Congress

The Sequester Blame Game

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A key part of the GOP's strategy on the sequester is to blame President Obama for the fact it exists at all. One good example is House Speaker John Boehner's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal:

With the debt limit set to be hit in a matter of hours, Republicans and Democrats in Congress reluctantly accepted the president's demand for the sequester, and a revised version of the Budget Control Act was passed on a bipartisan basis.

Americans Really Want the GOP to Knock It Off

fakelvis / Flickr

If the public is unhappy with anything, it's the crisis-driven governing of the last two years. Between the debt ceiling stand-off—when House Republicans threatened to sink the economy if they didn't get spending cuts—and the recent fiscal cliff battle—where, again, Republicans threatened economic disaster if they didn't get spending cuts—the United States has lurched from fight to fight, crisis to crisis, in an ongoing game of domestic brinksmanship.

Still More BS

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

We all do things that we regret. President Obama must surely regret that he ever listened to the extreme deficit hawks back in early 2010, when he appointed the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the fiscal zombie that just won’t die.

The commission is long defunct. The recommendations of its majority report never became law (because that required a super-majority). But the dreams and schemes of B-S have become the gold standard of deflationists everywhere. The test of budgetary soundness is: does it meet the recommendations of Bowles and Simpson?

Why Republicans Should Want to Index the Minimum Wage

Flickr/FiddleFlix

If Republicans have any political sense at all, they’ll support not just raising the minimum wage, but indexing it.

The economic case for raising the wage, at a time when economic inequality is rampant, working-class incomes are declining, and Wal-Mart sales are falling through the floor, is overwhelming. But while Republicans may blow off the economic consequences of not raising the federal standard, they can’t be so cavalier in dismissing the political consequences.

Sequester Stupidity

President Obama arguing against the sequester cuts.

Next week, the "sequester," a package of severe cuts to government spending, will take effect, and although the consequences won't all be felt the first day, they will come fairly quickly, and they'll be painful, not only to people on an individual basis—say if you're one of the thousands of government employees being furloughed, or when you're waiting in longer lines at the airport—but to the broader economy as all these effects begin to ripple outward. And so, the administration and Congress are engaging in what surely looks to most Americans like a spectacularly idiotic argument about whose fault it is. But before we start blaming both sides equally for indulging in a battle over blame, we have to be clear on who's actually to blame for all the blaming. The truth is that while both sides are trying to spin things their way, there's a difference in how each is talking about the sequester.

President Obama's principal argument is this: The sequester is a really bad thing, so Congress needs to stop it. He's out posing with first responders, detailing the cuts that will take place and the problems that will ensue, and generally trying to put pressure on Republicans to walk us back from this cliff. Does he want them to get the blame when it happens? Of course. But his main argument is about the practical consequences of the cuts, made in an attempt to avert the cuts from happening. Republicans, on the other hand, aren't spending much time talking about the consequences of the sequester. Yes, they'll decry the defense cuts, but that's almost throat-clearing before they get to their main argument, which is: This is all Barack Obama's fault. They created a Twitter hashtag, #Obamaquester, to make sure everyone knows whose fault it is. They're holding press conferences with that hashtag on big signs. The instruction has obviously gone out to every Republican that the most important thing to repeat when talking about this issue is that it was all Obama's idea, so there. John Boehner has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal going on at some length about how Republicans had nothing to do with it (Steve Benen does the yeoman's work of going through Boehner's piece line-by-line to document all the absurd falsehoods contained therein).

On the question of who's idea it was, the basic answer is that it appears it came from the White House initially. But the real answer is, who cares who thought of it first?

Homeless, Hungry, Hung Out to Dry

USDA/Bob Nichols

The sequester—a set of deep, across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending set to take effect if lawmakers cannot agree to a longterm budget deal—was never supposed to happen. But as the deadline for reaching an agreement ticks ever closer, Congress appears hopelessly deadlocked. Under the original agreement, sequestration would have triggered $100 billion in cuts to both defense and non-defense discretionary spending on January 1—an 8.2 percent reduction in non-defense expenditures. The “fiscal-cliff” deal reached in December reduced that amount to $85.3 billion and pushed the deadline back to March. Under the new deal, non-defense discretionary spending would be cut by $42.7 billion yearly for the next nine years. This is on top of $1.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade that have already been enacted.

On "Emboldening" Republicans

Flickr/Secretary of Defense

I want to expand on something I brought up yesterday on the utility, for the opposition party, of doing nothing more with your efforts than becoming the biggest pain in the president's ass you possibly can. As of now, Republicans have mounted an unprecedented filibuster against Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense, the latest in a long line of cases in which they looked at a prevailing norm of doing business in Washington and realized that there was no reason they couldn't violate it. Sure, up until now we had an unspoken agreement that the president would get to appoint pretty much whoever he wants to his cabinet unless the nominee was a drunk, a criminal, or grossly unqualified. But Republicans feel perfectly free to cast that agreement aside. Why? Because screw you, Obama, that's why. In any case, it looks at the moment as though this filibuster will be temporary, and Hagel will eventually get confirmed.

So now, there are two ways to look at this. Having caused all this trouble, will the Republicans feel like they got it out of their system and calm themselves down a bit? Or will they be emboldened to find new and creative ways to throw monkey wrenches into the gears of government?

Now Hiring: A Few Good Judges

Flickr/Cliff

Chief Judge David Sentelle’s recent opinion in Noel Canning v. NLRB holding President Barack Obama’s recess appointments unconstitutional is a trenchant reminder that the D.C. Circuit is, as is often said, the nation’s “second most important court after the Supreme Court.” It has also been, historically, a stepping stone to the high Court. The court now faces four vacancies among 11 judgeships with Sentelle’s February 12 assumption of senior status. But the Obama administration is the first in decades which confirmed no D.C. Circuit judge and has only submitted two names for consideration. The importance and complexity of the circuit caseload means it requires all eleven judges to deliver justice. For this reason—and to increase ideological balance on the court, which has four active and five senior judges whom Republican presidents appointed—Obama and the Senate must expeditiously fill the D.C. Circuit openings.

Three's a Crowd

AP Photo/Ron Heflin

Here we go again: the false hope, or in some cases fear, of a massive crack-up of the two major parties, with third- and fourth- and maybe more-party candidates running viable races for the presidency.

The Ridiculous, Unprecedented Filibuster of Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense / Flickr

As of this afternoon, Republicans have vowed to filibuster Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Department of Defense. It’s not hyperbole to say this is unprecedented—the Senate has never filibustered a president’s Cabinet nominee. It would be one thing if the nominee were clearly unqualified—if Obama had nominated Diddy to lead Defense, then Republicans would have a point. But Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served two terms in the Senate and built a reputation for seriousness on defense issues.

Explaining the Farce of the Hagel Hearings

Flickr/Secretary of Defense

It's easy to shake your head and laugh at the incredible things said by some of the nincompoops who occupy the GOP's backbench in Congress, whether it's Louie Gohmert ranting about "terror babies," or Paul Broun (an actual doctor, for whose patients I fear) saying "All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell," or any of a thousand things Michele Bachmann has said over the years. But as we laugh, we know these people don't really shape policy, so the damage they can do is limited. Not that the rest of the Republicans on Capitol Hill are a bunch of geniuses or anything, but most of those who have that golden combination of crazy and stupid are pretty far down in the pecking order.

But looking forward to the next four years, you have to wonder if Barack Obama is, through little fault of his own, making the entire Republican party dumber with each passing day. Fred Kaplan, a thoughtful journalist who reports on military affairs for Slate, watched Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearings and can't contain his disgust at how little the Republican senators serving on the Armed Services Committee seem to understand about things related to the armed services:

Inaugural versus SOTU

Rex Features via AP Images

President Obama did not say last night that “the state of the Union is strong” a favorite phrase used in past State of the Union speeches. Instead he said, “The state of the Union is stronger.” That phrase points away from “the rubble of crisis” and toward a brighter future. In that respect, the address shared much in common with the president’s Inaugural, which presented a broad, liberal vision for Barack Obama’s second term and set policy goals for years down the road. In his address to the join session of Congress, the president was able last night to lay out more specific proposals than he could in his Inaugural speech.

The Return of the Balanced Budget Amendment

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says Senate Republicans will unanimously support a balanced-budget amendment, to be unveiled Wednesday as the core of the GOP’s fiscal agenda.

There’s no chance of passage so why are Republicans pushing it now? “Just because something may not pass doesn’t mean that the American people don’t expect us to stand up and be counted for the things that we believe in,” says McConnnell.

The President's Dream State

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

By any measure, President Obama’s first term was consequential. In four years, he signed an $800 billion stimulus and infrastructure investment program, laid the foundation for universal health insurance, secured new regulations on the financial sector, repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and put the United States on the path back to economic recovery.

Anonymous Is Interested in You

Hacktivists continue to carve out new modes of political action.

Flickr/tsevis

On January 25, Anonymous, the international hacktivist collective, declared war on the U.S government. In the past two years, more than 20 Anonymous acolytes have been arrested in a string of high-profile operations, most notably disrupting online service of PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa in retribution for blacklisting WikiLeaks, and hacking a defense intelligence firm’s server and using the company’s credit card records to donate $1 million to war-related charities. Aaron Swartz, a figurehead of the Free Internet Movement who was facing 35 years in prison for downloading the online academic library JSTOR, committed suicide last month. Now, in honor of its fallen brethren, members of Anonymous say they have hacked and downloaded reams of compromising government documents, and likened the stolen data to “fissile material for multiple warheads” aimed at the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s the latest escalation in an unpredictable rise. Without formal organization or leadership, Anonymous has turned technological acumen and a general disavowal for the law into increasingly deliberate acts of political defiance.

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