Congress

Between a Rock and a Polling Place

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais F ew things excite a political reporter more than polls. They're the sports statistics of the electoral grind, giving any argument that little extra oomph. For people not necessarily known for their numerical prowess, a cleverly placed percentage point is the perfect condiment for any story. Heck, polls can even be the story. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm for those alluring little numbers can end badly. In election off-season it's not so noticeable, with polls slowing to a relative trickle and our attentions focused elsewhere—or so far in the future that the ambitious dreams of Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton dancing in our heads outweigh any margins of error. But the polls are still there. Exhibit A: presidential approval ratings. Public-opinion polls released in the past few weeks have come together to cast Mean Girls -like aspersions on President Obama's popularity. According to today’s Gallup tracker, the president’s popularity is at 41 percent...

Who’s on First? Under Boehner, It’s Always the Senate.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
I f someone is looking for the perfect example of how the 113th Congress functions, it doesn’t get much better than last week. The Senate beat back a filibuster to pass a popular bill with support from every Democrat in the chamber and a handful of Republicans. The House? Oh, it took the week off. And so the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) joins the immigration bill in the queue for House action, with neither of them—so far—expected to move any further. Despite the fact that both would win if voted on. But don’t blame the Hastert Rule—the informal rule in the House of Representatives that Speaker John Boehner can only bring to the floor items supported by a majority of his party. This is all about the Boehner Rule: The Senate goes first. That’s been the way that the speaker has dealt with his next-to-impossible situation all year (as I discussed back in March). It’s a problem caused by his dysfunctional conference, which is unable to work as a normal House majority during a...

Be Our Guest Worker

A look at the uncertain existence of the legal migrant farmworkers that the agricultural industry relies on for cheap labor. 

AP Images/Eric Risberg
AP Images/Eric Risberg L uis Perez sits up on the edge of his bed, a stiff cot mattress resting on a flimsy metal bedframe a few inches above the concrete floor. He’s in the 120-square-foot cinder block walled room that he shares with a fellow migrant worker in Angier, North Carolina. “The television and coffee maker, that’s all his,” Perez says, pointing toward a corner where a mini-refrigerator sits. A half-empty bag of rice slouches on top. “I know he’ll take those back to Mexico, but I don’t want to carry stuff like that with me. Or waste my money at Wal-Mart.” He smiles broadly and laughs. With the door closed, that smile seems to be the only light in the room. Perez is legally employed through the federal H-2A visa program, which allows foreign workers to be hired to work seasonally in U.S. agriculture. Each May for the past five years, Perez has boarded a bus in Mexico City, Mexico with about 20 other workers headed to North Carolina to plant and harvest crops until November...

The Democrats' Original Food-Stamp Sin

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite
“Today, 47 million Americans struggling to put food on the table will have to make do with less,” began the emailed press release from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office. The statement lamented the $5 billion cut to food-stamp benefits that took effect November 1, rolling back a 13.6 percent expansion to the program that was part of the 2009 stimulus package. The cuts leave “participants with just $1.40 to spend per meal,” the press release continued, adding that House Republicans want to subject food stamps to more cuts in the future. But before Democrats completely rewrite the history of this body blow to the poor, a review of the facts would be in order. The seeds of this current food-stamp cut were sown by multiple deals made when Democrats held both chambers of Congress and the White House. They used money from the food-stamp program to pay for other priorities like education, health care and the school lunch program, all the while assuring that they would eventually...

Long Live the Kludge

AP Photo/The Daily Progress, Jonna Spelbring
L ast week’s buzzword was “kludge,” as everyone from Paul Krugman to Michael Lind decided that the Affordable Care Act was a perfect example of “What’s Wrong With America.” It’s an argument that Steven Teles made recently in an important essay at National Affairs . For Teles, a political scientist from Johns Hopkins, the way the United States is governed has become increasingly incoherent and even unworkable in policy domain after policy domain. His diagnosis is that our current state of affairs is the result of the accumulation of “kludges”—a term from computer programming for temporary patches. U.S. policy is dominated, he argues, by these ad hoc workarounds, rather than systematic policies. In the short run, make-do kludges are often good enough. But over time, they pile up, one upon another, and the result eventually becomes impossible for anyone to make sense of. Moreover, even when total policy catastrophe is avoided, ad-hoc “solutions” are rarely efficient, and all those...

