Congress

Homeless, Hungry, Hung Out to Dry

USDA/Bob Nichols
USDA/Bob Nichols Students at Washington-Lee High School, in Arlington, Virginia. More than 31 million students from low-income families benefit from the the National School Lunch Program, a federally assisted meal program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. T he 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 to avoid it. 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 each...

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...

Now Hiring: A Few Good Judges

Flickr/Cliff
Flickr/Cliff C hief 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. Because of its location and the minuscule number of cases...

Three's a Crowd

AP Photo/Ron Heflin
Flickr/Gage Skidmore H ere 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. It’s not going to happen. This time, it’s Ron Fournier who reports on insiders who envision the parties breaking apart . In the world of Fournier and his sources, “social change and a disillusioned electorate threaten the entire two-party system.” The result could be Rand Paul and a regular Republican both landing on the ballot in November 2016—and if Hillary Clinton doesn’t run, perhaps a Democratic splintering as well. As Brendan Nyhan documents , we've heard all of this before (and Fournier is a specialist ). I won't say it's impossible that we'll get a "serious" third-party candidate in one of the next few presidential cycles, but it's not likely, and to the larger point, the parties are most certainly not cracking up. To the contrary: The Democratic and...

The Ridiculous, Unprecedented Filibuster of Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense / Flickr
Secretary of Defense / Flickr A s 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. This isn’t to say Republicans can’t oppose Hagel—they can vote against him, and if they have a majority, they can defeat his nomination. But refusing to allow the full Senate to vote on this is a huge departure from congressional norms. And why are Republicans breaking from years of Senate tradition? Because the administration hasn’t released specific intelligence about the September attacks on the U.S’s diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. Here’s...

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 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...

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. But did the president stay true to the ideals he set out in January while delivering his sometimes technical and wonky address last night? We investigate that question – point by point – below. Education During his Inaugural address President Obama said “a modern economy requires … schools and colleges to train our workers” suggesting we should improve schools by...

The Return of the Balanced Budget Amendment

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
S enate 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 more honest explanation is that a fight over a balanced-budget amendment could get the GOP back on the same page—reuniting Republican government-haters with the Party’s fiscal conservatives. And it could change the subject away from social issues—women’s reproductive rights, immigration, gay marriage—that have split the Party and cost it many votes. It also gives the Party something to be for , in contrast to the upcoming fights in which its members will be voting against compromises to avoid the next fiscal cliff, continue funding the government, and raising the...

The President's Dream State

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Obama at last night's State of the Union address B y any measure, President Obama’s first term was consequential. In four years, he signed an $800 billion stimulus program into law, laid the foundation for universal health insurance, secured new regulations governing the financial sector, repealed "don't ask, don't tell," and put the United States on the path back to economic recovery. For his second term, he has an agenda that’s just as ambitious and—reflecting the coalition that re-elected him—unambiguously progressive. Other than a de rigeur nod to deficit reduction—he mentioned “the deficit” ten times—the speech ticked off a litany of liberal policies: Universal pre-school, a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions, a higher federal minimum wage (set at 9$ an hour, the highest it’s been since 1981), and billions more in new infrastructure spending to repair roads and bridges. That’s to say nothing of comprehensive immigration reform (with...

Anonymous Is Interested in You

Hacktivists continue to carve out new modes of political action.

Flickr/tsevis
Michael Gottschalk/dapd O n 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...

Still Waiting for That GOP Fever to Break

Photo of Bay Bridge construction courtesy of Caltrans
Word is that in tomorrow's State of the Union address, Barack Obama is going to propose some new infrastructure spending. Not only as a way of boosting the economy in the short term by creating jobs in areas like construction, steel, concrete, those little plastic anchors you put around screws when you're putting them in brick, and so on, but also as an investment that pays long-term dividends in the form of bridges that work and sewer pipes that don't burst. As Neil Irwin points out , given the large number of construction workers sitting idle and the incredible fact that the United States can now borrow money at negative interest—something that won't be true forever—it would be crazy for us not to take advantage of this moment and start doing some long-overdue repairs. "One can easily imagine a deal," Irwin writes. "Democrats get their new infrastructure spending, and Republicans insist on a structure that requires private sector lenders to be co-investors in any projects, deploying...

Tomorrow's Republican Post-SOTU Whining Today

Here's a heads-up: After President Obama delivers his State of the Union address tomorrow, Republicans will wave their hands in front of their faces and whine that it was viciously, horribly, frighteningly "partisan." And what will this partisanship consist of? Hold on to your hat here. He's expected to argue for the same policies he has been arguing for and pursuing for the last four years . If the Republican members of Congress restrain themselves from shouting "You lie!" during the speech, it'll only be because of their superior breeding and manners. This, of course, is a follow-up to Obama's inauguration speech, which was condemned by Republicans not because he said anything mean about them, but because he talked about some of the policies he prefers. That, you see, is "partisanship," and when the other side does it, it's beyond the pale. So in today's Politico , under the headline "Obama's State of the Union: Aggressive," we read , without any particular evidence for the...

How Hard Will It Be to Find a Gun Dealer for Your Background Check?

Flickr/xomiele
According to some news reports out in the last day or so (see here and here ), a bipartisan group of senators, including two pro-gun Republicans (Tom Coburn and Mark Kirk), one pro-gun Democrat (Joe Manchin), and one not-so-pro-gun Democrat (Chuck Schumer) are making genuine progress in coming up with legislation to approach universal background checks for gun purchases, to close what is commonly known as the "gun-show loophole," but would be more properly known as the private-sale loophole, that when one person sells another person a gun, no background check is required. Never one to pass up an opportunity to make a graph or two, I thought I'd offer some data on federally licensed gun dealers, since they're going to be key to solving this problem. Despite the fact that around 90 percent of Americans in every poll support universal background checks, the NRA says that requiring checks in private sales will impose a terrible burden on law-abiding gun owners. So will it? Right now, if...

The Moderate's GOP Survival Guide

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Former Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, who made waves in her 2010 campaign when she said she "dabbled into witchcraft." K arl Rove and big Republican donors are trying to rescue the GOP from more Christine "I am not a witch" O'Donnell-type embarrassments by funding a new group dedicated to stopping terrible candidates from winning Republican nominations . The impulse is a healthy one, but it’s going to take a lot more than some attack ads to stop extremist candidates. After all, most of the ugly Republican candidates from the last two cycles were relatively underfunded in their primaries; a little more money thrown into the pot against them is unlikely to make a difference, and it might, as Salon columnist Steve Kornacki has argued , even backfire if it winds up drawing Tea Party activists into a fight they might otherwise have ignored. At best, it will help on the margins. The larger question is what Republicans who want to...

Darrell Issa's Tight Spot

AP Photo/Nelvin Cepeda, Pool
Tuesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on the status of the undocumented produced a united front of Republican support for legalizing those immigrants, but not allowing them to become citizens. Well, an almost united front. As Kitty Felde of Los Angeles public radio staton KPCC reported , one GOP Committee member dissented from his peers’ halfway-house stance. Darrell Issa, the sole Republican committee member from California, told Felde that he believes the undocumented should be allowed to become citizens. “I believe that that’s the inherently American thing to do,” he said. Issa is nobody’s idea of a Republican moderate—to the contrary, he’s a doctrinaire right-winger. As chair of the House Oversight Committee, moreover, Issa has consistently endeavored to inflate various Obama administration contretemps into full-blown scandals (Fast and Furious, Benghazi) despite the absence of supporting facts. But Issa also represents a district that, according to the 2010 Census, is 26...

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