One of the most misleading things that high school civics classes teach is that the United States government is based on strict separation of powers: Congress legislates, the executive branch carries out those laws, and courts judge.
Just after Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010, Joe Biden came up to him and, thinking they were out of range of the microphone, said to the president, “This is a big fucking deal.” If I understand the concept of a BFD in the technical sense that Biden must have had in mind, it’s a historic reform that changes America in a fundamental way. Presidents have other imperative responsibilities, such as upholding the Constitution, keeping the nation safe from foreign threats, and promoting a strong economy. As critical as those are, they are not BFDs; a president who does all those things will probably get re-elected yet receive only brief mention in the history books. To be celebrated by future generations requires the accomplishment of substantial change with enduring benefit. In the language of the political scientist James MacGregor Burns, that is the work of a transformational leader, not merely a transactional one.
It’s terrific news that the neo-conservatives like Bill Kristol and Elliott Abrams, who have been peddling the slander that Chuck Hagel is an anti-Semite, got no traction with leading pro-Israel senators. The announcement by New York senator Chuck Schumer and California senator Barbara Boxer that they will support Hagel signals that the mainstream Jewish community wasn’t buying it, and even that the Israel lobby is split.
When push came to shove, and Congress had to approve legislation to avert the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner couldn’t rely on his conference to provide the necessary votes. The final agreement—crafted by Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden—passed the House with just 85 Republican votes. The remaining 172 came from Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, for a final count of 257 to 167.
To avert economic disaster Boehner had to seek votes from a overall majority of the House, rather than just a majority of his caucus. Which has raised an important question: Would Boehner try to build majorities with pragmatic Republicans and Democrats, or would he continue the Sisyphean task of wrangling Tea Party Republicans into a governing coalition.
Tonight, PBS's Frontline will be broadcasting a documentary called "Inside Obama's Presidency," about the President's first term. The story told in this preview is about a now-somewhat-famous dinner that a bunch of Republican muckety-mucks held on the night of Obama's inauguration, during which they made the decision that the best way to proceed was implacable, unified opposition to anything and everything the new president wanted to do. As we all know, this plan was then carried out almost to the letter. Watch:
Joe Heck, a conservative white guy with a difference.
You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That's an interesting fact, but it's only part of the story. At National Journal, Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how "the parties glare across a deep racial chasm" not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. "Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average."
The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound, touching on the continuous interaction between individuals and policy. Politicians are shaped by their political environments and the things they have to do to win, and the fact that most GOP members represent overwhelmingly white district means that as they rise through the ranks, the time they're going to have to spend talking to and listening to non-white people is going to be limited...
Two years ago, President Obama welcomed the debt ceiling as an opportunity to negotiate deficit reduction with congressional Republicans. This backfired—rather than work in good faith with the president, Republicans used this as an opportunity to hold the economy hostage to a list of narrow demands: for a balanced budget amendment, for regressive changes to entitlements, for large cuts to the social safety net.
Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Rafael Edwards)
As any parent knows, when your children are young, you have one distinct advantage over them: you're smarter than they are. It won't be that way forever, but if it comes down to an argument, using words, with a six-year-old, you're probably going to win. Faced with this disadvantage, children often resort to things like repeating the thing they've already said a hundred more times, or stomping their feet. Which brings us, of course, to the House Republicans.
The more information we learn about the mortgage settlement that was announced Monday—official documents are yet to be made public—the more of a smarmy backroom deal it turns out to be.
The deal lets ten major banks and other “loan servicers” off the hook for a corrupted and illegal process of millions of foreclosures, with a paltry one-time settlement of $8.5 billion. The economic damage inflicted on homeowners, and by extension on the economy, was many times that.
Anyone who thinks congressional Republicans will roll over on the debt ceiling or gun control or other pending hot-button issues hasn’t been paying attention.
But the President can use certain tools that come with his office—responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution and in his capacity as the nation’s chief law-enforcer—to achieve some of his objectives.
On the debt ceiling, for example, he might pay the nation’s creditors regardless of any vote on the debt ceiling—based on the the Fourteenth Amendment’s explicit directive (in Section 4) that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”
Last week, TheWashington Post’s Greg Sargent had the great idea of talking to an actual hostage negotiator, for a little more insight into the current situation with congressional Republicans and the debt ceiling. Throughout the interview, the negotiator stressed one key point: If you want to defuse a hostage situation, you have to show the hostage taker that you’re in control. For police, this is straightforward—they have lots of guns, and the hostage taker doesn’t.
I find little to disagree with in Scott Lemieux’s look at the legality of minting a trillion-dollar coin. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, the idea is simple. When the president is required to spend all money authorized by Congress, in most instances, that requires the Treasury to borrow money to fulfill congressional obligations. But Congress has also imposed a borrowing limit on the Treasury. In the past, Congress has lifted the limit with little fuss, but beginning in 2011, House Republicans have used it as leverage for spending cuts.
The Newtown elementary school massacre has finally sparked a discussion about what to do about the 80 gun deaths in America each day, seven of which are children.
But the dialogue remains constrained, as if we know we have to talk about gun control but we’re still afraid the National Rifle Association (NRA) will scold us as anti-freedom oppressors or start shooting. Beyond the obvious—banning assault weapons and limiting the size of gun clips—there is little information or analysis about concrete reforms that could make a difference. We’re still shying away from basic issues like how criminals, youths, and mass murderers get guns, why existing laws don’t seem to provide rudimentary safety, and why so little attention is paid—and so little responsibility ascribed—to the purveyors and profiteers of the gun industry.
Like many other parents of school-age children, news of the Connecticut shootings hit close to home for David Bennahum, a New York tech entrepreneur and founder of the progressive American Independent News Network. The day after the attack, Bennahum took to Facebook: “I posted something along the lines of ‘What would really shift the debate is if you had a million kids march on Washington for gun control,” Bennahum says. “My friends on Facebook were like, ‘That’s a great idea. You should start a page about that.’” Two hours after starting the Facebook page, it had 600 “likes”; two days later, it had 3,000. With the backing of progressive leaders and organizers from Bennahum’s former life as a journalist, Bennahum forged ahead organizing the Million Kids March on Washington.
It seems I was mistaken about the GOP’s stance toward raising the debt ceiling: Top Republicans won’t walk away from using the limit as leverage for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Here is what Mitch McConnell had to say on Meet the Press yesterday: