Congress

The Last Four Years, and the Next Four

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: Watch Facing a Permanent Minority? on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE. The story of this inauguration-night dinner was told in Robert Draper's book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the House of Representatives , which came out eight months ago. Seeing the story retold, what's striking is that beforehand, one would have considered the participants—Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, Jim DeMint, John Kyl, Tom Coburn—to be extremely, sometimes infuriatingly, conservative. But...

White Districts and White Sensibilities

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,...

Obama to Republicans: You Have No Choice but to Raise the Debt Ceiling

White House
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. The debt ceiling is again upon us, and Republicans have—again—promised to use it as a way to force concessions from the White House. But unlike last time, Obama does not see this as an opportunity for negotiations. Instead, he’s issued an ultimatum: Either Republicans agree to a “clean” debt ceiling increase—which was the norm until two years ago—or the United States defaults on its debt. By itself, this looks like another instance of Washington bickering, and so—to ensure that he has the public on his side—Obama has coupled this demand with an attempt to shift blame, which he...

House Republicans Are Seriously Serious

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. This morning, Politico has a classic Politico story about the struggle between the beleagured Speaker John Boehner, who would prefer that the country not default on its debts, and the maniacs who make up his caucus, many of whom seem to have been reduced to chanting "Burn it down! Burn it down!" whenever the subject of the United States government comes up. I say it's a classic Politico story because it contains a lot of anonymous quotes, on-the-record quotes the authors don't consider might be tactical and not sincere, and...

The Mortgage Mess and Jack Lew

Rex Features via AP Images
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. The deal was hatched by the weakest of the federal bank regulatory agencies, the Comptroller of the Currency, and signed off on by the Federal Reserve. There was no consultation with the more consumer-oriented agencies, such as the FDIC or the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The Comptroller just went and did it. Nor was the Justice Department consulted, even though the deal, nominally a civil settlement, will make criminal prosecutions more difficult now that a major regulator has signed off on an bargain to close the...

Obama's Options on 2013's Big Issues

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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.” Or, rather than issue more debt, the President might use a loophole in a law (31 USC, Section 5112) allowing the Treasury to issue commemorative coins—minting a $1 trillion coin and then depositing it with the Fed. Both gambits would almost certainly end up in the Supreme Court, but not before they’ve been used to pay the nation’s bills. (It’s doubtful any...

How Obama Can Win the Debt Ceiling by Threatening Mutual Destruction

Wikipedia
Last week, The Washington 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. President Obama can’t sit the National Guard outside of John Boehner’s home, but the idea still holds. If congressional Republicans can see that he holds the cards in the situation, then they might walk away and agree to lift the debt ceiling. Obama already has one, important card—public opinion. Already, a solid majority of Americans say that the GOP is too extreme. If the government defaults on its obligations as a result of hitting the debt limit, there’s little doubt Americans will blame the Republican Party. But...

What Goes Around (Comes Back Around)

Google
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. If Treasury reaches the limit without paying its full obligations, it defaults, which would have catastrophic consequences for the global economy. At the moment, Republicans are threatening not to lift the limit (though, there is some question of their sincerity). This leaves President Obama with three options: He can let the government default, triggering a global recession. He can concede spending cuts to the GOP, giving further...

Assault-Weapon Bans Are Not Enough

Flickr/M Glasgow
Flickr/M Glasgow Gun buyers examining merchandise at the Houston Gun Show T he 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. Gun crimes are usually discussed as if the transactions and guns involved are illegal, but the...

The Million Kids March: The Beginning of an Anti-Gun Movement?

Flickr/Jay Mallin
Flickr/Jay Mallin Dozens of anti-gun violence protesters at the lobbying offices of the NRA on Capitol Hill following the weekend shooting of 20 elementary school students and eight adults in Newtown, Connecticut L ike many other parents of school-age children, news of the Newtown, 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 his former life as a journalist, Bennahum forged ahead organizing the Million Kids March on...

Yep, Republicans Plan to Use the Debt Ceiling for "Leverage"

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who helped strike the fiscal-cliff deal with the Obama White House – didn’t disavow his 2011 comment that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is “a hostage that’s worth ransoming." McConnell told NBC’s Gregory yesterday, “What we’re saying here is the biggest problem confronting the country is our excessive spending. If we’re not going to deal with it now, when are we going to deal with it? And we’ve watched the government explode over the last four years. We’ve dealt with the revenue issue.” Likewise, in the House, Republicans are pressing Speaker John Boehner to take a stand on the debt ceiling. Here’s Politico : In a marked shift, Boehner allies are urging him — publicly and privately — to...

Calling McConnell’s Bluff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff. On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, ruled out any further tax increases, declaring that “the tax issue is finished, over, completed.” He insisted, “Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction.” But is spending really the problem? For most the postwar era, federal tax revenues hovered around 19 percent of GDP, and spending a bit more than that. But for the four years since the financial collapse, federal...

Playing Constitutional Hardball with the Electoral College

Flickr / Politics for Misfits
Republicans are playing Constitutional hardball again. It’s a dangerous game. The GOP may attempt to rig the Electoral College by changing the electoral vote allocation in GOP-controlled states which voted for Barack Obama. The idea would be to shift from the normal winner-take-all plan to something that would split the votes in those states. Ideally, from the Republican point of view, every Republican state would be winner-take-all while all Democratic states would be split more or less evenly, making it almost impossible for a Democrat to win the White House. All of that, as obviously undemocratic as it is , would be perfectly Constitutional; the Constitution leaves every state in charge of how to choose its electors. The idea should be not be seen as a stand-alone. Instead, it’s best thought of as one of a set of schemes Republicans have advanced over the last 20 years. It includes the establishment of the 60-vote Senate; mid-decade redistricting in Texas after Republicans took...

It's Worse than the Status Quo

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File
In the midst of dealing with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a one-year extension of the farm bill that eliminated funding for almost every even vaguely innovative agriculture policy and kept in place expensive and outdated subsidies that benefit big agribusiness. From the perspective of anyone interested in making change in America’s farm and food system, it was a disaster. “There's much isn’t to be happy about with this extension,” David deGennaro, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said. “If you care about conservation, food production, or reforming the farm bill, this is a bad deal,” said Justin Tatham, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative for food & environment. “It's worse than the status quo.” “They took all the newer, smaller, but most innovative programs and left them out of the extension,” says Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. At the same time, lawmakers left in...

Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
AP Photo/ Dar Yasin Indian women offer prayers for a gang rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. H er intestines were removed because the six men used a rusty metal rod during the “rape.” That fact—the rusty metal rod—is what’s haunted me about the violent incident that has outraged India and the world. Six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a private bus for hours while they assaulted her so brutally that, after several surgeries to repair her insides, she died. What happened to this young woman was a gang assault. It can be called a sexual assault because among other things, they brutalized her vagina. Or it can be called a sexual assault because it was driven by rage at the female sex . Since Susan Brownmiller first wrote Against Our Will — the landmark feminist reconceptualization of rape — feminists have worked on clarifying the fact that rape is less about sex than it is about rage and power. Too many people still conceive of rape as a man’s...

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