One afternoon in March 1982, an undergraduate student at the University of Texas named Gregory Watson was poking through the stacks of the Austin Central Library, researching a term paper he was going to write on the Equal Rights Amendment. He happened upon a book published by the Government Printing Office that included a copy of the Constitution, as well as several amendments that had been passed by Congress but not yet ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states.
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate.
The basic odds make it fairly unlikely that the Democrats will maintain their Senate majority. They only hold a narrow 53-47 edge after the 2010 midterms, and the party must defend 23 seats in 2012, compared to just ten for Republicans. Their troubles only increased when moderate Democrats hailing from conservative states—Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad as the most notable—decided that now was the time to retire, all but ceding their spots to the GOP. Every scenario looked doom and gloom for their chances. But then Republicans decided to sabotage those odds. First Olympia Snowe announced her retirement, after growing tired of her party's partisan rancor. Her seat is expected to go to the independent—but Democratic friendly—candidate Angus King.
The 111th Congress was practically defined by Republicans who turned an extraordinary measure–the filibuster–into a routine tool of obstruction. GOP senators invoked holds and filibusters on virtually everything that came from Senate Democrats, resulting in a session that saw more filibusters than any previous session in history. This nifty graph is illustrative:
Is anybody else as depressed as I am about the next four years?
No matter who wins, we face the prospect of bitterly divided government, savage partisanship in Congress, and increasing executive desperation. Even if Republicans win the Senate and retain the House, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; even if Obama holds on to the White House, he will face filibusters in the Senate and outright defiance in the House. A Congress that cannot deal with the tiny student-debt problem in orderly fashion is unlikely to be able to tackle big problems at all.
The most talked-about op-ed over the weekend was "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem,", a piece in the Washington Postby DC eminence grises Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. They're both not only deeply respected by known as non-partisan Congress-watchers (Ornstein even works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute), which is why the piece will get more attention. But should that matter? Either they're right or they're wrong, and the fact that they are who they are ought not make any difference. And if you look at their argument, it's nothing that you couldn't have found in magazines like the Prospect and a hundred other places many times over the past two years. I feel like I've written versions of Mann and Ornstein's piece a dozen times myself (see here, or here, or here). Mann and Ornstein's reputations do make it harder for Republicans to dismiss them as just liberal partisans, but that doesn't mean they're going to have some kind of seriously difficult time spinning their way out of questions raised in response to the op-ed. In any case, here's the core of their argument:
President Obama was prepared to spend his week contrasting himself with Republicans on students loans, but Mitt Romney deflated that argument yesterday afternoon. The 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act lowered the interest rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent for federal student loans, but comes with an expiration date: this July. A one-year extension would cost just $6 billion dollars, but would benefit over 7 million young people with student loans. The Obama campaign has highlighted the lack of action from congressional Republicans on the issue, and the president will speak at three college campuses today and tomorrow.
The Congressional Tea Party Caucus. In the rear, Rep. Louie Gohmert appears to be about to swallow a small child whole.
As we've discussed here many times, there a number of factors that make it more likely than not that Barack Obama will win re-election in November. But it's also quite possible that Obama will lose, and Mitt Romney will become president in January. If Romney does win, chances are that he'll come into office with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress. That's because whatever conditions produce a Republican win at the top will also probably allow Republicans to hold on to the House and take the Senate. It's even possible that Obama could win and Republicans wind up with both houses, since Democrats right now hold only a 53-47 lead in the upper chamber, and they are defending 23 seats in this year's election, while Republicans are defending only 10. There's an outside chance that a big Obama win could allow Democrats to hold the Senate and take back the house, but for now let's focus on the possibility of a Romney win, which will probably leave him with the benefit of total Republican control. This is an eventuality that we really need to start thinking about, since a Romney presidency would be shaped in large part by his relationship with Congress.
Yeeesh, what does Mitt Romney have to do to drum up a bit of enthusiasm from his party? Sure, he's got to be feeling pretty content as each day brings another Republican casting aside the somehow-still-going campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to accept the inevitable proposition that Romney will be the party's nominee. Yet few can seem to offer an explanation for why they like Romney beyond the fact that they’re stuck with him. Shortly after I noted John Boehner’s lackluster endorsement yesterday, reporters asked Mitch McConnell for his take on Romney and were given the same nod-and-sigh routine:
As much as the Internet might try to fool you, the 2012 political season is about more than just Etch A Sketches and sweater vests. We’re up crap creek in a leaky canoe when it comes to the economy, and as the country heads into the general election, the debt and budget will be at the fore of public debate.
With competing budget proposals flying in from all sides, much of the political talk these days centers on the endless delays and extensions that Congress has thrown in the path of approving a long-term federal budget. Which might lead one to wonder: Would it matter if we never passed a budget plan ever again?
What exactly is the federal budget?
The federal budget is one big ’ol nasty bill thousands of pages long that determines the fiscal future of the country over the course of a year by allocating money to various programs like Medicare and Medicaid as well as to things like defense spending.
When was the last time we had a budget bill that was approved?
April of 2009. But technically it was just an “omnibus spending bill,” and President Barack Obama was none too thrilled to be signing it, citing the excessive number of earmark projects. The following year, Democrats chose not to put forth a budget bill because they deemed it politically imprudent during the hotly contested midterm elections. Same thing happened the next year. You get the point.
Mitt Romney had no trouble garnering more endorsements than his opponents during the Republican primaries, though a number of prominent figures held off from granting Romney their nod until his nomination was all but certain. John Boehner was one such politician—no huge surprise given his position in the party (then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi refrained from directly endorsing Obama in the 2008 primary though it was clear she supported him against Hillary Clinton).
Now that Romney is the presumptive candidate Boehner is free to offer his support, but boy does he sound unexcited about the idea:
For years, liberals have argued that polarization his little to do with the Democratic Party—which they see as largely centrist—and everything to do with a Republican Party, which has moved far to the right since the 1970s. Recent research from political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have measured polarization and ideological shifts in Congress, confirms that theory. According to NPR, they’ve found that the GOP is more conservative now than it’s been in a century: