Congress

Cordray Goes to Congress

House Republicans can’t stop fuming about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Job creators, job creators, job creators. That's all you hear from Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans these days. For the most part, Republicans trot out the job creator (a figure spoken about with great veneration, but in fact a term coined and crowd-tested by GOP talking-point guru Frank Luntz) whenever large discussions on government spending or tax cuts come into play. But a quiet little hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill showed that this veneration trickles down to the most minute details of policymaking. The House Small Business Committee had summoned Richard Cordray, director of the upstart Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) , to testify on a series of regulations the agency proposed to drastically simplify the forms you see before you close a deal on a mortgage. Theoretically, the hearing was a chance for the representatives to scrutinize these regulations and propose subtle (or not-so-subtle) tweaks if things weren't working. But the types of changes...

Ted Cruz's Deceptive Triumph

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Just about every national pundit has the same take on Ted Cruz's victory in Texas's Senate primary: Another Tea Party triumph! It's just like Florida in 2010, where "moderate" Governor Charlie Crist lost to insurgent Marco Rubio, or Indiana earlier this year, where "moderate" Senator Richard Lugar was dethroned by Tea Partier Richard Mourdock. The establishment loses again, and the new wave of the GOP continues its takeover of the party. On the surface, it sounds convincing. In the runoff for the U.S. Senate nomination, Cruz, running as a hard-core conservative, did upset David Dewhurst, who's been lieutenant governor—an unusually powerful position in Texas—for almost a decade. At the Washington Examiner , Conn Carroll summed up the almost-universal spin on the result: "Following the big-government excess of the Bush years, the Republican party was in desperate need of change," he writes. "The Tea Party has helped deliver it, and a victory in Bush’s home state would go a long way to...

Will Lobby for Food

The farm bill is set to expire, which is bad news for anyone who eats.

Flickr/cordery
Something happened today that, chances are, you know little about yet care about very deeply. It helps pay for the lovely farmers market you frequent every weekend. It’s behind all those corn-syrupy soft drinks you’ve been taught to avoid. It’s the reason you started hiking to that one artisanal shop for grass-fed beef after you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma . It helps feed America’s hungry, because it authorizes the federal food-stamp program, which feeds 46 million people. It’s the farm bill, usually the concern of only the corn, wheat, cotton, peanut, and soy-bean lobby, but it really should be called the food bill, and it has to be reauthorized every five years. The House Agriculture Committee debated and passed the reauthorization of the law this morning—and it includes $16 billion in cuts to food stamps and an amendment that will kill a program designed to help small chicken farmers. Now, the bill will likely die. Most observers don’t expect House Majority Leader John Boehner to...

Not the Issue?

If you don't think Republicans are monomaniacs, may I suggest watching Mitch McConnell's performance on Fox News Sunday. Three times host Chris Wallace asked McConnell what would become of the 30 million Americans who'd be able to obtain health coverage under the Obama administration's newly upheld health-care law if the Republicans repealed the law, and three times McConnell said that such temporal concerns were beside the point. The third time Wallace asked about the 30 million Americans, McConnell responded, "That is not the issue. The question is how you can go step by step to improve the American health-care system." An incredulous Wallace followed up with, "You don't think 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue?" To which McConnell responded, "Let me tell you what we're not going to do. We're not going to turn the American health-care system into a Western European system." Ideology—maybe it's closer to theology—trumps reality. Thirty thousand, thirty million, thirty...

Mitt Romney Pretends Congress Doesn't Exist

Trust me, this'll be easy. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Mitt Romney went before a group of Latino public officials today to offer some remarks on immigration. Calling it a "plan" would be too generous, although there were a couple of details, some of them perfectly reasonable, like giving green cards to people who get an advanced degree at an American university. But the part everyone has been waiting for—his reaction to President Obama's recently-announced mini-DREAM Act—was pretty disappointing, because it engaged in a kind of magical thinking that has become increasingly untenable: Some people have asked if I will let stand the President's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President's temporary measure. As President, I won't settle for a stop-gap measure. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution. I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier. And I will address the problem of illegal...