No, Obama Isn't Trying to "Pack the Court"

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Like a not very bright seven-year-old with a shiny new toy, the National Review has found an inane talking point to run into the ground. "Republican AGs vs. Obama’s Court-Packing Plan" announces one headline. "House Testimony on D.C. Circuit Court-Packing Plan" says another. Then there's the straight-the-point " No Court Packing ." The sheer dumbness of the argument hasn't stopped it from appearing in columns with the byline of members of the United States Senate, also published in a journal that may stand athwart history even if it has little comprehension of it: It is one of the most important battles raging in Washington, a fight that will have far-reaching consequences for everything from health care and the regulatory state to gun rights and the war on terrorism. Yet most Americans have heard nothing about it. I’m talking about Democratic efforts to pack the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. What conservatives are whining about, of course, is the Constitution. President...

He's a Mean One, Mr. Boehner

John Boehner just read his latest poll numbers. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
What place does John Boehner hold in the American psyche? That's a question that, according to the National Journal , Democrats are going to test out in next fall's congressional election, when they try to tie every Republican in a competitive race to the honey-hued Speaker of the House. Will it work? I'm a little skeptical, but it is true that Boehner's approval ratings have plunged. In fact, they've gone down as low as Nancy Pelosi's were before the debacle of the 2010 election. They made this nice picture from CNN polling data comparing the two: This is mirrored in other polls ; on average, around a quarter of the public likes Boehner, and around half dislike him. But there's a difference between telling a pollster you have an unfavorable opinion of a political figure and being persuaded to vote against said candidate when that political figure's picture is thrown up next to someone they don't particularly care for. As that article points out, while Boehner is at the same overall...

No, Healthcare.gov's Problems Will Not Offer the GOP Political Deliverance

Some of the healthcare.gov contractors testifying today.
Today marks the beginning of what will surely be a series of hearings in Congress at which members will fulminate and shake their fists at various people who had responsibility for creating Healthcare.gov. It's quite something to see some congressman who's still struggling to figure out how to work the Blackberry his staff gave him asking questions about beta testing and error logs and a bunch of other stuff he doesn't begin to understand. But maybe the weirdest thing is the feeling one gets from the GOP over the last few days, which can be summarized as, "We got 'em now!" They seem to believe that the website problems are going to provide the deliverance they've been waiting for after the political disaster of the government shutdown. Here's a little prediction: Feigned Republican outrage over the ACA web site is going to be just as effective in reversing the GOP's current fortunes as feigned Republican outrage over Benghazi was in undoing Barack Obama's re-election bid. Nevertheless...

The Supreme Court v. Civil RIghts

The disturbing failure to prosecute alleged rapists in Maryville, Missouri, represents an all-too-common failure of American legal systems. In The Nation , Jill Filipovic has a must-read article highlighting another part of the problem: the Supreme Court. The Court's conservative justices have taken a federal remedy away from sexual-assault victims, in a case that represents a pattern in the Republican war on civil-rights enforcement. As Filipovic details, U.S. v. Morrison resulted from a case in which Virginia Tech student Christy Brzonkala was allegedly raped by two members of the school's football team, one of whom for all intents and purposes conceded that he had nonconsensual sex with Brzonkala. One alleged assaulter was acquitted entirely by the school's disciplinary process. Morrison had a one-year suspension for sexual assault lifted, and then had a one-year suspension under Virginia Tech's Abusive Conduct policy (after the alleged assault he had told Brzonkala "you better not...

Four Reasons We Don’t Need to Count Down to a January Shutdown

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite T he government has re-opened, the debt limit disaster was avoided, and something resembling peace has broken out in Washington. The cynics, however, have been quick to note that all of this is only temporary, with the next shutdown deadline falling on January 15. This round of budget squabbling resolved basically … nothing, so another debacle is likely . Ted Cruz is already threatening a repeat of what he just put the nation through. Don’t count on a sequel to the 16-day hell we just witnessed, though. Barack Obama certainly doesn’t want a shutdown. And this time, Republicans probably won’t force one. Of course, government shutdown has always been a bad idea, as Republicans just spent three weeks proving. But the very fact that they did it despite knowing that it was a terrible plan (or at least most of them knowing it was a terrible plan) suggests it could happen a second time, at least unless something new has happened to change things. So why won’t it...

