10 percent and 25 percent. In a total shocker, that means a huge tax break for the wealthy! I know—I too am amazed that Republicans would propose such a thing...

Shocking Moment of Sanity Occurs in Congress

A much prettier ceiling. (Flickr/Richard Carter)
If you aren't a political junkie, you may have missed the rather remarkable thing that occurred yesterday in Congress, when the House of Representatives—home of nutbars and nincompoops, extremists, and obstructors—actually passed an increase in the debt ceiling. And it was clean as a whistle, without any spending cuts or other provisions inserted to soothe the savage Tea Party beast. After debt ceiling crises in 2011 and 2013, we now have over a year before we have to tempt fate and default again. How could such a thing have happened? The simplest explanation is that John Boehner put a clean increase up for a vote, and it passed, with mostly Democratic votes (even Boehner himself voted against it, as did the entire Republican leadership). This is something he could have done in the prior crises, but chose not to. The more complete explanation is that Boehner finally felt secure enough to anger some of his caucus's most conservative members, if that was the price of saving his party...

Your Next Member of Congress Is Extremely Unlikely to Transform Washington

Everything will be different now.
As we begin an election year, a lot of people are having to make their final decisions about whether to run for Congress. Sandra Fluke decided to pass on a House race and run for the California state senate instead. Singer Clay Aiken is running in North Carolina, and though the district makes it a tough slog, the guy is about ten times more skilled in front of a camera than your average candidate, as evidenced by his first ad . Then there's Allan Levene, whose desire to serve his nation is so fervent that he's running in four different districts in four states, which is apparently perfectly legal. But the candidate I want to talk about is Ro Khanna, who, according to the New York Times , is running to be Silicon Valley's man in Washington. The Valley is split between two districts, represented by Anna Eshoo and Mike Honda, two liberal Democrats who have advocated plenty for the tech industry. But Honda's advocacy must not have been enthusiastic enough, because a parade of tech titans...

Republicans Are Really, Really Bad at Hostage Negotiations

For some time, I've been arguing that we should not just extend the debt ceiling but get rid of it altogether. It's a weird historical anomaly that serves no practical purpose other than allowing the opposition party, should it be sufficiently reckless, to threaten global economic catastrophe if it doesn't get its way. I assumed that your average Washington Democrat would share this view, but now I'm beginning to think that if you're someone like Nancy Pelosi or Barack Obama, the debt ceiling is actually quite helpful, and you'd be sorry to see it go. Because here's what keeps happening: The debt ceiling approaches. Republicans begin making threats to torpedo the country's economy by not raising it, and thereby sending the United States government into default, if their demands aren't met. We then have a couple of weeks of debate, disagreement, and hand-wringing. Republican infighting grows more intense, and their reputation as a bunch of radicals who are willing to burn down the...

Heat or Something to Eat? New SNAP Rules Might Force Poor Families to Choose

AP Images/Gerry Broome
The Senate is expected to vote on the Farm Bill today , which could reach President Obama’s desk later this week. A new version of the bill, which comes up for reauthorization every five years, has been delayed for two years; Congress has simply been renewing the most recent farm bill for short periods of time while the House and Senate fought over the details in the new one. Most of the fights were over agricultural subsidies, but most of the spending in the $100-billion-a-year bill goes to the program formerly known as food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Participation has more than doubled since the start of the recession—from 20 million every month to about 47 million every month —largely because more people qualify for aid. That has led to attacks on the program from conservatives who said the spending levels were “unsustainable,” and the House of Representatives voted in September to cut food stamps by $40 billion. The Senate voted to cut it by $4...

It's Lonely At the Top

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
Last week, congressional Republicans got together at a Chesapeake Bay resort to contemplate their political fortunes. In one presentation, House Minority Leader Eric Cantor delivered a bit of shocking news to his colleagues : Most people are not, in fact, business owners. It would be a good idea, he suggested, if they could find a way to appeal to the overwhelming majority of Americans who work for somebody else. Their aspirations don't necessarily include opening up their own store or coming up with an amazing new product, so the prospect of lowering the corporate tax rate or slashing environmental regulations may not make their pulses quicken with excitement. They're more concerned with the availability of jobs, the security of health care, and the affordability of education. "Could it actually have taken Republicans that long to realize they should address such problems, especially when Democrats have made huge gains appealing directly to middle-class voters?" asked conservative...

No, We Aren't Getting Closer to Immigration Reform

Flickr/Donna Burton
Yesterday, congressional Republicans released a set of principles on immigration reform which are supposed to guide the writing of an actual plan. This has led some optimistic people to say that perhaps some kind of compromise between the two parties might be worked out, and reform could actually pass. I'm sorry to say that they're going to be disappointed. I might be proved wrong in the end. But I doubt it, because the fundamental incentives and the dynamics of the issue haven't changed. You still have a national party that would like very much to pass reform, and individual members of that party in the House of Representatives who have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by signing on to any reform that would be acceptable to Democrats and thus have a chance of passing the Senate and being signed by the President. So it isn't going to happen. Now it's true that in the wake of the government shutdown and the various debt ceiling crises, House conservatives have slightly less power to...

Liberalism’s Legislative Genius Calls It Quits

AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Images/Jacquelyn Martin T wo things to know about Henry Waxman: First, during his 40 years in Congress, he authored and steered to enactment the legislation that provided health care to millions, that put nutritional labeling on food, that gave rise to generic drugs, that provided medical care to people with AIDS, that greatly reduced smog and acid rain, that strengthened the safety standards for drinking water and food, and that signally reduced the number of Americans who smoke. Second, in achieving all this, he acquired a sobriquet: “that sonofabitch Waxman.” “I thought Henry’s first name was ‘sonofabitch,” his colleague and friend George Miller once said. “Everybody kept saying, ‘Do you know what that sonofabitch Waxman wants?” “People think, ‘Of course, we have laws that keep the drinking water safe and the air cleaner,’” Waxman told me yesterday, on the day he announced that he’d retire at the end of the current Congressional session after 40 years in Congress. “But none of...

Obama Threads the Needle

For Democrats, for liberals, today’s political climate poses a singular challenge. On one hand, poll after poll shows the public believes the economy is rigged against all but the rich. On the other, poll after poll shows that the same public—particularly after the disastrous roll-out of Obamacare—doesn’t believe government is the answer to the failings of the market economy. Indeed, recent polls show that the public mistrusts big government more than it does big business (which does not mean it holds big business in high, or even middlin’, esteem). Now, there’s precious little that can mitigate the growing inequalities of the current American market other than government and unions. But government is in disrepute and unions, in the private sector, have all but vanished. To his credit, President Obama not only knows this but has on occasion delivered robust defenses of government’s ability to counteract the structural deficiencies of the market through programs like Social Security,...

The Six Constituencies the State of the Union Actually Mattered To

AP Images/Charles Dharapak
AP Images/Charles Dharapak I t was a strange State of the Union Address—mixing emotional tugs on the heartstrings with anodyne rhetoric that made it seem like everyone from Barack Obama to the angriest Tea Party Republican was bored with the annual exercise. The speech had no over-arching theme save (yawn) America’s enduring greatness. There were hard-hitting sentences and paragraphs, but no dramatic policy proposals nor even bold, if unattainable, dreams. The State of the Union address was unlikely to anger anyone whether it was financial titans fearing economic Kristallnacht or Bashar al-Assad. For all of Obama’s rhetorical gifts, it was another speech that was mangled beyond recognition by the State of the Union sausage grinder. Before the speech, the agony of White House wordsmiths struggling with the State of the Union was memorably captured by Jeff Shesol, a Bill Clinton alum, who described the standard text as “written by a flash mob—a sudden aggregation, inside and around the...

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