Congress

Marco Rubio Commits to Immigration Reform

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Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been involved with immigration-reform talks since the beginning of the year, but there’s always been a question of his commitment—does Rubio want to pass a bill, or does he just want the political benefits of advocacy without the substantive trouble of legislating? If this sounds cynical, recall that—at almost every turn over the last few months—Rubio has threatened to derail talks over a series of non-issues, accusing Democrats of supporting amnesty and rushing negotiations, though neither has happened.

Bi-Partisanship We Don’t Need

Flickr/BeckyF

John Boehner, Speaker of the House, revealed why it’s politically naive for the president to offer up cuts in Social Security in the hope of getting Republicans to close some tax loopholes for the rich. “If the President believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement released Friday. 

Closing the Gun Show Loophole: Better Than Nothing?

Flickr/Brittany Randolph

Ah, bipartisan compromise, just what the country is yearning for. We saw some yesterday, as NRA favorite Pat Toomey (R-PA) and NRA favorite Joe Manchin (D-WV) got together to see if they could come up with a plan for universal background checks, which as everyone knows are supported by 90 percent of the public in just about every poll that's been taken on the subject. What they produced, however, wasn't anything like "universal." Is it better than nothing? Sure. Should it be celebrated? Eh.

The New Deal That Could Have Been

Courtesy W. W. Norton and Company

Invoking “dysfunction” is now the basic black of punditry about American politics. As the British political theorist David Runciman recently observed in the London Review of Books, “Commentators find it almost impossible to write about American democracy these days without reaching for the word ‘dysfunctional.’” Consider the lowlights of our political culture in just the past 15 years: a puerile impeachment; the subsequent president elected via a Supreme Court filled with political allies; a radicalized Republican Party, convinced that taxation and domestic government spending are a form of socialism; a failure by bipartisan elites even to prioritize, let alone tackle, continued high unemployment and the looming catastrophe of climate change. As Runciman’s editors titled his own essay on America’s lumbering democracy, “How can it work?”

Is Gun Control Out for the Count?

Flickr/HellerDK

Immediately after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the conventional wisdom was that Congress would act to pass new gun control laws. How else, after all, would you respond to the massacre of twenty children? But while Sandy Hook galvanized gun control supporters—including President Obama—to act, it didn’t dissolve opposition.

Obama Pleads for Empathy on Guns

Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has portrayed himself as Washington's last reasonable man, pleading that we can find some common ground on almost any issue despite our disagreements if we just listen to each other and open our hearts a little. Republicans complain that it's all just an act—he's just trying to look like the reasonable one, to make his opponents look more intransigent and stubborn and gain the upper hand politically. That may be partly true, even though they don't need his help to look unreasonable; they do a fine job of it all by themselves.

The latest narrative on the gun issue is that the prospects for meaningful legislation are slipping away as the tragedy of Newtown fades from our ridiculously short memories and members of Congress feel little of the public pressure required for them to stand up to the NRA. So Obama has been campaigning for his favored legislation, and yesterday he gave a speech in Colorado, the centerpiece of which was a plea to both sides to cultivate some empathy. Here's an excerpt:

Americans Want a Path to Citizenship

Jens Schott Knudsen/Flickr

The most important takeaway from the latest Washington Post poll is its news on immigration. Among all adults, 57 percent support a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, one of the most contentious elements of the framework for comprehensive immigration reform.

Gun Control Moves to the States

Teknorat / Flickr

The United States hasn’t passed significant national gun laws in more than a decade, and despite urging from President Obama and other lawmakers, there’s little sign we’re close to new legislation. A large part of this has to do with the continued influence of the National Rifle Association, which has announced its complete opposition to new gun control laws.

Why Politicians Aren't Sensitive to Public Opinion on the Economy

Flickr/Alex E. Proimos

Who says American politics is gridlocked? A tidal wave of politicians from both sides of the aisle who just a few years ago opposed same-sex marriage are now coming around to support it. Even if the Supreme Court were decide to do nothing about California’s Proposition 8 or DOMA, it would seem only matter of time before both were repealed. A significant number of elected officials who had been against allowing undocumented immigrants to become American citizens is now talking about “charting a path” for them; a bipartisan group of senators is expected to present a draft bill April 8. Even a few who were staunch gun advocates are now sounding more reasonable about background checks.

The Dead End That Is Public Opinion

If you want to produce change, make politicians as terrified as this sandwich. (Flickr/Sakurako Kitsa)

As the effort to enact new gun legislation hobbles along, liberals have noted over and over that in polls, 90 percent or so of the public favors universal background checks. In speaking about this yesterday, President Obama said, "Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change." Then Jonathan Bernstein explained that opinion doesn't get political results, what gets results is action. I'd take this one step farther: what gets results is not action per se, but action that produces fear. I'll explain in a moment, but here's part of Bernstein's argument:

The IRS Threat to Turbo Tax

Flickr/401K 2012

As a general matter, I think the best reason for government not to go around competing with private industry isn't that doing so inherently diminishes our freedom, but because it's just not worth the effort, and much of the time it isn't going to provide any benefit to consumers. It wouldn't be tyrannical for the federal government to produce its own brand of cola, but it would be pointless, since they're unlikely to make something people will like better than Coke or Pepsi, and consumers seem to be perfectly happy with their current cola options. On the other hand, there are some areas where the market has clearly failed—health insurance for senior citizens, for instance (and, I'd argue, everyone else too, but that's a separate topic)—where it makes sense for the government to step in.

But what about areas where the market in question involves private companies helping consumers interact with the government itself? And where there isn't a particularly egregious market failure, but the government could clearly offer people the same service for which they're now paying, but at a lower price? Like, say, zero? In that case, it would be hard to argue that the government would be outside its rights if it made it easier for people to interact with it, solely on the basis that those private companies might suffer from the competition. Well, according to a story from Pro Publica, that's what's happening in the area of tax preparation:

Have the Politics of Gun Control Changed?

Flickr/White House

At The Washington Post, Greg Sargent reports that five red-state Democrats—Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota—have been unwilling to voice support for expanding the background-check program—"the centerpiece," he writes, "of President Obama's package of gun reforms." Their rationale is straightforward: Supporting this policy might hurt us in our states, or leave us vulnerable to Republican attacks.

Battle of the Budgets

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

For the next year, at least, Republicans will have one less talking point to turn to when they want to hit Democrats on the budget. Over the weekend, Senate Democrats came together to pass their first budget since 2009, a comprehensive package that calls for additional stimulus and modest deficit reduction, stretched over the next ten years. Under Senate rules, lawmakers can’t filibuster a budget resolution, allowing Democrats to pass it by a vote of 50 to 49, with four Democrats—Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Max Baucus of Montana—voting against the bill.

Another Court Nominee Down

WikiMedia Commons

Last Friday afternoon, the Obama administration surrendered on its latest attempt to fill one of four vacancies on the nation's second most-important court.

A Post-Iraq Security Consensus?

AP Photo

On the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, we may be witnessing a seismic shift in America's politics of national security. After decades of using hawkish positions for partisan advantage, the Republican Party is facing a foreign policy identity crisis. Its brand is still stained by the Iraq War and the Global War on Terror, and the once-fringe views of Ron Paul are becoming mainstream among the public and party activists, as shown by the response to Senator Rand Paul's March 6 filibuster and his success at this past weekend's Conservative Political Action Conference.

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