Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Obama's Expensive Commitment to Deportations

Rødt nytt / Flickr
There were two reasons to legitimately doubt the level of Latino support and enthusiasm for Obama last year—the economy, and deportations. By last July, Obama had deported 1.4 million undocumented immigrants since the beginning of his administration, or 1.5 times more immigrants on average than Bush deported every month. This high and sustained pace of deportations fueled fair questions about the extent to which Latinos would support Obama’s reelection bid. In the end, of course, Latinos gave overwhelming support for Obama. But there’s little sign Obama will ease on deportations, especially given the extent to which the administration has invested in immigration enforcement. According to the nonpartisan Migration Research Institute, reports The New York Times , the Obama administration spent more than $18 billion on enforcement last year. That’s more than was spent on all the other major federal law enforcement agencies combined. Here are a few of details: According to the report,...

Is Obama Aloof? Sure. Does it Matter? No.

Intel Photos / Flickr
Intel Photos / Flickr Astute observers of American politics know that President Obama—more so than his immediate predecessors—operates in an unusual institutional environment, at least by historical standards. Forty years ago, bipartisan coalitions were (relatively) easy to assemble. Because both parties were geographically mixed—with members from all regions of the country—it was possible to assemble a legislative majority of, for instance, northern Republicans and Democrats to pass something like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And because the Senate operated by norms that privileged simple majorities, something controversial like the Social Security Act of 1965 could pass without need of a supermajority. Since then, the parties have become less heterodox and more polarized. Likewise, there’s been a sea change in the norms that govern congressional behavior. Both chambers operate as party cartels—where most legislation succeeds or fails on the strength of the majority party—and the...

Ted Cruz Is Crazy Like a Fox

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Texas has sent more than its share of nutty people to Washington—folks like Congressman Louie Gohmert , who, just days into 2013, defined hammers as a type of assault weapon and previously cried “terror babies” on Anderson Cooper. They may make a lot of noise and make some extreme statements, but at the end of the day, their impact is negligible. Don't expect Ted Cruz to be one of these people. Just a week into 2013, Cruz, the newly elected U.S. senator from Texas, has made a number of speeches that might lead many to to dismiss him as another hard-liner with little chance of having significant influence in the Senate. Over the weekend, he called the fiscal=cliff compromise “a lousy deal” for conservatives and made clear he wasn’t eager to work too closely with Democrats. “I don't think what Washington needs is more compromise,” he told Fox News . “I think what Washington needs is more common sense and more principle.” On PBS last night, he dismissed almost all attempts at gun control...

The Million Kids March: The Beginning of an Anti-Gun Movement?

Flickr/Jay Mallin
Flickr/Jay Mallin Dozens of anti-gun violence protesters at the lobbying offices of the NRA on Capitol Hill following the weekend shooting of 20 elementary school students and eight adults in Newtown, Connecticut L ike many other parents of school-age children, news of the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings hit close to home for David Bennahum, a New York tech entrepreneur and founder of the progressive American Independent News Network. The day after the attack, Bennahum took to Facebook: “I posted something along the lines of ‘What would really shift the debate is if you had a million kids march on Washington for gun control,” Bennahum says. “My friends on Facebook were like, ‘That’s a great idea. You should start a page about that.’” Two hours after starting the Facebook page, it had 600 “likes”; two days later, it had 3,000. With the backing of progressive leaders and organizers from his former life as a journalist, Bennahum forged ahead organizing the Million Kids March on...

Ending the Mindset that Got Us into Iraq

AP Photo/Bill Wolf
Rex Features via AP Images The nomination announcement for Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, in the East Room of the White House. P resident Obama’s announcement yesterday of his nomination of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense is important in a couple of ways. The first is that by following through with a candidate who faced one of the most intense negative pre-nomination campaigns in recent memory, the president signaled that is shaking off some of the caution that characterized his first term, and is prepared to undertake a bolder political course. Indeed, the opposition to Hagel already seems to be weakening in the face of an overwhelming outpouring of support for the nomination now that it has been announced. According to a former Democratic Senate staffer I spoke to, this was to be expected. “It...

