Government

A Dubious Budget Deal

The years of Republican obstructionism and the corporate campaign for deficit reduction have taken such a toll that merely the fact of getting a budget deal at all looks like a great achievement. This one is better than continued impasse, but the deal itself is a stinker. Representative Raul Grijanva, co-chair of the House progressive caucus, put it well: “I feel like punching myself in the face, but I’ll vote yes.” The deal does override the automatic sequester for this year. It will restore some $31.5 billion in sequester cut over the next two years in domestic spending, and a like amount in military spending. But those increases are against a backdrop of more than a trillion dollars of cuts over a decade. The deal nominally is deficit-neutral, because it adds new budget cuts in Medicare in 2022 and 2023. Even worse, the deal did not even include an extension of expiring extended unemployment insurance, at a time when the share long-term unemployed is stubbornly stuck. That...

The Year in Preview: Post-Preclearance Voter Protection

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Lots of things happened in 2013. President Obama was sworn in for a second term. We got a new pope and a new royal baby. Two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon and scared a nation. The Supreme Court stripped power from the Defense of Marriage Act and the Voting Rights Act. But these are all stories we've heard before, and if you haven't, you certainly will in the millions of "Year in Review" pieces set to be posted between now and New Year's. Over the next two weeks, our writers will instead preview the year ahead on their beats, letting you know far in advance what the next big story about the Supreme Court—or the environmental movement, immigration reform, reproductive rights, you get the picture—will be. You're welcome in advance for not making you read a dozen more retrospectives on Ted Cruz and Twerking and fiscal cliffs and shutdowns and selfies. Below, we tackle voting rights. AP Photo/Tony Dejak A nyone concerned about voting rights will remember 2013 as the year the...

Daily Meme: Mission Unpassable

Congress has until December 13 to pass a budget. If they don't, we could have another shutdown when funding dries up on January 15. Given their track record of late (Exhibit A , B , and C ), this may be a tall order. Much of the media seems to agree. For example, this shade-throwing New York Times headline: " Underachieving Congress Appears in No Hurry to Change Things Now. " Once again leading the charge are Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray and House Budget Chair Paul Ryan. Their budget prowess has won them the profile treatment in sessions past , if you want a dose of character study with your fiscal news. The two sides' biggest demands? Well, Democrats would like to see some of the sequester cuts on their favorite programs fade away—especially Head Start and low-income housing cuts. Republicans don't want to see any tax increases, and probably wouldn't mind if the defense cuts that went into effect after sequestration were banished. The worries about the deficit are a little funny...

But What Does Iran Mean for 2016?

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
AP Photo/Lior Mizrahi, Pool T here are two things to say about the electoral effect of the Iran deal. Barck Obama isn’t going to be up for re-election. Still, his approval rating will matter for Democrats in both 2014 and 2016. The first thing—and it’s correct, as far as it goes—is that the deal won’t have any electoral effect, whatever happens. Smart analysts know that voters just don’t care very much about foreign policy. And this one … well, it’s pretty distant from the concerns of most voters. Iran’s nuclear program has been in the news for a long time, but it’s not headline stuff for the most part. No matter how much of a fuss there is about it in the press this week, most voters won’t engage. The blunt truth is that this too will be gone from the headlines before very long, anyway. Without most voters paying any attention to it, that leaves only the most politically attentive, and they’ll divide the way they always do: as long as the balance of the coverage isn’t radically...

Daily Meme: The West's Nuclear Options

Over the weekend, we finally worked out a nuclear deal with Iran. Here's the plan. And if you'd rather not waste time reading the agreement, here's a pretty chart from The New York Times that breaks it all down. If you'd rather dive even deeper into the process, Reuters has a good tick-tock of the negotiations. Why is the deal merely a six-month deal, rather than a permenant arrangement? Let Obama's former arms-control coordinator explain: "The reason for an interim deal rather than a permanent agreement is because Iran is not willing to accept the limits on its nuclear program demanded by the P5-plus-1 as a condition for permanently lifting nuclear-related sanctions. In particular, the U.S. wants Iran to accept physical limits on the scope and scale of its enrichment program so that Iran cannot produce significant quantities of highly enriched (weapons grade) uranium quickly and to halt construction of the heavy-water research reactor or replace it with a type that would produce less...

