Congress

Why Congressional Democrats Are Upset that President Obama Doesn't Hang Out With Them More

A man alone with his thoughts. (White House photo by Pete Souza)
The other day, the New York Times published a long article on President Barack Obama's miserable relationship with Congress, particularly the members of his own party. The point of the article is that Obama doesn't put much effort into building personal relationships with congressional Democrats, and as a result they're rather disgruntled with him, which could make the remainder of his presidency more difficult. It's a good example of how, in its facts, a piece of journalism can be perfectly true, even revealing, and yet be completely misleading in its implications. Ezra Klein gave it the necessary dismantling : Obama does see socializing with Hill Democrats as a chore. But there's a lot that Obama sees as a chore and commits to anyway. The presidency, for all its power, is full of drudgery; there are ambassadors to swear in and fundraisers to attend and endless briefings on issues that the briefers don't even really care about. The reason Obama doesn't put more effort into stroking...

How a Widely Beloved Tax Deduction Really Just Benefits the Well-Off and Exacerbates Inequality

National opinion polls show a majority of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction. Yet most U.S. homeowners receive very little benefit from it.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) This May 2, 2012, photo, shows a new home under construction in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. A nyone who is concerned about the country’s growing inequality crisis should be pushing for reform of the feature of the U.S. tax code known as the mortgage interest deduction. Not only does this wasteful tax subsidy primarily benefit the richest Americans, it also costs the U.S. Treasury between $70 and $100 billion annually in revenue, making it the third largest deduction on the books. National opinion polls indicate that between 60 and 90 percent of Americans support the mortgage interest deduction (MID), which allows taxpayers to deduct interest on $1.1 million in mortgages on primary residences, vacation homes and even yachts. And yet because of the way this tax subsidy is structured most U.S. homeowners receive very little if any benefit from it. Indeed, in its current form, the MID’s biggest beneficiaries are the real estate industry and its wealthiest...

Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...

The Inevitability of Republican Reactions

This is never going to be Barack Obama and John Boehner. It just isn't. (Flickr/RayMorris1)
Ron Fournier of the National Journal has become (to liberal bloggers anyway) the embodiment of multiple sins of the Washington press corps. Most notably, there's the High Broderism, in which the blame for every problem is apportioned in precisely equal measure to both parties, and the embrace of the Green Lantern theory of the presidency , in which anything can be accomplished, including winning over a recalcitrant opposition, by a simple act of will from the Oval Office. The latter's most comical manifestation is Fournier's frequent pleas for President Obama to "lead," with the content of said "leadership" almost always left undetailed (though one suspects it might involve giving a great speech, after which Republicans would decide to come together with Democrats to solve the nation's problems). Though lately I've been trying to limit my pundit-bashing to once or twice a month, I couldn't overlook this passage in Fournier's latest column expressing his dismay that Obama might take...

Our Privacy and Liberty Still At Risk, Even If Leahy NSA Bill Passes

Under the USA Freedom Act, the executive branch could exploit the absence of a bright-line restriction to engage in collection that is far broader than necessary.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy arrives as his panel questions top Obama administration officials about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. A fter a brief hiatus, legislative reform of the NSA’s bulk collection program appears to be back on track. Thanks to skillful negotiations on the part of Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and other cosponsors, the version of the USA Freedom Act that was unveiled in the Senate last week restores many of the protections that House leadership and administration officials stripped out of the House version in secret, last-minute talks. Most notably, the Senate bill clearly would prohibit the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records and other types of information. And yet, even if the Senate version becomes law, Americans’ private information will remain vulnerable—under both the domestic programs addressed by the bill and other, much larger...

The Dumbest Affectation in Congress

You know why I sleep on the couch every night? Because I'm a dog, not a member of Congress. (Flickr/Justin Quan)
There are a lot of stupid things members of Congress do to show the folks back home that though they moved hell and high water to get their jobs in Washington, D.C., they find everything about the place repugnant and despicable, and can't wait to get away. But there are few pieces of posturing more inane than the decision to sleep in your Capitol Hill office as a demonstration that you haven't gone native like all those sellouts with their apartments and closets and bathrooms. I can see how a newly elected member might decide to sleep in her office while she gets settled and looks for a place. And being in Congress can be financially and logistically taxing, particularly for those who come from the West coast—you have to maintain two homes, and are expected to fly back nearly every weekend to shake hands at the county fair and pose for pictures at the senior center. But in the last few years it's become de rigueur , particularly among Tea Partiers, to make a statement of their...

Why Moderate Districts Don't Produce Moderate Congressmembers

Flickr/KP Tripathi
As I was writing this piece about the difference between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress and why the latter don't act in the same ways as the former, I began thinking about those members who don't represent the ideology of their districts very well. How many of them are there, and how far away are they from their voters? In particular, I thought about the case of Scott Garrett, the congressman who represents the swing district in the northern New Jersey suburbs where I grew up. Romney beat Obama in that district by 3 points in 2012, so you'd think it would be represented by a moderate Republican. And for many years it was (with somewhat different borders prior to the post-2010 redistricting), by Marge Roukema, one of the last of the moderate, pro-choice Republicans. But Garrett votes more like he comes from Alabama than New Jersey. In 2013, he was one of only 15 House Republicans to get the American Conservative Union's "Defenders of Liberty" award for...

Liberal Heroes Miss the Mark in Today's Times Columns

(AP Photo/ Francisco Seco)
New York Times columnist Charles Blow sure blew one this morning and, for good measure, so did Paul Krugman—our two most reliably liberal and intelligent columnists! Blow’s subject was the do-nothing Congress. Ordinarily thoughtful and original, this time Blow fell into the media cliché of assigning symmetrical partisan blame for Congressional inaction, as if the two parties were equally culpable. The piece was full of Blow’s signature: accurate statistics. This Congress has passed only 108 pieces of substantive legislation, the lowest in decades, he reports. It was in session an average of only 28 hours a week. Citing the usual cause of “polarization,” Blow indignantly concluded: “Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress. Their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.” Excuse me, but the problem is not “Congress.” One party—the Democratic Party— behaves quite normally, seeking to do the public’s business. The other...

House Intel Committee Finds No Benghazi Scandal; Will Boehner Ignore Its Findings?

House Speaker John Boehner faces a choice: Either he can accept the findings of a responsible, Republican committee chair, or cynically allow a kangaroo court to proceed. 

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, file)
A ccording to Representative Mike Thompson , Democrat of California, a report from the Republican led House Intelligence Committee on the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, "confirms that no one was deliberately misled, no military assets were withheld and no stand-down order (to U.S. forces) was given." Late last week, before Congress headed out of Washington for August recess, the body voted to declassify the document. After nearly two years of investigations, millions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of pages of documents handed over by the administration, a Republican-led committee is about to release a report stating that there is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Obama White House. In fact, nearly all of the accusations levied against the White House over the past year by conservatives in Congress, and amplified by the media, have now been determined to be false—by a Republican jury. House Speaker John Boehner is now left with a choice. Will he allow Rep...

Why Tea Party Members of Congress Act So Darn Crazy--And Liberal Democrats Don't

Rep. Louie Gohmert, Tea Party Republican of Texas, is a thorn in the side of House Speaker John Boehner. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) W hen the Republican House managed to fit in one last embarrassing debacle before exiting for the August recess—with Speaker John Boehner first pulling a bill to address the problem of Central American children arriving at the border after conservatives revolted, then allowing a pair of meaningless votes meant to placate those Tea Partiers who require so much placating—it seemed like the same self-destructive dynamic that has plagued the GOP for the last few years. It's a story that I've told many times; it happens because the interests of the party as a whole in things like immigration reform and a general ideological moderation are most decidedly not in the interests of a large number of its elected representatives. For instance, the party may want to reach out to Hispanic voters to have a chance at winning presidential elections, but if you're a congressman from a conservative district, your re-election could depend on furious opposition to whatever...

