Congress

How the NRA Is Helping to Pass Gun Control

We're in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I'll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway. And though it's by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we'll partly have the NRA to thank. That's because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter. They've become more extremist in the last two decades...

Going Back Too Soon

Without pay, many new parents can’t take the time off granted them by the FMLA.

AP Photo/Greg Gibson
Rex Features via AP Images P erla Saenz went back sore and exhausted just four weeks after giving birth—and two weeks after the incision from her C-section reopened. (She had heard her older child cough in the night and instinctively tried to pick him up, forgetting for a moment her doctor’s warning against lifting anything heavier than ten pounds.) Weak and sometimes feverish, she often found herself clutching the counter for support. Bernadette Cano was back on the job five weeks after giving birth. Though she was in better physical shape, she wasn’t ready to be apart from her son. “I was thinking about the baby all the time,” she told me tearfully from the break room of Walmart, where she worked in the dressing room. Under normal circumstances, she enjoyed the job tidying up the dressing rooms and returning clothes to the racks. But with her newborn son at home, she couldn’t think of anything else and even broke the company policy against texting so she could check in with her...

The Nullification Crisis, Part Deux

Wikipedia
Wikipedia John C. Calhoun, former vice president and senator from South Carolina. From its inception as part of Dodd-Frank financial, Republicans have been opposed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency meant to protect consumers from predatory financial practices. In a sane political world, Republicans would register through the usual channels, including elections. If you want to change Washington—or even just an agency—the first order of business is winning elections. In the world as it exists, however, Republicans have decided to simply block any attempt at enforcing laws they don’t like. For the CFPB, this means blocking confirmation for its director—former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray—until the administration agrees to gut the agency and leave consumers more vulnerable to predatory financial practices: Senate Republicans are renewing their vow to block any nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unless major changes are made to its...

He's Not Here to Make Friends

President Obama meeting with grim-faced members of Congress. (White House/Pete Souza)
If you walked into the home of an acquaintance and found yourself facing a wall of dozens of pictures of him shaking hands with powerful people, you'd probably think, "What a pompous ass. And how insecure do you have to be to put these things up on your wall? I get it, you're important. Sheesh." In Washington, however, these "brag walls" can be found all over town, particularly on Capitol Hill, where nearly every member of Congress has one. Maybe some offices do it just because that's what everyone else does, but you'd think that if you're a senator or member of Congress, the fact that you're an important person would be self-evident, and it wouldn't be necessary to make sure everyone who comes into your office knows that you've been in the same room as presidents and other high-ranking officials. There are some commercial establishments, like your local deli, that might put up pictures on their walls with the celebrities who have stopped in, but that's an understandable marketing...

Outsiders as Insiders

Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick
Flickr/Office of Governor Patrick M assachusetts could be the harbinger of a hopeful national trend in Democratic Party politics – the reformer as regular. For 16 years, this bluest of blue states oddly kept electing Republican governors. Between 1990 when Gov. Michael Dukakis stepped down and 2006 when Deval Patrick took the governorship back, no fewer than four Republicans sat in the governor’s chair. And then Democrats blew the special election for Ted Kennedy’s seat in January 2010, when Scott Brown upset Attorney General Martha Coakley. This occurred in a state that reliably votes Democratic for president, and hasn’t sent a Republican to the U.S. House since 1994. Despite the Democratic sentiments of Massachusetts voters, the institutional party has often seemed dysfunctional, decrepit, and not welcoming of new blood. In this odd history, however, one fact screams out. The two big statewide winners of recent decades were complete outsiders—Deval Patrick and Elizabeth Warren...

What Would Jack Lew Do?

AP Photo/Win McNamee
AP Photo/Win McNamee Current White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, whom President Barack Obama has nominated to be the new Treasury secretary, at the president's swearing-in ceremony during the 57th Presidential Inauguration. S ometime this month, the Senate is expected to grill President Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, who if confirmed will replace outgoing secretary Timothy Geithner. As the president’s chief of staff, Lew has been influential in the budget battles President Obama fought with House Republicans in the past year and has a deep knowledge of how government spending works. Conventional wisdom is that the president chose Lew to have a strong ally as the White House battles with congressional Republicans over spending and taxes. But with only a short stint at Citigroup amid a life of public service, there isn’t a deep record on what he thinks about financial reform. Nevertheless, the Treasury secretary will be responsible for the overhaul of the legal and...

The Senate-Hearing Circus Is in Session

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senator Ted Cruz uses a poster while questioning Chuck Hagel, a former two-term GOP senator and President Obama's choice for defense secretary, during his confirmation hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, January 31, 2013. Hagel faced strong GOP resistance and was forced to explain past remarks and votes even as he appeared on a path to confirmation as Obama second-term defense secretary and the nation's 24th Pentagon chief. T hat really could’ve gone better. Appearing before yesterday’s marathon session of the Senate Armed Services Committee, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, seemed apologetic, hesitant, and adrift. To the extent Hagel seemed to have prepared at all, it was for a set of serious questions on serious issues from a completely different set of Senators who weren’t out to score petty partisan points. Looking to make sense of the spectacle...

The Bitter Twilight of John McCain

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh Senator John McCain of Arizona asks a question of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel, center, President Barack Obama's choice for defense secretary, on Capitol Hill yesterday. Senator James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, listens at left. T hat one,” John McCain famously snarled in a presidential debate four years ago, referring to his opponent who was a quarter of a century younger and who had been in the Senate 3 years to McCain’s 20. It’s difficult to imagine a better revelation of the McCain psyche than that moment, but if there is one, then it came yesterday at the meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee, convened to consider the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. The McCain fury is something to behold, almost irresistible for how unvarnished it is in all its forms. In the instance of the 2008 debate, McCain’s dumbfounded antipathy had to do with facing an opponent he so clearly considered unworthy. In the instance of the hearing...