Getting the Neocon Band Back Together Again

Today, President Obama officially nominated John Brennan to direct the CIA, since the previous director made a sudden departure (note to prospective Brennan biographers: Watch your step), but the other appointment, of former Nebraska Republican senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, is what got all the attention. Republicans dutifully trooped to the cable cameras to say somberly that they are "troubled" and "concerned" by Hagel's nomination. Though Hagel was once their esteemed colleague, he made them very angry by turning against the Iraq War after having voted for it in the first place. Because, as they will tell you, the war went swimmingly, and anyone who fails to understand that may not have the judgment to lead the Pentagon. Though they'll almost certainly lose the battle over Hagel's nomination and look like extremists in the process (noticing a pattern here?), Republicans are plainly spoiling for a fight. Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard has gone all-hands-on-deck to...

We Don't Have a Spending Problem

Mother Jones
Over at Mother Jones , Kevin Drum marshals two charts showing—quite clearly—that the federal government has a revenue and aging problem, not a spending one. The first shows federal spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, from 1981 to the present: There was a spike in spending in 2009, but that was entirely a function of the recession, when the government—as it should—began spending more on unemployment insurance, food stamps, infrastructure, and other stimulus programs. That spike was larger that similar recessionary spikes in 1990 and 2001, but that’s because the 2008 recession was the most severe since the Great Depression. Even with the Affordable Care Act and other new programs passed under this administration, spending is on track to reach the modest levels of the Clinton era by the end of Obama’s presidency. As for revenue, a combination of tax cuts and recessions have plunged federal income receipts to their lowest levels in 30 years: So how does this square with...

Once Again, Obama Does Something No GOP President Bothers to Do

Ten points if you know who this is.
I'm sure there are many reasons why President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel to be secretary of Defense, but the fact that Hagel is a Republican surely played at least some part. After all, if he nominated a Democrat to head the Pentagon, congressional Republicans would surely oppose the nomination and charge that the nominee was too dovish. Which of course is exactly what has happened with Hagel (along with some truly despicable phony accusations of anti-Semitism*). I'm not the first liberal to be disappointed with the fact that Democratic presidents seem to feel the need to placate their opponents by picking Republicans for this particular position. As Michael Beschloss observed , Republican presidents have never picked a Democrat for this job, but about half the secretaries of Defense in Democratic administrations have been Republicans. What's most important to note about this is that there is no equivalent on the other side. Republican presidents don't feel the need to appoint...

Yep, Republicans Plan to Use the Debt Ceiling for "Leverage"

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
It seems I was mistaken about the GOP’s stance toward raising the debt ceiling: Top Republicans won’t walk away from using the limit as leverage for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Here is what Mitch McConnell had to say on Meet the Press yesterday: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who helped strike the fiscal-cliff deal with the Obama White House – didn’t disavow his 2011 comment that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is “a hostage that’s worth ransoming." McConnell told NBC’s Gregory yesterday, “What we’re saying here is the biggest problem confronting the country is our excessive spending. If we’re not going to deal with it now, when are we going to deal with it? And we’ve watched the government explode over the last four years. We’ve dealt with the revenue issue.” Likewise, in the House, Republicans are pressing Speaker John Boehner to take a stand on the debt ceiling. Here’s Politico : In a marked shift, Boehner allies are urging him — publicly and privately — to...