The Latest Lie in the Push For Voter ID Restrictions

To the Republican supporters of laws that would treat the poll booth like an exclusive nightclub that asks for photo ID and other qualifications before allowing entry, the answer to why anyone would oppose this is simple: They must not want to vote badly enough. This was the logic for Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman who last week on MSNBC said , "I really don't think they care that much about voting in the first place, right?" in response to a question about how African-American voters might be impacted by voter ID and early voting cuts. This is not anomalous thinking among Republicans. Similar comments have been made by Republican state legislators in Nevada , Pennsylvania , and Florida . In fact, they say these things so often publicly that you have to wonder if it’s some kind of dog-whistle to the more racially polarized portion of their voting base. The idea that people of color don't "care" about voting ignores how expensive it can be to meet the qualifications of voter ID...

Four Reasons the Nuclear Option Was a Liberal Win

The detonation of the "nuclear option" against the filibuster for executive branch and most judicial-branch appointments was an obvious win for progressives . If, as seems likely, the use of the nuclear option puts the filibuster on the road to complete oblivion, this is an even bigger win for progressives, as the filibuster is a reactionary device both in theory and in practice . And yet, many people on all parts of the ideological spectrum have resisted this conclusion. Here are some of the major arguments being made against the deal from a Democratic perspective—and why they're wrong. 1. Democrats Will Be Sorry, Because This Means Republicans Will Keep Doing What They've Been Doing Since the Reagan Administration As I discussed in my initial reaction to the historic action of Reid and the Democratic caucus, the debate over whether to end most judicial filibusters has involved numerous threats by Republicans to keep appointing the same kinds of judges that conservative presidents...

Bibi's Agreement Anxiety Disorder

T o explain Benjamin Netanyahu's frenzied reaction to the Geneva agreement on Iran's nuclear program, let me begin with the stack of brown cardboard boxes under my wife's desk. Each of the five cartons contains a gas mask and related paraphernalia for a member of my family to use in the event of a chemical-weapons attack. They were delivered last January, as part of the gradual government effort to prepare every household in Israel for a rain of Syrian missiles. I suppose that having "defense kits" in the house could be macabre, but what we usually notice is that they're a nuisance: another thing on which to bang your toe in an overstuffed city flat. What's more, they're apparently an obsolete nuisance. A couple of weeks ago, the usual nameless military sources told the local media that the Defense Ministry would recommend ending production of gas masks for civilians. According to the leaks, intelligence assessments said that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons...

Daily Meme: A Trip Down Memory Lane with the Nuclear Option

"To prevent Democrats from blocking President Bush's judicial nominees, Senate Republicans are considering a parliamentary maneuver with potentially explosive consequences called ''the nuclear option.'" "The Republicans see the filibuster as an annoying obstacle. " Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist : "One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominees must end. The Senate must do what is good, what is right, what is reasonable and what is honorable." Senator Harry Reid : "I think they would be making a huge mistake to try to mess with the rules." Jonah Goldberg : "Whoever it was on the Republican side who coined the term 'nuclear option,' you should forever be banned from coining clever phrases. This has always struck me as an idiotic phrase on every level. First, it concedes that changing the rules would be radical and dangerous, which plays perfectly into the Democrats’ hands. Second, it’s factually untrue. Changing the rules wouldn’t have blown up the Senate." Vice President...

Harry Reid's Triumph

At least when it comes to executive branch and (most) judicial branch appointments, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, democracy is coming to the United States Senate. Senate Democrats responded to the Republican minority's blockade against any Obama appointments to the D.C. Circuit by eliminating the filibuster for most presidential nominations. This vote will likely be the most important congressional vote of President Obama's second term, and Senate Majority Harry Reid and most of the rest of the Democratic caucus deserve immense credit for pulling it off. I have explained at length why I believe that the filibuster is an indefensible practice. The short version is that the American political system already has an inordinately high number of veto points, so anyone favoring additional extraconstitutional ones should face a very high burden of proof. The filibuster, with its long and dismal history of allowing overrepresented minorities to prevent Congress from addressing the interests of...

Don't Believe the Republican Cries of Vengeance

Behold my terrible rage! I will drink your blood and feast on your entrails! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
So now the Democrats have exercised the "nuclear option," which is not particularly nuclear. They've changed existing Senate rules so that judicial nominations can not be filibustered, but can pass with a majority vote. Over the next couple of days you'll hear Republicans say that this is the most horrifying power grab since the February Revolution of 1917. They will weep and beat their breasts, lamenting the death of fairness and democracy, predicting all manner of horrors, perhaps culminating in a zombie apocalypse, now that a judge nominated by the president can be confirmed with a vote of a majority of senators. But then, their grief will turn to steely determination. "You shall rue this day!", they will cry. "Revenge shall be ours!" And that might sound like a reasonable argument for why this rule change was ill-advised. After all, as Iowa senator Chuck Grassley recently threatened , "So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead. There are a lot more...

The People's Court?

If you want to see where the problems of unaffordable housing and low wages and poor education play out every day, go to Detroit's 36th District Court. 

Associated Press
*/ Associated Press Detroit's 36th District Court T he first time I went to Detroit’s 36th District Court, I didn’t know the drill. Most people don’t know the drill the first time they go. A lawyer I’d met agreed to accompany me. He went in the side door, reserved for attorneys and court staff. I joined the long line at the main entrance, waiting to pass through the metal detectors and have my bag scanned. No cell phones, the guard told me. Put it in your car. I waved the lawyer back outside. He was due in court, and his car was blocks away. Give me the phone, he said. I’ll bring it in. I returned to the line. You can’t bring in that hair clip, the guard told me. Just throw it out, I said. I scooped my bag off the belt and joined the lawyer, who was standing where the entryway carpet meets the linoleum, near a line of people snaking through a rope maze, waiting to pay tickets. I was intimidated and upset, and I’d been at the 36th less than five minutes. The lawyer and I rode the...

The Real Roots of the Filibuster Crisis

As fake as the moon landing, obviously. (White House photo by Sonya Hebert)
We're about to have ourselves a little filibuster crisis, and the only surprising thing is that it took so long. We've now reached a point where Republicans no longer accept that Barack Obama has the right, as president of the United States, to fill judicial vacancies. Unlike in previous battles over judicial nominations, we're not talking about the nominees' qualifications or their ideological proclivities. It's merely a question of the president's constitutional privileges. Republicans don't think he has them. This is only the latest feature of a long descent for the GOP away from considering any Democratic president—but particularly this one—as a legitimate holder of the office to which he was elected. There has never been a president, at least in our lifetimes, whose legitimacy was so frequently questioned in both word and deed by the opposition party and its adherents. Even today, many Republicans, including some members of Congress, refuse to believe that Obama was born in the...

Daily Meme: Obamacare End Times

In a news environment where day three analysis stories often get filed 30 minutes after an important news event occurs, it's somewhat astounding that we find ourselves on week three of talking about a sucky government website. And, because developments on this story have been ... somewhat static, it's strangely impressive how the lack of news has inspired the opposite reaction in the press, with accusations and predictions growing more apocalyptic and acquiring additional strains of dramatic and dramatically misplaced metaphors. Josh Kraushaar is pulling out the death imagery —"life support," "death warrant," "stop the bleeding," "as he suggested on Morning Joe," etc. (To which our own Paul Waldman responds : "That's so blindingly stupid I'm almost not sure where to start.") The Washington Times compared Healthcare.gov to perjury and the Iran-Contra affair. National Review has many options you can choose from including " the extensive — the criminal — Obamacare fraud" and the...

Daily Meme: Another Week, Another News Cycle Dominated by Obamacare

The slow, messy rollout of the Affordable Care Act's biggest ticket items is D.C.'s latest shiny thing. You can expect new stories about the state of health care—and the state of Healthcare.gov's website—from now until at least the first few weeks of the new year, when enrollees start to get insurance. Some of the stories have useful information, like this chart-packed one by Sarah Kliff, which she puts together every day. Much more often, you're going to see griping about Obamacare , or stories about the many unanticipated problems with the health-care exchange's debut... ... which Jeffrey Zients, the man in charge of fixing Healthcare.gov, assures will be mostly fixed by the time November ends. We'll see... And anyway, as Larry Summers points out , "it is indefensible to refuse to appropriate money to carry out a programme and then attack it on the grounds that it is being under-resourced." (He's talking about you, Republicans) All this doomsday reporting and analyzing misses out on...

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