Congress

Now Is the Law of Their Discontent

(Flickr/S.E.B.)
To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, of the making of many briefs there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. My flesh is weary after weeks of poring over the party and amicus briefs in the Affordable Care Act cases, which (in case you haven’t heard) will be argued next week. There are four overall issues in the case: (1) is the minimum-coverage requirement (or “individual mandate”) a permissible use of the Commerce Power? (2) If not, should the Court strike down the entire Act or only the minimum coverage requirement? (3) Is the bill’s requirement that states receiving Medicaid funds expand eligibility for low-cost health-care “coercive” to state governments? And (4) is the entire lawsuit against the “minimum coverage” provision barred by the federal Tax Anti-Injunction Act until after the provision takes effect in 2014 and some taxpayer has been forced to pay the tax penalty for not carrying health insurance? If those don’t seem to flow in logical order, they don’t—(4)...

Precedents for the Unprecedented

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Here are quotes from an anguished brief filed with the United States Supreme Court: “the present statute . . .departs markedly from any prior statute sustained as an exercise of the commerce power. . . .” It “is incapable of being regarded as within the scope of any of the other statutes or decisions.” Further, “there is no statutory precedent to support the Solicitor General's position in this case.” That position “is founded on a concept of the interstate commerce clause which has never been recognized by the Courts. While the wisdom of legislation is a matter for the Congress it is within the Court's proper prerogative to look with deep concern at an assertion of power never heretofore upheld.” That brief was filed in the 1964 case of Katzenbach v. McClung. Two months later the Supreme Court decided that Congress did have the power to “regulate commerce” by requiring Ollie’s Barbecue, a family restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, to serve African-Americans in its dining room. But the...

A House Race To Keep an Eye On

(Flickr/Iowa Democratic Party)
With 435 spots at stake every two years, it can be hard to keep track of all the important House races. After a round of redistricting, experts are still trying to figure out the new political maps and how they might favor one party or the other. One race to keep a close eye on is Iowa's Fourth Congressional District, which swallowed up the Fifth District (it was contracted out of existence because of a decrease in the state's population). Republican Representative Steve King, a favorite among the Tea Party and former best buddies with Michele Bachmann, is the incumbent in the race. He'll face off against the well-known and respected Christie Vilsack, wife of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; Tom Vilsack is a former governor of Iowa. King's old district covered the staunch conservative western edge of the state, and he typically faced off against lukewarm Democratic opponents. That won't be the case this year. His district has been expanded to cover a swath of more independent-minded...

Preventing Wall Street’s Latest Sucker-Punch

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Mercifully, the misnamed JOBS Act did not sail through the Senate yesterday as expected. The Republican-sponsored “bipartisan” act is a Wall Street wish list of exemptions from investor protections that would allow some 80 percent of new stock offerings to avoid the usual disclosures. Except for its Orwellian, contrived acronym (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) JOBS has nothing to do with jobs. More likely, it stands for Just Obfuscate with B.S. The bill would even undo the Sarbanes-Oxley rules, enacted after the Enron scandal, prohibiting “stock analysts” from touting shares in order to help investment bankers get underwriting business. The Obama White House, always eager to curry favor with Wall Street donors and looking for something it could claim as bipartisanship, indicated it would sign the bill. Shame. With that signal, the measure sailed through the House with only 23 Democrats voting against. Shame again. Finally, the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary...

Three Things to Know About Paul Ryan's New Budget

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Later this morning, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan will unveil his latest budget plan, “ The Path to Prosperity .” Like the “Roadmap” released last year—and passed by House Republicans—the Path to Prosperity fits neatly within Ryan’s self-described Randian ideology: It would slash social and entitlement spending and direct the savings to lower taxes on rich people and corporations. Despite this, as Matthew Yglesias points out, Ryan has a habit of portraying his policies as somehow beneficial to the broad majority of Americans. I plan to be in the audience for Ryan’s unveiling, but in the meantime, here are a few things to remember and look out for as Ryan tries to sell his program to the public. 1. Premium support will not lower costs for the health system or ordinary Americans : Ryan’s plan for Medicare vouchers came under fire last year and contributed to the unpopularity of House Republicans. This time around, Ryan has replaced vouchers with “premium support,” a plan in which...

So Long But Not Farewell to Dennis Kucinich

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( Ready Abby's response to Salon 's Glenn Greenwald .) The Daily Show , April 11, 2011: John Oliver: Help me understand how you have been re-elected in the state of Ohio? Representative Dennis Kucinich: Harmony and understanding, sympathy, and trust abounding. John Oliver: Are you quoting the musical "Hair"? In the end, there just wasn't much harmony and understanding in the race for Ohio's ninth district. Dennis Kucinich, among the wackiest members of Congress, got beat decisively last night by his colleague Marcy Kaptur in very nasty Democratic primary. The two incumbents got lumped together after Ohio lost two seats in redistricting. Kucinich was one of the least likely, most memorable members of Congress. He started his political career in the late '70s as the "Boy Mayor" of Cleveland. He entered Congress in 1996, and thanks to two no-shot-in-hell presidential bids, Kucinich came to be a favorite among lefty college kids and Birkenstock-wearers around the country. He was probably...

