Congress

Post Hoc Fallacy

Wednesday’s Washington Post deserves some kind of perverse award for advocacy journalism—in this case, for advocating the proposition that dire economic consequences will ensue if the congressional Super Committee fails to cut a deal for drastic deficit reduction. This is, of course, one side of an argument.

Those on the other side, including myself, have argued that austerity in a deep recession makes no economic sense and that as a matter of politics, the Obama administration would be far better advised to let the automatic sequester formula take effect, knowing that it would have to be reopened because of Republicans’ horror of deep defense cuts and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.

Bending the Rules

Congress keeps finding new ways to attack farm-bill reform.

Yesterday, the House and Senate released their final appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Like the House bill passed in June, the bill, which provides funding to the Department of Agriculture, cuts a number of programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture coalition discusses the programs most hurt in a detailed blog post. One of the areas most hurt is conservation: On the whole, programs that help preserve land were cut by almost $1 billion.

DOMA, DOMA, DOMA: 2, Executive & Legislative Challenges

  1. Executive. There’s a campaign under way to get President Obama to say he supports marriage equality; he hasn’t gone that far, claiming instead that his position “continues to evolve.” He has said that he opposes DOMA—which means little, in practice, for all the reasons we know from middle-school civics classes. Because it’s Congress’s job to make laws and the executive branch’s job to enforce them, the president can’t just stop enforcing DOMA: Same-sex couples still have to file taxes as single, and so forth. However, the executive branch does have some discretion. To wit:

Health Care Supreme

The Supreme Court, as expected, has decided to take up the question of whether the Affordable Care Act violates the Constitution, and has allotted five and a half hours for oral argument. This is far longer than the typical 30 minutes lawyers get to argue before the Court, but it represents the magnitude of the case. Supreme Court opinions striking down acts of Congress are rare.

Don't Save Republicans from Themselves

With the Super Committee near collapse, will the Democrats snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory? Republicans, by locking themselves into no new taxes at a time when two-thirds of Americans prefer to tax millionaires instead of cutting Social Security and Medicare, are in a nice pickle.

Over the weekend, Republicans on the Super Committee proposed to trade about $300 billion in net revenue increases for more than $2 trillion in permanent tax cuts. Democrats, mercifully, did not take the bait.

Obama’s Secret Weapon

Will the electorate blame Congress—not the president—for the sour economy?

(Flickr/DRStarbuck)

Michael Tomasky’s piece deserves a few responses.  He begins with some unnecessary swipes at political science:

Politics is sometimes a science and other times an art. So here we sit, with the election exactly a year away, and the conventional wisdom in the political press is largely driven by the political-science theory of presidential elections and economic determinism: that is, that the results of presidential elections are pretty much strictly a function of economic conditions, and if those are bad (defined by various measures, chiefly the jobless and growth rates), the incumbent will lose.  By that theory, Barack Obama is pretty well doomed. And yet I don’t know a soul who thinks he doesn’t stand a decent chance of winning next year.

In Which DOMA Crumbles Just a Little Bit More

Has anyone been trying to keep score at home on the many attacks on the Defense of Marriage Act? There are so many different ways it could fall. Today’s news came from the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of Sen. Feinstein’s Respect for Marriage Act, referring it to the full body. The RMA would repeal DOMA, thereby enabling same-sex couples who are legally married in their home states would be treated as married by the federal government as well. (Six U.S.

Che Warren?

Just when you think the right can’t stoop any lower, they keep surprising you. Karl Rove is out with an ad linking Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren with … Che Guevara.

Over footage of an out-of-control protest, including a Che T-shirt, an announcer intones that Warren sides with protesters who “attack police, do drugs, and trash public parks.” Warren is quoted—out of context, of course—as saying that she “created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do.”