Ted Cruz, Legislative Innovator

Who, li'l old me? (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
C ongress, it is said, is divided into "work horses" and "show horses." The former try to make laws, while the latter worry more about whether they can get on TV. Plenty of members try to be both, but there are a surprising number that don't even bother legislating. And these days, being a show horse offers a much clearer path to one day running for president. It's still technically possible to spend a few decades crafting a legislative record and working your way up the leadership ladder, then eventually get your party's nomination, like Bob Dole did. But it's a hell of a lot easier to inject yourself into a few controversies, make some notable speeches, and take a trip or two to Iowa. Do that, and like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz (or Barack Obama), you can run for president in your first term. Cruz, however, is doing something completely new. He may not bother to introduce any bills, but he is creating a new kind of legislative innovation. Perhaps for the first time in American history—I...

Eric Cantor Shows Why We Need to Get Rid of Special House Elections

So long, suckers! (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
L ike a high school senior who already has a job lined up for the fall and wonders why he should bother going to school for the last few weeks, former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently can't bear the thought of showing up for work for the remainder of his term after having lost his primary election. So instead of just phoning it in for a few months (or not showing up at all—who'd notice or care?), he has decided to resign his seat as of August 18th. He's asking Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe to hold a special election to coincide with the November 4th election, so his successor could take office immediately. "I want to make sure that the constituents in the 7th District will have a voice in what will be a very consequential lame-duck session," he said. Just not his voice, I guess because he wants to get a jump-start on that lobbying career. I'm not even sure how that would work—would voters cast ballots for one set of candidates to serve from November to January, and...

How Republicans Are Heightening the Contradictions

Republican inspiration Vladimir Lenin. (Wikimedia Commons)
C ongress is going on recess at the end of this week, and they'll be doing it without a bill to address the large number of Central American children showing up at the southern border—John Boehner couldn't even come up with a bill that would pass his house after Ted Cruz convinced House conservatives to oppose it. On that issue, on the Affordable Care Act, and on other issues as well, we may be seeing the rise of a particular strategy on the right—sometimes gripping part of the GOP, and sometimes all of it—that can be traced back to that noted conservative Vladimir Lenin. I speak of "heightening the contradictions," the idea that you have to intentionally make conditions even more miserable than they are, so the people rise up and cast off the illegitimate rulers and replace them with you and your allies. Then the work of building a paradise can begin. In the end, the House GOP leadership wanted a bill that contained a small amount of money to actually address the problem, made a...

Republicans Take Careful Aim At Foot, Blast Away

Flickr/Donkey Hotey
L ast week, I asked how the GOP, whom Democrats used to admire for their strategic acumen, turned into such a bunch of clowns , constantly making political blunders and undermining their long-term goals with temper tantrums. It's a question we might continue to ponder as the House went ahead and voted to sue President Obama last night for his many acts of tyranny and lawlessness. Every Democrat voted in opposition, as did a grand total of five Republicans—but they were opposed only because they wanted to stop pussyfooting around and go right to impeachment. This, truly, is a party that's ready to lead. Since this suit is unprecedented, we don't know for sure how it will be received by the courts. Many legal experts think it will be quickly dismissed on the question of standing; since the House can't show any harm they've incurred because of the President's allegedly appalling behavior, they may not have the right to bring a case against him. On the other hand, we now understand that...

The Money Behind Big Oil's Win On Atlantic Drilling

The Obama administration's controversial decision in favor of the petroleum industry comes during an election season in which Republicans are reaping greater rewards than even pro-drilling Democrats.

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File In this Sept. 18, 2010 file photo, the Development Driller III, which drilled the relief well and pumped the cement to seal the Macondo well, the source of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill, is seen in the Gulf Of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. This article originally appeared on Facing South , the website published by the Institute for Southern Studies. I n a controversial move, on July 18, the Obama administration gave final approval for the oil and gas industry to begin conducting seismic testing to map potential offshore reserves along the Atlantic Coast from Delaware to Florida. The decision comes as the administration is drawing up a new five-year plan for selling offshore drilling leases beginning in late 2017. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said its plan to move forward with the oil and gas studies "adopts the strongest practicable safeguards to eliminate or reduce to eliminate or reduce impacts to human, marine...

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