No Longer A Lost Cause

(Flickr/Cosmic Smudge)
Liberals weren't too excited about their 2012 electoral chances a few months ago. Even if Barack Obama managed to hold onto the White House, simple math made it tough to imagine Democrats keeping their current majority in the Senate. Democrats will need to defend 23 seats this November, thanks to their success in the 2006-midterm elections, while Republicans only have 10 seats up for grabs. If Republicans manage to flip four seats in November, Mitch McConnell would start off 2013 as the Senate Majority Leader. But, a series of favorable polls coupled with a spate of state-level developments have brightened Democrats' chances. The big news last week was Maine Senator Olympia Snowe's decision to retire at the end of the current session. What was one a safe Republican seat is now considered a toss-up that could easily land in the Democrats column. Two of the Democrats' weakest open seats gained stronger than expected candidates last week as well, with former Senator Bob Kerrey jumping...

The Other Big Ohio Primary

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Tomorrow, one of the nastier primary races in recent memory will come to an end. Nope, not the Republican presidential race. (That may drag on for eternity.) Ohio will be the first state to hold a congressional primary, which means an end to the vicious fight between Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, two Democrats who both currently hold office. (A third Democrat, Graham Veysey, is also running in what's likely to be a distant third.) After the 2010 Census numbers were in, Ohio lost two congressional seats. The GOP-controlled legislature decided to lump two of the most union-friendly representatives together in one district: Kaptur, from Toledo, and Kucinich, from Cleveland. Both are consistently pro-union, with the same high rating from the powerful United Auto Workers. The unions, by and large, are staying out of the race rather than choosing between the two . However, each campaign does have the the support of a super PAC . The Ohio district favors Democrats, and it's likely that...

Republicans Coalesce Around Romney

(Flickr/KP Tripathi)
Despite the horse-race media coverage before tomorrow's Super Tuesday elections, Mitt Romney remains the odds-on favorite to take the GOP nomination. He has nearly double his leading opponent's delegates, dwarfs Rick Santorum's meager cash stockpile, and has a campaign organization that will go unmatched this late in the race. In case that's not evidence enough, Republican elites continue to flock to Romney's side. And it's not just the establishment GOP of old (think Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush). Leaders from the far right of Republican politics are also lending Romney their support. Yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Tom Coburn both endorsed Romney. If Santorum were truly a threat to Romney's bid, a few arch conservative elected officials would be out stumping for the former Pennsylvania senator. Yet his former colleagues are entirely absent from his campaign. Romney has secured the support of 80 sitting members of Congress, according to a count from The Hill...

Copyright Fight Hits the Lab

The Research Works Act keeps the battle started by SOPA and PIPA in the headlines.

(AP Photo/ailatan)
This week, the scientific publishing giant Elsevier , which produces thousands of academic journals, and Representatives Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, and Darrell Issa, a California Republican, withdrew their support for the Research Works Act after public outcry from public-access advocates. Currently, some federal agencies require that researchers who rely on government funding make their resulting journal publications freely accessible online. The Research Works Act would have forbidden any agency from imposing this requirement, allowing publishers to retain rights to the papers. As with the recent battles over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), opposition and the sudden drop-off in support for the legislation suggests that big content companies are losing some of the traction in Washington they once enjoyed. But the Research Works Act was always largely symbolic. “It’s a stake in the ground,” said Allan Adler of the American Association of...

Blunt Amendment Fails in the Senate

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)
For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement. Any qualms with the legislation evaporated when it was put to a vote this morning. The measure failed 51-48, but Republicans voted with their usual lockstep discipline. Soon retiring Senator Olympia Snowe was the lone Republican opposing the measure and three Democrats—Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin, and Bob Casey—crossed the aisles to join...

Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)
Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record. The Washington Post 's Greg Sargent checked in with a few Republican senators and found that some are hesitant to endorse the amendment ahead of tomorrow's vote: A spokesman for Senator Susan Collins confirms to me she’s still undecided — with less than 24 hours until tomorrow’s vote. On MSBNC just now, Senator Olympia...

Cheering on the Nightmare Scenario

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As the Prospect 's Jamelle Bouie notes, the invaluable Greg Sargent outlines a "nightmare scenario" should the Republicans capture the Senate in 2012: the possibility that they will eliminate the filibuster. My response would be that ultimately this is more of a dream scenario, both for progressives and for American democracy. This is not to say that eliminating the filibuster with unified Republican government—the only scenario, as Sargent correctly notes, in which the filibuster would be eliminated—wouldn't lead to some bad legislation that wouldn't pass with the filibuster buffer. It almost certainly would. But such potential short-term setbacks shouldn't blind us to the fact that the filibuster is a transparently indefensible feature of American government, and if it takes a temporary Republican advantage to get rid of it, this is a price worth paying. In theory, the filibuster is a terrible idea. To be sure, democracy means more than simple "majority rule," and it is important to...

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I talked to Duckworth about a range of issues, but it was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s comment about women in combat that sparked the greatest reaction. Duckworth, the daughter of a veteran, joined ROTC over 20 years ago, as a graduate student, and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat positions open to women at the time. She went on to become one of the first women to fly combat missions in...

Road to Nowhere

Congressional Republicans propose bizarre ways to bring the Highway Trust Fund back from debt.

(Flickr/daBinsi)
The best place in the country to appreciate the marvels of our interstate highway system is heading west out of Denver on I-70 in Colorado. The road climbs and dips at a steep grade, taking cars across the Rockies, a range that includes some of North America’s tallest mountains. Fifty or so miles out of town, the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel, which takes travelers underneath the continental divide, marks the highest point in the entire interstate system, at 11,155 feet. Building the first of the memorial tunnel’s two bores, the one named after Eisenhower, cost more than $100 million, an extraordinary sum at the time. The worst place in the country to appreciate anything at all about the country’s highways system right now is Capitol Hill. The transportation bill the House is working on contains a $260 billion budget. The funds are not for building highways but to maintain them. For years, a gas tax fed the Highway Trust Fund. But that tax has not been adjusted for inflation, and...

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