Congress

What Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age Means

President Johnson signing Medicare into law in 1965.
After a campaign in which Republicans attempted to pillory Barack Obama for finding $716 billion in savings from Medicare (via cuts in payments to insurance companies and providers but not cuts to benefits), those same Republicans now seem to be demanding that Obama agree to cuts in Medicare benefits as the price of saving the country from the Austerity Trap, a.k.a. fiscal cliff. Oh, the irony! You'd almost think that they weren't really the stalwart defenders of Medicare they pretended to be. And there are some hints that the Obama administration is seriously considering agreeing to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 as part of this deal. It's a dreadful idea, and as we discuss this possibility, there's one really important thing to keep in mind: Medicare is the least expensive way to insure these people. Or anybody, for that matter. In all this talk of the bloated entitlement system, you'd be forgiven for thinking Medicare was some kind of inefficient, overpriced big...

Exit Jim DeMint. Enter ... Tim Scott?

North Charleston / Flickr
North Charleston / Flickr Rep. Tim Scott speaks to a group of veterans in North Charleston, South Carolina. Arch-conservative Senator Jim DeMint—who is something of an avatar for the Tea Party in Congress—is retiring to join the Heritage Foundation as its new president: South Carolina U.S. Senator Jim DeMint will replace Ed Feulner as president of the Heritage Foundation. Mr. DeMint will leave his post as South Carolina's junior senator in early January to take control of the Washington think tank, which has an annual budget of about $80 million. His reasoning seems to be that he's of more use in the private sector—spreading ideas—than he is in the Senate: Sen. DeMint said he is taking the Heritage job because he sees it as a vehicle to popularize conservative ideas in a way that connects with a broader public. "This is an urgent time," the senator said, "because we saw in the last election we were not able to communicate conservative ideas that win elections." DeMint's departure...

Speaker Harry Reid?

Center for American Progress, Bill Murray
Flickr/Bill Murray The façade of the U.S. Senate wing G iven current proposals for reform, it seems clear the filibuster in some form will survive—at least in the upcoming session of Congress. What the Senate looks like in the long term, however, is still very much up for grabs. One thing is for sure: It can’t continue in its current dysfunction. The first step in thinking about the fate of the filibuster is to place it in historical context. Filibusters were once a rare occurrence, but as University of Miami professor Greg Koger explains in Filibustering , they increased in two major and important spikes. First, Republicans reacted to the election of Bill Clinton and a unified Democratic government in 1993 by filibustering all major initiatives. Then, Republicans reacted to the election of Barack Obama and another period of unified Democratic government in 2009 by establishing a true 60-vote requirement; passing virtually any bill (and even amendments to those bills) and every...

An End to Debt Ceiling Shenanigans?

Center for American Progress
Via Matthew Yglesias, Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, explains one of the administration's key demands as deals with Republicans on the fiscal cliff—an end to the debt ceiling as a negotiation tool: Make no mistake about it: no budget agreement – however robust – will provide the economic certainty and confidence we aspire to if job creators, investors and working families believe that, after we reach that agreement, just months down the road, we will start the next round of debt limit debacles. As both economist and business leaders have told us, only the greatest national tragedies have competed with the debt limit debacle of 2011 in terms of damaging consumer confidence. So let’s be clear: if we want to see the economic benefit of a bipartisan budget agreement we need to agree that the era of threatening the default of the United States as a budget tactic is over. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is something we should cherish and...

The Importance of Elizabeth Warren

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
The Boston Globe , Politico, and Huffington Post are all reporting that Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren has been granted her wish to get a seat on the Senate Banking Committee. This victory for progressives is huge. It means that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—who makes the committee selection, later ratified by the Democratic caucus—did not cave to pressure from either the financial lobby or from Senate Banking Committee Chairman, Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who is effectively part of that lobby. (South Dakota gutted its usury laws decades ago to make the state hospitable to the back office operations of the biggest banks.) It isn’t just that Warren is a resolute progressive. It’s that she knows so much about the financial industry, from her years as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP, and before that as one of the leading scholars of bankruptcy and consumer abuses. And it’s that she’s incorruptible, as well as very smart. More than your typical freshman...

