Politics

The Little Picture: Socialist-In-Chief.

It's official. A new Democracy Corps poll finds that 55 percent of likely voters believe the term "socialist" fits President Obama . This concludes the semantic bleaching of the term "socialist." It apparently now applies to an executive who passes market-based health-care reform, cuts taxes, and presides over a relatively bank-friendly financial-regulation bill. (Flickr/ fibonacciblue )

Shifting the Balance From the Senate.

Ruth Marcus writes today that President Obama 's decision to install Donald Berwick by recess appointment was "outrageous." By her lights, a recess appointment is "the last step in cases of egregious delay," and Obama should have gone through the normal confirmation process before taking this option. Marcus, like others, doesn't seem to understand that the Senate has seen a tremendous change in norms, beginning with the 104th Congress and continuing into the present. Whereas previous Senates were mostly deferential to the president's nominees, these Senates -- and particularly the current one -- have taken to routinely opposing nominees, regardless of the position's importance or the candidate's actual acceptability. This is key; when there is a clear policy reason for a filibuster -- for instance, the nominee's ideology is objectionable to the critical vote in a filibuster -- the president can still meet his goals by offering a similar but less objectionable nominee. But when...

Treasury and Progressives on the Financial-Reform Bill.

My friend Mike Konczal has an interesting pos t on the Treasury Department's role in the financial-reform bill, but I think his analysis is wrong on a number of issues. The idea that the administration consistently undermined the bill is a common perception on the left -- and one so deep-seated that I doubt I'll change anyone's minds in the following paragraphs -- but it's simply not the case that Treasury pushed against reform in every, or even most cases. Most of the time, Treasury was reacting to the concerns of regulators who worried about their ability to enforce the law and senators who didn't want to vote for the law, but they consistently supported proposals designed to limit risk on Wall Street. Let's walk through some examples: Collins amendment . Treasury initially opposed this amendment because they worried about its effect on the Trust Preferred Securities that the government had bought in 2008 in an effort to shore up the banks and reinforce their capital positions...

The Senate's Weird Pick of Poison.

It's a bitter irony that only after being declared more or less dead on arrival, Sen. John Kerry's American Power Act (APA) would get a political boost from a CBO score saying the legislation would save the government $19 billion over the first 10 years. (Specifically, it would increase spending by $732 billion and increase revenues by $751 billion.) And as Tim laments , this just highlights how nonsensical the Senate's deficit politics are. But the CBO's score also illuminates a less talked-about advantage of cap and trade: It's a big revenue generator, which is the reason the CBO found the APA to be so budget friendly. A little background: In any cap-and-trade system, emissions permits have to be distributed by the government among various emitters. That usually means an auction -- though the APA gives them away at first before going into an auction system -- and it brings in a good deal of money to offset the costs of other clean-energy provisions promoting efficiency and...

How Will LBJ's Legacy Affect the Midterm Election?

No, not Lyndon Johnson . Lebron James ! Tonight, King James will announce which basketball team he will reign over for the next portion of his career in a media-savvy ESPN special, which includes a provision that the advertising proceeds will go to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The Times even compares him to the president for asking for a prime-time address. For the actual sports analysis, I'm going to point you to people who might know about sports, or at least Matt Yglesias' statistically driven musings on the NBA. But I know you're really wondering how James' decision will affect the midterm elections. Can Lebron provide a sweet assist to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ? Or at least pull down a board for the height-challenged Harry Reid ? Maybe! We have some research that suggests voter happiness contributes to support for the incumbent party, which is what the Democrats want -- for instance, several researchers found during the 2009 NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament...

Broken Confirmations, Cont.

I think it's worth responding to Keith Hennessey 's objection to President Obama 's recess appointment of Donald Berwick : In the past recess appointments have been used after an actual filibuster. In this case the President is using a recess appointment to avoid the threat of a potential filibuster. Doing so also allows the nominee to avoid answering an uncomfortable question about his foundation’s funding sources. It also allows the Administration to duck a reprise of the health care reform debate four months before Election Day. The Berwick recess appointment is extraordinary because the confirmation process didn’t even begin and because Republicans cannot be held responsible for the delay. In the eleven weeks since the nomination Chairman Baucus never held a hearing on Dr. Berwick. While some Senate Republicans threatened a future filibuster, no Senate Republican has yet had an opportunity to delay or block the confirmation process so far. While it's true that Senate Republicans...

Tim Geithner, Government Employee.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is echoing President Obama's false assertion that "governments don't create jobs." I can't imagine how surprised he is to receive his own paycheck every month, and I have to say, it makes me wonder exactly what he's thinking when he advocates for fiscal aid for cash-pressed states in order to ... save jobs. Presumably Geithner understands that he's just paying lip service to political prejudices about the role of government and not actually trying to say something accurate about how the economy works. But he -- and the rest of the administration's spokespeople -- don't seem to understand how doing that undermines the case for their chosen policies. The president's center-left advisers clearly believe that government ought to perform certain services and hire people for that purpose (creating "jobs") while also supporting the conditions for private hiring outside of those clearly delineated sectors. They need to make that argument, especially now. By...

The Fair Elections Reform Act Is a Good Start.

The Washington Post's Dave Eggen reports on a renewed push by campaign-finance reformers to pass the Fair Elections Reform Act, which would expand public financing for congressional campaigns: The Fair Elections Now Act, sponsored in the House by Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.) and Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and in the Senate by Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), would establish a voluntary system in which candidates would agree to accept only donations of $100 or less from contributors in their districts or states. After meeting a minimum amount of qualified contributions, they would get $400 in matching funds for every $100 raised. If there's anything I like about the Fair Elections Now Act, it's that the bill's authors wisely opted not to put limits on total spending; low spending limits encourage candidates to opt out or work around the system, negating its value. That said, the FENA caps matching public funds at $2.8 million, which could place candidates who opt in at a disadvantage if...

Pop Quiz: When Is the Deficit Important?

Answer: It's critically important if you don't want to fund unemployment benefits or other short-term, jobs-creating stimulus. On the other hand, If you want to shift the U.S. energy sector into the 21st century, the deficit doesn't matter that much. Viz : Senate backers of a long-shot bid to pass legislation with greenhouse gas caps got some fresh help Wednesday when the Congressional Budget Office reported that one high-profile proposal would help curb the federal deficit by about $19 billion over the next decade ... But Kerry conceded last week that his bill as a whole has been abandoned as the main vehicle for moving an energy or climate package. It would be nice if there were an "honest" deficit-reduction activist group that rated members of Congress based on whether they supported the majority of deficit-reduction legislation or just the deficit-reduction legislation that doesn't hurt the wealthy or corporate interests. (It's worth remembering that this legislation will have...

Windows of Opportunity.

Howard Fineman wants to know why President Obama is in such a hurry: So far in his presidency Obama has been tackling, even seeking out, sweeping, controversial challenges: the stimulus, the auto bailout, health-care reform, a new arms-control treaty with Russia. He still wants to deal with comprehensive energy and immigration legislation this year. So, is he in hurry because he figures there may be no second term? Well, my answer is this: Obama is playing a deep, longer-range game, one that involves burnishing his identity as a "historical," history-making figure. The president is swinging for the fences because that is what home-run hitters do. He hopes (expects) voters will reward him for the effort. Hence, his focus on the toughest topics in the broadest way. To switch sports analogies, if he were an Olympic diver, he’d always be attempting the dives with the highest degree of difficulty. If the execution isn’t perfect, he gets a higher score anyway. Last week, Brendan Nyhan and...

Will SB 1070 Go Into Effect on July 29?

In response to the Justice Department's lawsuit [PDF] against Arizona and similar challenges from various civil-rights groups and law-enforcement agencies, Adam and I have noted that for all the outcry over its potential for civil-rights violations, the legal challenges to SB 1070 center around whether the state is pre-empting the federal government's constitutional authority to regulate immigration. This has led conservative commentators like the National Review 's Rich Lowry to question the "sincerity" of the administration's legal argument -- which, if you consider that the primary objective in court is to get a decision in your favor, is pretty naive -- and others to ask whether Obama is avoiding the race issue. But the most immediate consideration is whether the federal suit will prevail in its primary short-term objective: stopping the law from going into effect on July 29. In its initial legal filings, the Justice Department requested a preliminary injunction to do just that...

David Ignatius' Secret Plan to Hurt National Security.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius waxes mysterious today, speculating about what kind of cool, secret stuff Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski might be doing if they were installed in the White House instead of President Obama 's current team of boring national-security advisers. Ignatius lauds some of the big, secret accomplishments of the two men but somehow fails to note Kissinger's complicity in secretly supporting Augusto Pinochet's violent, lawless regime and, somewhat unbelievably, his advocacy for an illegal -- and initially secret -- attack on Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Even without listing these marquee blunders, Ignatius does note that some of the other plans had ugly consequences, from Kissinger's support for Syrian intervention in Lebanon to Brzezinkski's work crafting the initial stages of our Afghanistan entanglement. It's easy to look back and judge these policies in hindsight, but in general this fascination with the glamorous aspects of foreign...

The Senate's Advise and Consent: Use It or Lose It.

Republicans (and Sen. Max Baucus ) are in a tizzy because President Obama is using a recess appointment to put Donald Berwick , his choice to administer the Medicare and Medicaid systems as they implement the new health-care law. Here's the thing: As Jamelle points out , this is a broken system, and a newly broken one at that. There are nearly 200 unconfirmed nominees, thanks largely to Republican filibusters. The Senate does have the responsibility to confirm certain executive-branch nominees, but if they can't bring themselves to fulfill their role, then the president has the responsibility to appoint them anyway during a recess. If they don't like it, they can start allowing up-or-down votes on nominees instead of using procedural stalls to extort pork for their home states. Don't even get me started on his controversial remarks about "rationing" health care. I'm not sure what's more absurd: The idea that we don't already ration health care in this country or the idea that we...

Reforming a Broken Confirmation System.

Not to spend too much time on confirmations, but it really is stunning to think about how many people the Senate is responsible for confirming. The Washington Post 's Al Kamen points out that there are still 43 Senate-confirmable jobs open in Cabinet-level agencies (out of a total of 369), and at Foreign Policy , Josh Rogin notes that there are more than 180 nominees awaiting action from the Senate. It's easy to shrug and accept the broken confirmation system as inevitable, but the fact is that it hasn't always been this difficult to confirm nominees. Indeed, there was a time when confirmations were fairly quick. In a 2004 paper, Marymount University political scientist Margaret Tseng found that the average time between nomination and confirmation has grown steadily since the 1960s. When President Kennedy presented a nominee, he could expect confirmation within a few months at most. By contrast, President Clinton waited upward of nine months before many of his nominees entered service...

Chamber of Horrors.

The Washington Monthly has an interesting article by James Verini about the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its president, Thomas Donohue . You already know that the chamber is a major player in Washington -- they spent $120 million on lobbying in 2009 and have pledged to drop $50 million on races this fall, mostly to elect Republicans. But the question one has to ask about the chamber is this: are they actually serving the interests of American business, or are they really just serving the interests of the Republican Party? There are certainly issues on which they depart from Republican orthodoxy, because big business does -- immigration and the Cuba embargo are two good examples. But there are also many issues where they seem to be acting contrary to the interests of business. Take health care. You could make a very strong case that what's most in the interests of American companies is to get out of the health-care business -- they spend a lot of time and money dealing with their...

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