Congress

The Boehner Rule

flickr/Talk Radio News Service
flickr/Talk Radio News Service A fter months of Republican resistance, the House of Representative finally renewed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) late last month. What many casual political observers may not know is that there were always enough votes in the House for the bill to pass, but it couldn’t get a vote because of something called the “Hastert Rule”—an informal practice in the House by which only legislation supported by a majority of the majority party (in this case, Republicans) is allowed to come to a vote. How Speaker John Boehner got VAWA passed tells us a lot about what the next two years is going to be like in Washington. The Hastert Rule was coined during the speakership of Republican Denny Hastert, who said he would bring nothing to the floor of the House of Representatives unless a majority of the Republican conference supported it. As University of Miami political scientist Greg Koger explains, the logic behind such a rule is basically one of "an...

The Contest Over the Real Economic Problem

flickr/Starley Shelton
“Our biggest problems over the next ten years are not deficits,” the president told House Republicans Wednesday, according to those who attended the meeting. The president needs to deliver the same message to the public, loudly and clearly. The biggest problems we face are unemployment, stagnant wages, slow growth, and widening inequality—not deficits. The major goal must be to get jobs and wages back, not balance the budget. Paul Ryan’s budget plan—essentially, the House Republican plan—is designed to lure the White House and Democrats, and the American public, into a debate over how to balance the federal budget in ten years, not over whether it’s worth doing. “This is an invitation,” Ryan explained when he unveiled the plan Tuesday. “Show us how to balance the budget. If you don’t like the way we’re proposing to balance our budget, how do you propose to balance the budget?” Until now the president has seemed all too willing to engage in that debate. His ongoing talk of a “grand...

Paul Ryan Still Wants to Dismantle Government

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
As he has in years past, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan presented his latest budget as a necessary step—the only thing we have to avert a destructive debt crisis. It may be painful to turn Medicare into a voucher program, cut spending on social services, and devolve Medicaid into a block grant for the states, but it's the only choice we have to avoid catastrophe. Here's Ryan in his own words: Unless we change course, we will have a debt crisis. Pressed for cash, the government will take the easy way out: It will crank up the printing presses. The final stage of this intergenerational theft will be the debasement of our currency. Government will cheat us of our just rewards. Our finances will collapse. The economy will stall. The safety net will unravel. And the most vulnerable will suffer. The problem, of course, is that we're not facing a debt crisis. Interest rates haven't spiked, and markets are still happy to lend the United States cash at astonishingly good rates. Our economy...

All Wall Street Regulators Should be Self-Funded

Systemic RIsk Council.org
When a crew that calls themselves the "Systemic Risk Council" speaks, it's a good idea to pay attention. After all, the last time people pooh-poohed deep-seated problems within the financial system, trillions of dollars vanished into thin air and millions of people were thrown out of work. Since its creation last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts and CFA Institute, the Systemic Risk Council —which is chaired by former FDIC head Sheila Bair and advised by Paul Volcker—has sought to keep up the pressure for financial reform. That's important because a) many of the rules mandated by Dodd-Frank haven't actually been written yet; b) Wall Street is working every day to weaken that law; and c) additional reforms, beyond Dodd-Frank, are still needed. Yet unfortunately, as Thomas Hedges wrote recently here in Policyshop, sequestration cuts are going to set back the entire process of financial regulation. The SEC and CFTC were already struggling to find the staff capacity to write mandated...

The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform

T he United States, with more than 40 million foreign-born, a number that includes the estimated 11 million illegal residents, is not just the largest immigration player in the world; it’s larger than the next four largest players combined. Because immigration amounts to social engineering, how well we do it has profound consequences for huge swaths of our society, from education to health care to economic growth to foreign relations. Most important, how a country treats its immigrants is a powerful statement to the world about its values and the principles by which it stands. Related Content Spotlight: The Fundamentals of Immigration Reform Demetrios Papademetriou talks about what's next for reforming our broken immigration system. On all these counts, recent U.S. immigration policy has been more notable for its failures than its successes. Almost half a century ago, in 1965, we reversed the discriminatory policies that over the course of the previous 80 years had either barred or...