Democrats Misbehave, Obama Gets the Time-Out

http://www.flickr.com/photos/robr/2912198704/sizes/m/

When it comes to addressing the economic crisis, creating jobs, or tackling the deficit, Congress is at a standstill and the American people know it. This morning, a poll from the National Journal shows Americans have little faith that Congress will take on the issues that matter most. For example, 68 percent of respondents said it was "very important" for Congress to spend money in order to create new jobs, but only 27 percent thought it was likely to happen. Another poll, this one by The Washington Post, found that 50 percent of Americans believe Republicans are holding up President Obama's jobs bill for political reasons.

Super Dupes

From right to left, former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., former White House Budget Director Alice Rivlin, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, offer their advice to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011. The congressional super committee is trying to come up with a package by Thanksgiving that trims the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With the Congressional Super Committee required to produce a bipartisan budget-cutting plan by November 23, the best possible outcome would be for the committee to collapse of its own weight.

With no deal, automatic cuts would kick in beginning in 2013. Those budget cuts would be excessive, but that question could—and will—be reopened after the election. And in the meantime, $4 trillion in Bush tax cuts will expire, solving most of the deficit problem.

If Democrats win, it’s all up for grabs. If Republicans win, the cuts will be even deeper.

The 2012 election will be a referendum on whether we want growth or austerity, and whether we want tax fairness.

Do Democrats Need Discipline?

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, accompanied by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., center, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., takes part in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, to discuss China currency. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In response to my post on Drew Westen’s latest, a few commenters took issue with a secondary point. (My primary point, that Westen mischaracterizes the partisanship of the mass public, attracted less dissent.) My secondary point was that, despite this stereotype that Democratic politicians are less disciplined than Republicans—more fractious, harder to coordinate, etc.—Democrats and Republicans in Congress have essentially equivalent levels of unity on roll call votes.

The Impermanent Majority

President Bush, left, puts his arm around White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove as they appear before reporters during a news conference announcing Rove's resignation, Monday, Aug. 13, 2007, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)

After George W. Bush was elected in 2000, his advisers and allies set about solidifying their control of Congress. In short order, the phrase "permanent Republican majority" started to get bandied about (here is a reference to it in a Time magazine article from April 2001). That idea partly concerned efforts by Bush and Karl Rove to expand the Republican base to include groups like Latinos, but mostly referred to the House of Representatives. With the right mix of money, targeted legislation, and clever redistricting (the cocktail that landed Tom DeLay in jail), Republicans could make their grip on the House all but impossible to break.

Running Out the Clock on Government Regulations

House bill could hamstring important protections

Tuesday, the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary passed, on a party-line vote, one of the most sweeping attacks in decades on government protections.

The Rules from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) bill would require that any major rule issued by a federal agency be affirmed by a majority vote in both the House and Senate. The vote would have to take place within 70 days. Proponents of the legislation claim that it would lead to improved regulations, but its real effect would be to hamstring government agencies so that rules that do not pass muster with the radical Republicans in the House—say, regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency or the Securities and Exchange Commission—would never be adopted.

Everything Is Culture

The environmental story of the day concerns a project started by a climate skeptic named Richard Muller, a physicist who was so convinced that actual climate scientists were distorting or misreading the data that he started his own project, called the Berkeley Earth Science Temperature project, to double-check them. Climate deniers were excited -- at last, some actual scientists would prove that global warming is a hoax! The Charles G. Koch foundation even gave money to the project. One prominent climate denier blogger, Anthony Watts, wrote, "I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong." You may be able to guess where this is going.

Blame and How to Give It

That Senate Republicans used the filibuster to kill a Democratic stimulus bill isn’t a surprise – at this point, Republicans have all but announced their plan to keep the economy from significantly improving, and as a result, slash the tires on President Obama’s bid for re-election.

What comes as a surprise is the extent to which the press isn’t playing along. In the past, reporters would describe yesterday's event with “balanced” language that obscured Republican responsibility for the obstruction. For example, here’s how The New York Times described last week’s failed vote on the full American Jobs Act:

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