Resistance (on Tax Rates) Is Futile

Google
Google Obama will force you to bend to slightly higher tax rates on rich people. It seems that Republicans are beginning to understand the futility of their opposition to higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Writing for the Washington Examiner , Byron York reveals the extent to which GOP lawmakers know the weakness of their position: [M]any in the GOP do not believe that raising the rate on top earners from 35 percent to 39.6 percent (the rate before the Bush tax cuts) would seriously damage the economy. Second, they know that most Americans approve of higher taxes on the top bracket, and President Obama, having campaigned and won on that platform, seems dead-set on higher rates. Third, they fear that if the government does go over the cliff and Democrats propose re-lowering taxes for everyone except the highest earners, Republicans would be in the impossible position of resisting tax cuts for 98 percent of the country on behalf of the top 2 percent. It’s hard to overstate...

It's Time to Kill the Debt Ceiling

(AP Photo/CBS News, Chris Usher)
There are a number of strange aspects to the negotiation/maneuvering/posturing now taking place between the White House and congressional Republicans about the Austerity Trap (a.k.a. fiscal cliff), but one that hasn't gotten much attention is the disagreement over the debt ceiling. As part of their initial offer, the White House included something I and other people have been advocating for some time: Just get rid of the debt ceiling altogether. The Republicans, particularly in the House, don't seem to be interested. But we should take a good look at how crazy their position on this issue is. In an ordinary negotiation, each side has things it wants, while it dislikes some or all of the things the other side wants. A union wants higher wages for its workers, while the company doesn't want to pay the higher wages. You'd rather have your partner do the laundry while you do the dishes, but your partner doesn't like doing the laundry either. The White House wants to increase taxes on the...

Reclaim the Courts

This piece is part of the Prospect' s series on progressives' strategy over the next 40 years. To read the introduction, click here . Lewis Powell built much of his strategic advice to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the premise that “the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic, and political change.” Powell was both making an observation about the decades preceding his memo and issuing a call to arms to his corporate audience about the strategic prominence the courts should be given within a broader set of goals. Through the early 1970s, the courts led the way in dismantling the legal structure of racial segregation in marriage, education, and housing, enforcing the separation of church and state, guaranteeing the right to vote, overturning bans on contraception and abortion, and expanding consumers’ rights. The courts recognized that citizens’ noneconomic values—matters such as liberty and privacy and protecting the...

Simpler Is Better

(Flickr / James Milstid)
On Saturday, The Wall Street Journal ran one of its trademark editorials making fun of government red tape—the massive regulations required to implement the Affordable Care Act; the 398 different rulemakings necessary to carry out the Dodd-Frank Act, and a great deal more. I seldom agree with the Journal ’s editorial page, but it makes an unintentional point: Government regulations have become so complex that they can’t do their job. Or at best, the sheer complexity makes the government sitting ducks for the mischief of industry lobbyists looking to further complicate the rules with loopholes. But where does the complexity come from? It comes from the metastasized abuses of the private sector and the success of the business elite in getting government to pass laws with plenty of room for industry to maneuver. The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, by contrast, was simplicity itself. It ran just a few pages and didn’t need 398 different rulemakings to carry it out. The act provided that you...

Under Water Pressure

Nearly 400 years after the first Thanksgiving, the Navajo and Hopi are fighting the coal industry for rights to their land.

(Canadian Press via AP Images)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, center, accompanied by Senator Jeff Bingaman, right, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, October 1, 2009, to discuss future activities relating to the Navajo-Gallup water supply project. F ive years after the Wampanoag tribe shared a three-day feast of maize, venison, eel, and shellfish with a hapless group of English separatists in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Dutch governor of New York bought the island of Manhattan from the Canarsie tribe for $24 worth of gold. This week, thousands of New Yorkers will fly out of La Guardia for Thanksgiving, and those fortunate enough to do so in the evening will enjoy a spectacular view of the return on that investment; phosphorescent skyscrapers and over a hundred-thousand streetlights trace a real-estate market valued at just under $1 trillion. Nowhere else has the memory of conquest been so thoroughly blotted out, and perhaps as an extension, nowhere else...