Tyranny of the Minority

Jamelle Bouie
Jamelle Bouie Adam Liptak, writing for The New York Times , has a long feature on Senate malapportionment , political science shorthand for the fact of unequal representation in the upper chamber of Congress. Our system has always had a small state bias, hence the Senate—a powerful body where each state gets equal representation—and the Electoral College, a variation on the same. But as large states grow larger—and small states stay small—that bias has become a decisive advantage that benefits Republicans—who tend to represent smaller states—over their Democratic counterparts. The Times has more: Beyond the filibuster, senators from Wyoming and other small states regularly oppose and often thwart programs popular in states with vastly bigger populations. The 38 million people who live in the nation’s 22 smallest states, including Wyoming, are represented by 44 senators. The 38 million residents of California are represented by two senators. In one of every 10 especially consequential...

Gone In 22 Seconds: How Frequent is High Frequency Trading?

Flickr/Ars Electronica
This is a story of journalists and economists, and the confusion that can ensue when they communicate. For me, the story starts with a book, Dark Pools , written by Wall Street Journal Reporter Scott Patterson. The book, published in the summer of 2012, is an account of the rise of high-frequency trading or “HFT.” That is automated trading of securities and derivatives using powerful computers driven by complex algorithms. It is widely accepted that trading activity in most markets is dominated by HFT. Firms that specialize in this practice trade in enormous volumes but start and end the day with few if any holdings. Their purpose is to profit from intra-day market moves, not from fundamental investment. They buy and sell in the blink of an eye, churning the markets constantly. Mr. Patterson’s book contains the following passage: At the end of World War II, the average holding period for a stock was four years. By 2000, it was eight months. By 2008, it was two months. And by 2011, it...

The Paul Ryan Medicare Shuffle

Jamelle Bouie
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect He still doesn't care about poor people. When Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan ran for vice president last year, he campaigned against the $716 billion Medicare cut in the Affordable Care Act, calling it a "raid" on the program. "Medicare should not be used as a piggy bank for 'Obamacare,'" said Ryan last August , after joining the Romney campaign, "Medicare should be used to be the promise that it made to our current seniors. Period. End of Story." This was the whole of Ryan's message on Medicare, which included an ad that combined scaremongering with a fair amount of racial resentment: But Ryan's message has always had two problems. First, President Obama's cuts to Medicare are on the provider side; he's reducing payments to hospitals and doctors in order to fund better benefits for seniors and cover low-income people under the Affordable Care Act. And second, by shrinking the pool of Medicare recipients to the oldest and the sickest, Ryan's...

Next Up: Another Budget Fight

Flickr/Ryan McFarland
Senate Democrats are set to release a budget this week, the first time they've done so since 2009. As always, it will be a collection of the party's goals and priorities—more a political statement than a plan for governing. Democrats, according to National Journal , will propose new revenue beyond the fiscal-cliff deal as well as new spending on education, infrastructure, and job training. They will look for ways to undo sequestration, and offer instructions for tax reform. And while they'll look for entitlement savings, they won't go as far as the White House in adjusting Social Security or Medicare, for reasons political—they don't want to give ammunition to Republicans—and substantive—Democrats, including Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray, don't want to see large cuts to entitlement programs. Republicans are already gearing up to oppose the plan. "I fear the Democrat proposal will fail this defining test and will never achieve balance. I fear it will crush American workers...

Politicians Awkwardly Dropping Pop Culture References

Wiz Khalifa, who recorded a song that Marco Rubio knows the title of. (Flickr/Sebastien Barre)
Can a United States senator be cool? As it happens, the current Senate has a number of members in their early 40s, and for at least some of them, that youth is a big part of what defines them. There was a time when as a 40-year-old in the Senate you'd worry about establishing your gravitas, but this group seems to be just as interested, if not more, in playing up their youth. That may be particularly true for the Republicans, since their party not only worries about its appeal to young people but wants to make sure it stays relevant in the future. But this can be tricky, especially since, with a few exceptions, the kind of person who becomes a professional politician probably wasn't the coolest person to begin with. After all, part of being cool is not looking like you're trying to be cool, and politicians usually look like they're trying too hard (because they usually are). You may be asking, "Are you talking about Marco Rubio?" The answer is yes, but before we get to him, Rebecca...