Obama's Trump Card: Breaking the Filibuster

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster President Barack Obama announces that he will re-nominate Richard Cordray, left, to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a role that he has held for the last year under a recess appointment, January 24, 2013. D id a hack conservative judge just lay the groundwork for the end of the filibuster? It’s very possible. At least, if the Supreme Court goes along—and if Democrats, as they should, fight back. The road begins not with last week’s D.C. Circuit Court decision, which if upheld would knock out virtually all recess appointments, but with the Senate Republican plan that Brookings scholar Tom Mann has called “ a modern form of nullification .” That was a scheme to prevent some government agencies—the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), and others—from functioning by blockading any presidential appointments, using the filibuster to require 60 votes and then keeping the Republican Senate conference...

Did Republicans Lose the Election?

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Last November, Democrats seemed to be justified in believing that their party had won a victory of genuine significance. The ideological differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were clear-cut, and Obama was re-elected. Despite the advantage that Republicans initially enjoyed in Senate races, Democrats increased their majority to 55, and that new majority is more liberal than the old one. In races for the House, more voters cast ballots for Democratic than for Republican candidates, though Republicans kept their majority thanks in large part to gerrymandered districts. But if you step back now, look at government as a whole, and think about the likely course of politics in the next several years, things look different. In what was a bad year for Republicans, they emerged with enough power to stymie major Democratic legislative initiatives and to advance key items on their own agenda through the arms of government that they continue to control. In other words, the United States...

Chicken Hawk Ted Cruz Smears Kerry and Hagel

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
Flickr/Gage Skidmore U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz Apparently every Democrat automatically despises the troops, even when those Democrats once volunteered to serve in the armed forces. It's a trope Republicans have pulled out ever since the Nixon years. The Obama era--replete with drone strikes, Libyan intervention, and the death of Osama bin Laden—has robbed Republicans of a bit of their bluster. But on Saturday Ted Cruz, the newly elected U.S. Senator from Texas, breathed new life into the old smear when he tarred two highly decorated former veterans. Cruz appeared in Washington, D.C., at a forum hosted by the National Review Institute, the non-profit arm of the conservative magazine. "We've got two pending nominations, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel. Both of whom are very prominently [pause] less than ardent fans of the U.S. military," Cruz said to chuckles from the crowd. A quick refresher about the two men he claims somehow oppose the U.S. military. In 1966, secretary of state nominee John...

The Peak of Her Game

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, listens to questions from lawmakers during her testimony on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, January 23, 2013, before Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. W ith due respect to Barack Obama, his second inaugural address—containing not a single phrase likely to end up chiseled in stone, but a tactical masterpiece in its GOP-marginalizing, progressive redefinition of what the traffic will bear—wasn't the best political TV of the week. The best political TV of the week was Hillary Clinton's testimony in front of the Senate and then House Foreign Relations Committees on Wednesday. After licking their chops for weeks at the prospect, Republicans eyeing 2016—specifically, potential contenders Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, both of whom were among her quizzers—may be wondering why...

What Killed Filibuster Reform?

Flickr/theqspeaks
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senator McConnell reached an agreement yesterday that will be called "filibuster reform" by some reports. But as The Washington Post 's Ezra Klein summarizes it , "The deal is this: The filibuster will not be reformed." There were some minor changes in the deal that will streamline the confirmation process for nominees to federal district courts (although not appeals courts), but overall the deal is a fizzle for supporters of filibuster reform. The failure to reform the filibuster is a very bad thing . The question is why so many Democratic senators—including some blue-state representatives like Vermont's Patrick Leahy and California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer—showed so little inclination to act in the interests of progressive values. One issue is that some senators may not accurately perceive the damage that the filibuster does to Democratic interests. One Senate staffer wrote Talking Points Memo to defend the non-reform: I have...

Republicans Puzzled as to Why They Didn't Slay Hillary Clinton Yesterday

Hillary Clinton making a point to Republicans at a hearing on Benghazi yesterday.
Today, Republicans are wondering why they didn't manage to make Hillary Clinton fall whimpering into a fetal position of the floor of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing room, then get up and admit that the Obama administration had engaged in a massive cover-up of their terrible crimes in Benghazi. Senator Ron Johnson, one of the most intellectually challenged members of that august body, with whom Clinton had an exchange that ran on all the news programs, triumphally told a reporter he had got "under her skin," and said, "I think she just decided before she was going to describe emotionally the four dead Americans, the heroes, and use that as her trump card to get out of the questions. It was a good way of getting out of really having to respond to me." Diabolical indeed, that she managed to evade your skillful cross-examination. John McCain, on the other hand, blamed an "adoring media" for not helping the Republicans stick it to Clinton. Could be. Or it could be that when...

Deficits: The End of an Obsession

AP Photo/Alan Diaz
The consensus around debt reduction is beginning to crumble. Some straws in the wind are more careful attention to the actual numbers, as well as public conversions by such key players as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, two former top aides to President Obama, who only yesterday were key members of the deflate-your-way-to-recovery club. Summers wrote a piece in Wednesday’s Financial Times titled “End the Damaging Obsession with the Budget Deficit,” pointing out that the more serious deficits were in jobs, wages, and infrastructure. His former colleague Orszag wrote a piece pointing out that the rest of the budget is in decent shape—the huge outlier is federal health care costs, projected to rise from 5.5 percent of GDP now to 12 percent by 2050. President Obama, in his second inaugural address, had little to say about deficit-reduction as some kind of panacea and more about broadly-shared recovery. In the era of the Bowles Simpson Commission, the Peterson Foundation’s regular...

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