Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

This Is Not Wisconsin. It's Worse.

Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration
Sheldon Dick/Farm Security Administration Strikers guarding window entrance to Fisher body plant number three in Flint, Michigan (1937) L et’s clear one thing up. “Right to work” laws, which permit employees working at a unionized workplace to refuse to join the union or to pay the union the cost of representing the worker, are designed to weaken the economic and political power of organized labor and, by extension, wage workers. Full stop. They allow workers to “free ride” all the benefits of a collective-bargaining agreement (increased wages, benefits, rights to adjudicate a dispute with a supervisor, safety and health requirement beyond those mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, etc.) negotiated by the union without paying any of the union dues their fellow employees pay. The vaunted libertarian argument in support of right to work would be far more convincing if libertarians supported the rights of employees to reject at their discretion the countless...

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid: SCOTUS Takes on Same-Sex Marriage

Flickr/Jamison Weiser
Tonight, you’ll hear on the news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the "gay marriage cases.” Much of the mainstream ( i.e. , straight) media will be treating the two cases they’ve taken—a challenge to California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, and a challenge to DOMA, the federal law that prohibits the government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states—as essentially the same. Don’t be fooled. The cases are very different. The fact that SCOTUS has taken both has a lot of us very worried. Let’s start with the more famous one: the Prop. 8 case. This is the one we did not want the Court to take. At its simplest, the lawsuit—brought by star lawyer team Ted Olsen and David Boies—is asking the Court to consider whether Prop. 8 is constitutional; it’s about whether there’s a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. When the California electorate passed Prop. 8 in 2008, you may recall, it overturned the state supreme court’s decision to allow...

Friday, Friday, Gotta Get Unemployment Down on Friday

The first Friday morning of the first 11 months of 2012 brought exciting news for political journalists. At exactly 8:30 a.m. the Bureau of Labor Statistics would upload the latest jobs report to the Internet. The agency's website would often crash as journalists rushed to pore over the figures. Cable news spent hours parsing through the shifts in the inevitable topline figure: whether the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up or down. Were they examining these reports to assess the state of the economy, trying to discern the next best steps for the government to correct our path out of the recession? Of course not. These speculations focused on how the new set of numbers might swing the presidential election. This once-monthly ritual of political reporters anxiously refreshing Twitter on the edge of their seats had a little less oomph today. The normal economic wonks pushed out the numbers, but beyond that the press corps noted the slight drop in the unemployment rate (it...

How Will SCOTUS Rule on Prop. 8 and DOMA?

WikiMedia Commons
The Supreme Court has announced that it will be hearing both of the major gay-rights cases it was considering this term. Facing constitutional scrutiny are key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, and California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. When combined with the major affirmative-action and voting-rights cases the court will also be handing down this term, this could be the most consequential Supreme Court term in decades. The two gay-rights cases face slightly different prospects. As I've said before, the argument that DOMA infringes on states' rights is likely to appeal to both Justice Anthony Kennedy's sympathy for gay rights and his skepticism of federal power. I would not even be shocked if Justice Clarence Thomas joined an opinion striking down the heart of the law, Section 3, and at least 5 votes seem very likely. The Prop. 8 case...

In Defense of 2016 Speculation

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Over at The Atlantic , Conor Friedersdorf mocks the breathless 2016 speculation with a post "gearing up for the 2048 presidential election." It's genuinely funny: Although it is still early, Mitt Romney, who has 16 grandchildren, is leading among the patriarchs of America's dynastic political families, in part due to the present childlessness of George P. Bush and Chelsea Clinton, whose presence in articles on this subject is an apparent journalistic convention. Starting families now could give the hypothetical grandchildren of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton a head start on the theoretical grandchildren of Barack Obama, whose daughters are years away from having children if they decide to procreate at all. I sympathize with the (implicit) frustration here. It's only been a month since the presidential election, and Washington journalists are already obsessing over the 2016 field. This despite the fact that there are serious issues the country needs to deal with...

Who Wants Moar Medicaid?