Beware a Grand Bargain

AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
W ill President Obama and the Democrats win a major battle only to lose the war? The longterm war that Republicans are fighting is a deadly serious struggle to destroy the most important and valued achievements of the New Deal-Great Society legacy, Social Security and Medicare. Wall Street billionaires like Peter G. Peterson and Stanley Druckenmiller have been softening the ground for decades by claiming that Social Security is bankrupting the country and destroying future prospects of America’s youth. So there is a kind of pincer movement between the scorched-earth Republicans of the Tea Party, willing to shut the government if they don’t get their way, and the more mannered Wall Street Republicans who want to gut social insurance for the alleged good of the country. It adds up to the same thing—cut or privatize the Democrats’ two crown jewels. What’s worse, even though Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were able to maintain 100 percent party unity in their House and Senate caucuses in...

Conservative Does Journalism, Gets Hailed as Demi-God

The National Review's Robert Costa. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Back in 2009, Tucker Carlson gave a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, in which he told the crowd that what the right needed was more real journalism. He even pointed out that, as much as they hate The New York Times , that paper has people who do actual reporting and care about accurately relaying facts, and conservatives ought to try the same thing. He was booed resoundingly. Then Carlson founded the Daily Caller , which is kind of like giving a speech to a group of overweight people about the importance of cooking moderately sized meals filled with vegetables at home, then saying, "Let's go to McDonald's—Big Macs are on me!" Conservatives aren't wrong when they say most journalists are liberals. That isn't because of a conspiracy to keep out conservatives, any more than the fact that most stock brokers are conservatives is a result of a Wall Street conspiracy to keep out liberals. It's primarily because of the kind of people who are attracted to that kind of...

Let's Shut Down the Filibuster

AP Images/Evan Vucci
H ow you think about many immediate issues facing the country should hinge on your expectations about the future. Consider the battle shaping up this fall over the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, particularly the three he has nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—Patricia Millett, Cornelia Pillard, and Robert Wilkins. Control of the D.C. Court is important in itself, but the bigger issue is the willingness of Senate Democrats to restrict use of the filibuster and revamp the ground rules in an institution that has often obstructed liberal reform. The D.C. Court is particularly significant for national policy because it rules on federal regulations affecting labor, environmental protection, financial reform, and other key matters. Refusing to consider any of the president’s three nominees on their merits, Senate Republicans want to reduce the number of judges on the court to eliminate the three current vacancies and preserve conservative...

A Spine Is a Useful Thing to Have

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/ Evan Vucci H ow much damage have the Republicans done to themselves going into the elections of 2014 and 2016? And has President Obama resolved to hang tough, not just in this round, but in the one that follows and the one after that? The contrived shutdown crisis proved two things. It proved that Republicans are split down the middle between a lunatic, fundamentalist wing that prefers wreckage to governing and a pragmatic wing often allied with Wall Street. And it proved once and for all that being tough in the face of blackmail beats appeasement that only courts more rounds of blackmail. Business elites applied escalating pressure on the Republicans not to let the United States default on its debt. In the end, 144 House Republicans voted against the measure, and 87 voted for it. That 144, though, exaggerates somewhat the true strength of the Tea Party faction. Some of that vote was a protest against the failure of the Democrats to give anything in return. For now, public...

How Conservatives Reacted to the Shutdown/Default Deal

The despair that comes from knowing poor people are going to get health insurance. (Flickr/Jerry Furguson Photography)
Yesterday, John Boehner told a Cincinnati radio station, "We fought the good fight. We just didn't win." That's one way to look at what happened; another is that frightened Republicans allowed their most unhinged members to pull them into a political disaster that any rational person could have foreseen (and many certainly did). That Republicans would never get what they wanted—the destruction of the Affordable Care Act—was obvious. That they'd come out of it with almost nothing at all was nearly as predictable. So now that the battle is over, how are conservatives reacting? Let's take a look around. First, we've got some people who are seething with rage at their party for not hanging tough until they destroyed Obamacare: "I was trying to think earlier today if ever in my life I could remember any major political party being so irrelevant … I've never seen a major political party simply occupy placeholders, as the Republican party is doing." — Rush Limbaugh "Republican leadership has...

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