The Filibuster that Matters

AP Photo/Jim McKnight
The Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie makes an important point about Rand Paul's rare Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -style filibuster on Wednesday. Before Paul started speaking to hold up the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, the Senate silently continued to filibuster Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Paul's filibuster will get more attention, but the filibuster of Halligan is more telling. The most important difference? The Halligan filibuster will have practical consequences. Brennan was confirmed by a 63-43 vote the day after Paul started his filibuster. The filibuster of Halligan, conversely, continues with no end in sight. Preventing Obama from getting any nominees confirmed to nation's second most important appellate court is a very important win for the Republican Party as well as a defeat for the country. Apparently, the dysfunction of the Senate has to continue so that the Republican-dominated D.C. Circuit can continue to make the...

Rand Paul's Lonely Stand

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak Senator Rand Paul walks to a waiting vehicle as he leaves the Capitol after his filibuster of the nomination of John Brennan to be CIA director. L ike the roomful of monkeys who eventually write Hamlet if given long enough, or the broken clock that’s on time twice a day, sooner or later an otherwise dubious political figure will find his moral compass pointing true north if he keeps spinning in place. Or maybe it’s Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who stays in one place as the world spins, with north finally swinging into his sights. Whatever the motive, whatever paranoia fuels the worldview that drives him, whatever withering scorn he invited yesterday from fellow Republicans who found themselves in the strange position of defending a Democratic president, Paul’s filibuster of the last 48 hours was an act of patriotism more authentic than we usually see from a right that so ostentatiously professes to love a country it refuses to understand. If nothing else,...

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate. Sort Of.

Congressional Republicans, apparently. (Flickr/jumbledpile)
Like any number of liberals, I have from time to time complained about the difficulty of having substantive arguments about politics when your opponents refuse to acknowledge plain facts about the world. It's hard to have a discussion about what to do about climate change, for instance, if the other person refuses to believe that climate change is occurring. It's hard to discuss how to handle market failures in health insurance when the other person holds that markets are always perfect and government health insurance is always more expensive. As frustrating as those kinds of impasses are, at least you're talking about complex systems that require at least some investment of time to understand. But there's a rather incredible dance going on right now in the dispute over the budget that takes every stereotype liberals have about know-nothing Republicans and turns it up to 11. To sum it up, Democrats are being forced to negotiate with a group of people who are either so dumb they can't...

The Rand Paul Filibuster: Raw & Uncut

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr What was noteworthy about Rand Paul's filibuster yesterday wasn't that he held up the confirmation of John Brennan to the CIA, but that he spoke . As a procedural move, the filibuster is extremely common, but rarely does anyone take to the floor and prevent the flow of Senate business. Paul's "talking filibuster" was the first in over two years, and at nearly 13 hours, the longest since South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond's filibuster of the 1957 Civil Rights Rights Act. Unlike Thurmond's filibuster, or the vast majority of filibusters through history, Paul's was for a good cause—to press the Obama administration for more information on drone strikes, to object to the use of drones in the United States, and to spark a conversation about the administration's overall drone policy and use of targeted killings, which has gone unexamined in official Washington. For actual information on the subject, I recommend reading posts from Mother Jones ' Adam Serwer , The...

Obama Didn't Cry Wolf on the Sequester

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza President Barack Obama talks with Chief of Staff Jack Lew, center, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner as they walk on the Colonnade of the White House, Jan. 10, 2013. Over at the Washington Post , Chris Cillizza chides President Obama for "crying wolf" on sequestration: In the days leading up to the March 1 sequester deadline, dire warnings about its impact were being issued daily from President Obama. Lines at airports would be interminable. First responders would be compromised. Things would be, in a word, bad. Then the sequester hit — and (almost) no one noticed. (Sidebar: It’s kind of like the “snow” storm currently “hitting” D.C.; lots of advance warning, very little immediate impact.) The sky is falling language seemed overblown, and the devastating consequences amounted to the suspension of public tours at the White House. Obama hasn’t helped himself post-sequester — landing in a bit of political hot water with a mistaken claim...

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