Washington Post
At Wonkblog, Sarah Kliff has a revealing map of the states that have agreed to the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, are undecided, or have rejected it. Take a look: Eighteen states will accept the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion—or are leaning towards it—17 are undecided, 7 are leaning "no," and 9 will not expand it. It's worth emphasizing how important this is: Of the 32 million people slated to receive health-care coverage under the ACA, just over 21 million will receive it by way of the Medicaid expansion. If states like Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia decide to reject it, millions of people will go uninsured for no reason other than political pique. My hunch is that conservative states will be able to avoid the Medicaid expansion in the short run, but that longer-term pressure will force them to yield. Remember, the federal government is offering to cover 90 percent of the cost of the expansion, meaning—in effect—that states are receiving a huge award of free money...

What's Next for Immigration Reform?

Flickr/Anuska Sampedro
Flickr/Justin Valas An immigration rally in Washington, D.C.'s McPhereson Square P resident Obama has called it the “biggest failure of [his] first term.” Now, having once again been elected with a sizable majority of the Latino vote and with key Republicans seemingly on board, the administration has begun pressuring Congress to take up immigration reform. The president has said he plans to introduce an immigration-reform proposal shortly after his inauguration, and Senators Lindsay Graham and Chuck Schumer, who led the failed effort for immigration reform in 2009, have “resumed talks.” In previous legislative battles over immigration going back to George W. Bush’s second term, the key sticking point has been what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented workers currently in the country. Another point of contention is whether to pass a “comprehensive” bill—one that addresses a broad range of problems with the immigration system including enforcement, the visa system for high-...

Home Is Where the Union Is

E. Tammy Kim
E. Tammy Kim Members of Damayan, a migrant domestic-worker organization in New York City T welve years ago, "Janie"—a round-faced, single mother of four—said goodbye to her children and life as she knew it in Manila. She agreed to follow a family to the U.S., where she would fulfill a contract for live-in domestic work. In her employers' Pennsylvania home, she cleaned and cared for the children seven days a week, 24 hours a day, without any days off. Her employers held her passport, and kept her at home—not once in seven years did she see friends or family. And her pay was a fraction of the minimum wage: a mere $400 per month, most of which she sent to the Philippines. When her employers moved, Janie, who asked that her real name not be used for legal reasons, found another job. She negotiated a better salary but met a new challenge: constant verbal harassment by her employer's mother. She recalls, "I cannot bear it anymore. I'm nothing to [them]. So they gave me pay, and I said I had...

Michigan: A Right-to-Work State?

AP Photo
AP Photo/Detroit News/Dale G. Young Pro-union demonstrators crowd the Rotunda at the Capitol in Lansing, Michigan after House and Senate Democrats said there was a possibility of "Right To Work" legislation coming up for a vote. L abor never ruled Michigan as such. It may have been home to the best and biggest American union, the United Auto Workers, but even at the height of their power, the UAW could seldom elect its candidates to Detroit city government. Still, the UAW dominated the state’s Democratic Party and much of state politics for decades—at least, until the auto industry radically downsized. Just how downsized union power has become is apparent from the decision of the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, to support a right-to-work bill that began speeding its way through the state’s lame-duck GOP-controlled legislature on Thursday. Should the bill become law—and given Republican control of state government, it’s hard to envision how it won’t—Michigan would join...

A Small Step for the Fiscal Cliff

Despite the daily drumbeat of news coverage parsing every statement that comes out of Congress, there has been minimal progress toward a deal to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that will be triggered on January 1. Save a handful of possible apostates who have critiqued Grover Norquist's no-tax pledge, the Republican bloc has largely refused to contemplate any rate increases for the top tax bracket. Obama has all the leverage. All of the Bush tax cuts expire at the start of 2013; should that happen, the president can (correctly) accuse Republicans of grandstanding against middle-class tax cuts only to spare the upper echelon from paying a tax rate of 39.6 percent instead of the current 35 percent. But ah ha! A small bit of fresh news broke through the morass Thursday morning. Politico reported that Republicans might cave and offer to split the difference right down the middle with Obama. "Some Republicans think it’s not such a bad idea to press Obama to accept a 37 percent...

Can the Republican Party Move Back to the Center?

Those two guys in the front knew how to do it. (White House/Pete Souza)
Shaping the next phase in the history of the Republican party is an ongoing project that won't really be completed until they have another president, and their 2016 nominee could well be that person. Part of what makes this process interesting is that there is no obvious choice. Republicans are famous for nominating the person who is "next in line," usually someone who ran previously and lost. Every Republican nominee dating back to Richard Nixon has fit this pattern, with the exception of George W. Bush in 2000 (and Gerald Ford, who is obviously a special case). But the people who lost to Mitt Romney in 2012 revealed themselves to be an extraordinarily unappealing group; Paul Ryan didn't exactly emerge from the race looking like a giant; and there are multiple governors like Bobby Jindal and Mitch Daniels who could be strong competitors. So the next GOP nominee could be a hard-right conservative, or a relative moderate, or something in between. As E.J. Dionne points out in his column...

Exit Jim DeMint. Enter ... Tim Scott?

North Charleston / Flickr
North Charleston / Flickr Rep. Tim Scott speaks to a group of veterans in North Charleston, South Carolina. Arch-conservative Senator Jim DeMint—who is something of an avatar for the Tea Party in Congress—is retiring to join the Heritage Foundation as its new president: South Carolina U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will replace Ed Feulner as president of the Heritage Foundation. Mr. DeMint will leave his post as South Carolina's junior senator in early January to take control of the Washington think tank, which has an annual budget of about $80 million. His reasoning seems to be that he's of more use in the private sector—spreading ideas—than he is in the Senate: Sen. DeMint said he is taking the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public. "This is an urgent time," the senator said, "because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections." DeMint's departure...

Jim DeMint's Smooth Move

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Today, South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, who was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool, announced that he is retiring just two years into his six-year term. And will he be returning home to Greenville, perhaps to open a general store and be closer to good people of his state? Of course not. That's not what senators do when they retire. They become high-priced lobbyists, cashing in on their years of service by selling their insider status to the highest bidder. But DeMint won't be doing that either. Instead, he'll become president of the Heritage Foundation, the right's largest and most influential think tank, despite the fact that DeMint was never one for thinkin'. As our old friend Ezra tweeted upon hearing the news, "To state the obvious, you don't make Jim DeMint the head of your think tank in order to improve the quality of your scholarship." You might wonder whether DeMint thinks he can accomplish more at Heritage than in the Senate, but the truth is, he probably can. As a senator...

Speaker Harry Reid?

Center for American Progress, Bill Murray
Flickr/Bill Murray The façade of the U.S. Senate wing G iven current proposals for reform, it seems clear the filibuster in some form will survive—at least in the upcoming session of Congress. What the Senate looks like in the long term, however, is still very much up for grabs. One thing is for sure: It can’t continue in its current dysfunction. The first step in thinking about the fate of the filibuster is to place it in historical context. Filibusters were once a rare occurrence, but as University of Miami professor Greg Koger explains in Filibustering , they increased in two major and important spikes. First, Republicans reacted to the election of Bill Clinton and a unified Democratic government in 1993 by filibustering all major initiatives. Then, Republicans reacted to the election of Barack Obama and another period of unified Democratic government in 2009 by establishing a true 60-vote requirement; passing virtually any bill (and even amendments to those bills) and every...

Marco and Paul's Bogus Journey

The next generation of Republican leaders has cast aside Mitt Romney as they jockey for position as the eminences of the party. The man who just last month Republicans had hoped would become president is persona non grata—and if that wasn't already clear, last night his former running mate Paul Ryan left no doubt with his reference to Romney's "47 percent" fiasco. "Both parties tend to divide Americans into ‘our voters’ and ‘their voters,’” Ryan said at the Jack Kemp Foundation awards dinner in Washington. “Let’s be really clear: Republicans must steer very clear of that trap. We must speak to the aspirations and anxieties of every American.” Which pretty well summed up the Republican consensus: that their real problem in 2012 wasn't any trouble with their policies—it was Romney's patrician airs. Ryan shared the stage last night with Marco Rubio, the young Florida senator also eyeing his party's presidential nomination in 2016. Rubio managed to mention the term "middle class" 35 times...

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