Goodbye to Barney Frank

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
For The Advocate , I conducted an exit interview with Barney Frank, the first voluntarily out LGBT member of Congress. I needn't tell Prospect readers that Frank has had an incredibly distinguished career as a legislator on behalf of the downtrodden, progressive attack dog, gay advocate, and master of the withering soundbite. Before I went, I told my wife that my goal was to be told a particular question was "stupid" fewer than three times. In fact, I didn't hear that once. Do we need any more evidence that imminent retirement has mellowed the man? Frank said a couple of things that I found immensely moving, and which I'll excerpt here. I asked him why, when he spoke with Jason Zengerle of New York Magazine , he listed progress on LGBT issues as the first of the accomplishments he was proud of—before financial reform. Here's what he said when I asked him why: [Financial reform] may be important to more people—but it’s not as important as your own personal dignity and rights. We went...

Colorado Voters' Power of the Purse

Current and former lawmakers are taking the Taxpayer Bill of Rights to court for a second opinion.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski) Workers install a large U.S. flag and a Colorado State Seal on the west side of the Capitol in Denver on Friday, January 7, 2011, as part of the decoration for the inauguration of Governor-elect John Hickenlooper. M any states have provisions designed to limit the amount of taxes their legislatures can raise, but only Colorado has gone so far as to pass the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Known as TABOR, Colorado’s unique constellation of confusing laws prevents the state legislature from raising taxes without public approval and caps the amount the government can spend in a way that’s designed to shrink it over time. All levels of government—city, county, and state—are limited in what they can spend by a complicated formula, which basically indexes revenue to inflation plus population growth. If the tax revenues the state and local governments collect in any given year are higher than the cap, which happens in good economic times or when there is an influx of new...

Is Mitch McConnell the Worst?

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr I think most people can agree that Kentucky's Mitch McConnell is one of the most innovative Senate Minority Leaders in recent memory. His insight—that the opposition party can obstruct and force the majority party to bear the public’s discontent—helped give Republicans a House majority in 2010, and gave the GOP a fighting chance in this year’s presidential election (see: Mitt Romney’s late-game promise to bring bipartisanship to Washington). If Romney had won—and if Republicans had taken the Senate—you could credibly argue that McConnell was one of the most successful minority leaders in modern history. Indeed, he would have been one of the chief architects behind a massive political comeback. In the real world, however, Barack Obama won reelection and Democrats expanded their majority in the Senate. And in the same way that Obama’s legacy would have been tarnished had he lost reelection, is it the case that McConnell’s is harmed because he failed to deliver the...

Give It Up, John Kerry

Center for American Progress Action Fund/Flickr
Center for American Progress Action Fund/Flickr J ust this morning , incoming Maine Senator Angus King, an independent, announced that he would be caucusing with Democrats, giving the party a working majority of 55 members—53 Democrats and two independents (the other is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders). Among many other things, this makes it more likely that Massachusetts Senator John Kerry will be plucked from Congress and given a job in the administration, where he would likely serve as Secretary of Defense. Indeed, as the Washington Post reported yesterday, administration officials see the larger Senate majority as an opportunity to grab a candidate that they like: [A]dministration officials, one of whom described Kerry as a “war hero,” said his qualifications for the defense job included not only his naval service in Vietnam but also his knowledge of the budget and experience in the diplomacy that has increasingly become a part of the defense portfolio. They said the Democrats’...

Nancy Pelosi, Same Job, Different Coalition

(Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds a news conference with newly elected Democratic House members on Capitol Hill. N ancy Pelosi has confounded expectation before. Following the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans recaptured the House on a wave of Tea Party indignation, Pelosi was widely, and unjustly, criticized for leading House Democrats to debacle. She had played a key role in enacting Obamacare, a program that the Obama administration chose not to defend as Election Day drew nigh. She had not paid enough attention to solving the recession, critics argued, though in fact House Democrats had passed additional stimulus measures that failed to surmount Senate filibusters. It was time, the critics said, for her to go. But Pelosi disagreed, and her House colleagues turned out to be in no mood to challenge her decision. Now, once again, she has surprised the Washington conventional wisdom by signing on for another two years atop the House...

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