Barney Frank Walks Back on Hagel

World Economic Forum / Flickr
World Economic Forum / Flickr Republicans straining to present opposition to Chuck Hagel as bipartisan had a small assist from retired Massachusetts lawmaker Barney Frank last week, who because of Hagel’s 1998 criticism of Ambassador James Hormel—he called him “openly, aggressively gay”—said he “ strongly opposed ” his nomination to head the Defense Department. As of today, however, conservatives will no longer be able to cry crocodile tears on gay rights and turn to Frank as an example of anti-Hagel criticism from “both sides.” Here’s the Huffington Post : Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is softening his opposition to Chuck Hagel’s likely nomination as Defense Secretary, saying he is willing to overlook the former Republican senator’s past anti-gay remarks and positions. “As much as I regret what Hagel said, and resent what he said, the question now is going to be Afghanistan and scaling back the military,” Frank told the Boston Globe in an interview. ”In terms of the policy stuff...

The Question Torture Apologists Can't Answer

There may not be much point in trying to relitigate the torture question from the Bush years, but every once in a while that era's torture apologists come back around to make their case, and there is one vital question I've never heard any of them answer: How do the defender's of "enhanced interrogation" (perhaps the most vulgar euphemism since "ethnic cleansing") define torture? I'll explain more in a moment, but this was prompted by an op-ed in Sunday's Washington Post about the film Zero Dark Thirty by Jose Rodriguez, a CIA officer who has defended the administration's torture program on many occasions. Since I haven't seen the film I can't say anything about the way it depicts torture, but Rodriguez takes the opportunity to say this: "I was intimately involved in setting up and administering the CIA’s 'enhanced interrogation' program, and I left the agency in 2007 secure in the knowledge not only that our program worked — but that it was not torture." And why aren't the things the...

Calling McConnell’s Bluff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff. On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, ruled out any further tax increases, declaring that “the tax issue is finished, over, completed.” He insisted, “Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction.” But is spending really the problem? For most the postwar era, federal tax revenues hovered around 19 percent of GDP, and spending a bit more than that. But for the four years since the financial collapse, federal...

Republicans' 40 Days in the Desert

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite Members of the 113th Congress, many accompanied by family members, take the oath of office in the House of Representatives. T here’s no way to spin the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis as anything other than ridiculous, but it’s easy to understand the mentality that led the GOP to hold the country hostage. Republicans had just won a massive victory in the House of Representatives and conservatives felt validated; the GOP majority was built with candidates who didn’t shy away from the right. Moreover—to the recently elected representatives—the public had sent them to Washington to cut spending , and the debt ceiling was a perfect opportunity to do just that. There’s much less clarity in the current situation. President Obama won re-election by a solid margin , taking 51 percent of the popular vote and 65 million votes overall. Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate, and managed to make a little headway in the House. For as much as it disappointed liberals...

Playing Constitutional Hardball with the Electoral College

Flickr / Politics for Misfits
Republicans are playing Constitutional hardball again. It’s a dangerous game. The GOP may attempt to rig the Electoral College by changing the electoral vote allocation in GOP-controlled states which voted for Barack Obama. The idea would be to shift from the normal winner-take-all plan to something that would split the votes in those states. Ideally, from the Republican point of view, every Republican state would be winner-take-all while all Democratic states would be split more or less evenly, making it almost impossible for a Democrat to win the White House. All of that, as obviously undemocratic as it is , would be perfectly Constitutional; the Constitution leaves every state in charge of how to choose its electors. The idea should be not be seen as a stand-alone. Instead, it’s best thought of as one of a set of schemes Republicans have advanced over the last 20 years. It includes the establishment of the 60-vote Senate; mid-decade redistricting in Texas after Republicans took...

It's Worse than the Status Quo

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File
In the midst of dealing with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a one-year extension of the farm bill that eliminated funding for almost every even vaguely innovative agriculture policy and kept in place expensive and outdated subsidies that benefit big agribusiness. From the perspective of anyone interested in making change in America’s farm and food system, it was a disaster. “There's much isn’t to be happy about with this extension,” David deGennaro, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said. “If you care about conservation, food production, or reforming the farm bill, this is a bad deal,” said Justin Tatham, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative for food & environment. “It's worse than the status quo.” “They took all the newer, smaller, but most innovative programs and left them out of the extension,” says Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. At the same time, lawmakers left in...

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