Tough Choices

Over at the New York Times , Ross Douthat has a mostly excellent take on the Wisconsin recall and what it means for American politics. The short story is that economic distress will result in a zero-sum politics, where both sides vie for the greatest gains while doing as much as possible to block their opponents. He exaggerates the extent to which this is true on the Democratic side—Democrats haven’t pushed laws to keep Republicans from voting, nor have they used legislation to attack core GOP constituencies—but the point is well taken. Politics has become hyper-partisan and totalistic, and while Douthat doesn’t say it, you can trace this to the Republican Party’s utter disregard for institutional norms (see: the filibuster ). The problem with Douthat’s argument comes at the end, where—in a bold bit of projection—he praises Republican innovation and accuses the Democratic Party of policy nihilism: The House Republicans have spent the past two years taking tough votes on entitlement...

Filibuster Reform Lies in the Voters

(Flickr / Cle0patra)
In 1906, journalist David Graham Phillips scored a best-seller with his book The Treason of the Senate . “The Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be,” Phillips wrote. There’s a good case that the “millionaire’s club” of 1906 was Audie Murphy compared to today’s Senate. The case against the Senate—and in particular against the misuse of the filibuster to paralyze the federal government—is brilliantly laid out in the Complaint filed last month by Common Cause in the federal District Court for the District of Columbia (It’s good: download it and read it now ). The complaint is a great service to public education. But the remedy Common Cause is seeking—judicial invalidation of part of Senate Rule XXII—is not only beyond the authority of the courts, but would, if granted, create a precedent worse than the disease it attacks. The Constitution gives each House the power to set its own rules, with no...

A Gun to the Debt-Ceiling Fight

(Flickr/zieak)
If Barack Obama turns out to be a one-term president, historians may mark the summer of 2011 as the moment his failure became inevitable. At that point, the new right-wing Republican House majority declared the national debt hostage and demanded Obama’s surrender to them on all points of domestic policy. When the debt-ceiling statute required authorization of a new federal borrowing limit, they refused to vote on the measure without massive cuts in federal spending and no increase in federal revenue. The crisis was averted by the appointment of an idiotic congressional “supercommittee” that was supposed to identify future cuts, matched with a set of “automatic” cuts that were to take effect if the “supercommittee” failed to come up with a compromise aimed at reducing federal debt. Not surprisingly, the “supercommittee”—perhaps better known as the “Clark Kent committee”—was unable to produce a compromise. The debt showdown, which paralyzed Washington for much of spring and early summer...

Cruz-in' for a Fight in Texas

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Ted Cruz, who managed to force a run-off election with current Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, deserved his victory party Tuesday night. He had a strong showing despite being outspent by a considerable margin by his rival. Towards the end, Cruz benefitted from national attention as Sarah Palin and Tea Party groups pushed his candidacy. Support from the Club for Growth and Senator Jim DeMint also helped. With Dewhurst netting 45 percent to Cruz's 34, the two men will now face each other again at the end of July. For the Cruz team, the late primary is a good thing; summer in Texas tends to bring out right-wing voters while Moderates, it's assumed, leave the state for cooler climates. Cruz has a clear shot if he can get a few breaks—the run-off gives his campaign clear momentum and he'll likely be able to raise more money in these next few weeks. Dewhurst still has the advantage, however. Despite Cruz's Tea Party lustre, Dewhurst has been a loyal Rick Perry soldier for quite...

27th Amendment or Bust

How the newest amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and why it's so hard to change the law of the land. 

(Flickr/The COM Library)
One afternoon in March 1982, an undergraduate student at the University of Texas named Gregory Watson was poking through the stacks of the Austin Central Library, researching a term paper he was going to write on the Equal Rights Amendment. He happened upon a book published by the Government Printing Office that included a copy of the Constitution, as well as several amendments that had been passed by Congress but not yet ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states. One such amendment limiting Congress' ability to give itself a raise caught his attention. Over the following ten years, it would become Watson's obsession, his life, and ultimately—20 years ago this month—the 27th and most recent Amendment to the United States Constitution. While the story of its enactment is an encouraging testament to the individual citizen’s power to enact change, the amendment's legality remains a gray area for legal scholars and it sets a troubling precedent for other amendments to be...

Texas GOP Holds Hispanics in Check

(Flickr/jmtimages)
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate. The recent spate of voter suppression laws tell another story and are often trotted out by liberals as the best evidence to highlight the continued need for Section Five. However today's primaries in Texas also offer a good test case for why the Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened rather than...

The Continuing Importance of the Voting Rights Act

In her excellent piece about the Republican Party's systematic vote suppression efforts, Dahlia Lithwick details the various strategies: Whether it’s onerous (and expensive ) voter ID rules that will render as many as 10 percent of Americans ineligible to vote, proof of citizenship measures, restricting registration drives, cancellation of Sunday voting , or claims that voting should be a privilege as opposed to a right , efforts to discount and discredit the vote have grown bolder in recent years, despite vanishingly rare claims of actual vote fraud. The central issue here is the claim that "voting should be a privilege as opposed to a right." What's worse is that this isn't just a modern Republican creation but a flaw deeply embedded within American constitutionalism. Ratified in 1870 with support for Reconstruction already waning, the Fifteenth Amendment stated that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any...

Tie Goes to the President

(Flickr/acqueline.poggi)
The basic odds make it fairly unlikely that the Democrats will maintain their Senate majority. They only hold a narrow 53-47 edge after the 2010 midterms, and the party must defend 23 seats in 2012, compared to just ten for Republicans. Their troubles only increased when moderate Democrats hailing from conservative states—Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad as the most notable—decided that now was the time to retire, all but ceding their spots to the GOP. Every scenario looked doom and gloom for their chances. But then Republicans decided to sabotage those odds. First Olympia Snowe announced her retirement, after growing tired of her party's partisan rancor. Her seat is expected to go to the independent—but Democratic friendly—candidate Angus King. Last week, Indiana Republicans booted out longtime Senator Dick Lugar in favor of a Tea Party challenger, while Nebraskans selected the right wing candidate in their primary earlier this week. Polling maestro Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight is out...

Supporters of Marriage Equality Need to Quit Whining

(Flickr/rudisillart)
You know how I felt about President Obama declaring himself in favor of same-sex marriage. I was gobsmacked . It’s politically risky . It’s symbolically powerful , in ways that Melinda Hennenberger noted sharply at the Washington Post . It pushed Senator Harry Reid, the next-highest-profile Democratic laggard on the issue, to support marriage equality, making full marriage rights pretty much the official platform of the entire Democratic Party. So I've been surprised by the number of people declaring that the announcement was too little, too late. Maybe, yes, it would have been better for him to have made his declaration a few days before, when his opinion might have influenced the appalling vote in North Carolina, which on Tuesday joined all the rest of the former Confederate states—and, actually, most of the country —in writing its opposition to marriage equality into its constitution . Okay, it's worse than that: The North Carolina law bans any recognition of same-sex partners or...

Today in False Equivalence

(wwarby/Flickr)
The 111th Congress was practically defined by Republicans who turned an extraordinary measure–the filibuster–into a routine tool of obstruction. GOP senators invoked holds and filibusters on virtually everything that came from Senate Democrats, resulting in a session that saw more filibusters than any previous session in history. This nifty graph is illustrative: Democrats aren’t blameless, but their use of the filibuster pales in comparison to Republican abuse, which made 60 votes a de facto requirement for the passage of any legislation. This is obvious to anyone who looks at the last two years of congressional action—Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, for example, have been excoriating Republicans for filibuster abuse for the past four years. Regardless, false equivalence continues to reign in congressional coverage. Here’s Politico ’s Manu Raju, who seems to have missed 2006 to 2010: It takes 60 votes — and time-consuming cloture motions — to overcome a filibuster, a tool that has...

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