Congress

King of the Playground

President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray shows Republicans who's boss.

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Since Barack Obama took office, the Republican minority in the Senate has abused the institution's anti-majoritarian procedures and "advise and consent" role to prevent President Obama from filling dozens of important executive-branch positions . The unwillingness to hold a vote on the appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a particularly striking example of this. The Republicans do not object to Cordray specifically; they object to the idea of having a watchdog with any teeth acting on behalf of consumers at all and have refused to consider any appointment for the position. As Kevin Drum says, this goes beyond obstructionism and is just straightforward nullification . A minority of one house is trying essentially to repeal legislation duly passed by majorities of both houses and signed by the president. The framers did, however, provide one remedy for the constitutional defect being exploited by Senate Republicans: the recess appointment...

Calling for a Convention

Amending the Constitution is our best bet for fixing Congress.

To keep money from corrupting our democratic politics, we need constitutional change. No doubt lots can be done by statute alone—meaningful transparency rules, such as the Disclose Act, and small-dollar public funding, such as the Fair Elections Now Act. The Supreme Court, however, has all but guaranteed that these won’t be enough. Transparency by itself won’t build trust; public funding can only be voluntary; and independent expenditures are all but certain to swamp even the best reforms tolerated by the Court. If we’re ever going to get a Congress “dependent,” as James Madison put it in Federalist Paper No. 52, “upon the People alone,” and not “the Funders,” it is clear that Congress will need new constitutional authority. Yet it is also clear that Congress won’t ask for this authority itself. The chance that this Congress, or any Congress elected in the current environment, could muster 67 votes in the Senate to alter Washington’s economy of influence is zero. Congress is the...

House GOP's White House Stocking Stuffer: The Payroll Tax Cut

The cave-in by the House Republicans on the payroll tax is on terms that keeps this conflict going well into the election year--and on terms very favorable to Barack Obama and the Democrats. For the GOP, the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut is the worst possible politics. First, they look weak (because they are weak); and second, the same drama will be replayed next year with the same outcome. Raising taxes on millionaires rather than cutting Social Security or Medicare, or hiking payroll taxes, wins every time. As Republicans keep re-fighting this losing battle, the message will be reinforced over and over again that Democrats are for the working person while Republicans defend the richest. The fact that key Republicans in the Senate and House can't get their act together is frosting on the cake. Likewise, the sheer extremism of Tea Party caucus members who'd rather lose their seats than compromise. They are likely to get their wish. Barack Obama won his Senate seat after...

Has Hell Frozen Over?

You might think that the only thing Karl Rove and Barack Obama agree on is that gravity exists. But yesterday, Rove agreed with the White House that it’s time for Republicans in the House to cut their losses and pass the Senate's two-month extension on the payroll tax cut before they go home for the holidays. The Senate has already gone home, which means the House can't strike up a new deal: It can either vote on the extension or let the tax cuts expire. Rove told Fox News on Wednesday that Republicans "have lost the optics on it” and “the question now is how do the Republicans get out of it." "Use [the showdown]] for political theater, vote to pass the two-month extension, and get out of town," Rove said. It isn’t actually that surprising that Rove supports passing the Senate’s version of the payroll tax cut bill, which failed in the House on Tuesday. It's a no-brainer, and if the Tea Party Republicans were thinking electorally, they would have voted for it. No voter is going to be...

Governing on Empty

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci) House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks of the floor of the House chamber on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, in Washington. The House rejected legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for two months, drawing a swift rebuke from President Barack Obama that Republicans were threatening higher taxes on 160 million workers on Jan. 1. T he Senate, having struck its compromise, has gone home. The House, controlled by delusional Republicans, has gone home. Payroll taxes are slated to rise, and unemployment insurance is set to expire before they return in January. The compromise wasn’t just between the two parties in the Senate, apparently. According to Wednesday’s Washington Post , House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor met with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell on Friday and told him they’d get the votes to pass the two-month extension deal he’d worked out with Harry Reid. Boehner and Cantor now say they made no promises, but...

The War on Terror Comes Home

Passage of the NDAA brings issues of indefinite detention and military trials to American shores.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
It is usually difficult to find an issue, particularly in the form of current legislation, that unites retired generals and admirals, civil libertarians, Tea Party activists, retired intelligence officers, current Obama administration national-security officials, and former Bush administration officials. But this year's defense authorization bill, which passed both houses of Congress this week, did just that. The 666-page bill is a vast document that authorizes $662 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year. Nestled in in this overarching bill are a series of controversial provisions that authorize the president to indefinitely detain terror suspects and require the military to take custody of anyone deemed to be a member of al-Qaeda. The White House issued a veto threat to both the House and Senate versions of the bill. Just about every member of the administration’s national-security team—the director of national intelligence, secretary of defense, secretary of state, CIA...

Class Struggle

As levels of student debt continue to rise, regulators have an opportunity to reform higher education.

AP Photo/Steven Senne
O n November 28, hundreds of students from Brauch College linked arms and protested outside a City College of New York board meeting in which members authorized, by a 15-to-1 vote, a $300 annual tuition increase until at least 2015. The protest was so disruptive that, according to The New York Times, Brauch canceled classes after 3 p.m. and stopped regular foot traffic going in and out of the building where the meeting was taking place. Three people were arrested. Occupy CUNY, the group of students that staged the protest, announced on its Facebook page that it aimed to make public education “accessible” and “fair.” The City University of New York’s (CUNY) tuition is already more than $5,000 per year and with the new rates, will be more than $6,000 for the 2015—2016 school year. The students’ demonstration lined up with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has focused on one of the facets of economic injustice increasingly affecting the “99 percent”—student debt. It’s no wonder. The...

Supreme Court Could Tilt US House Majority

The US Supreme Court issued a surprise stay late Friday evening that in effect could decide which party controls the US House majority after the 2012 election. A little over two weeks ago, a three-judge panel in San Antonio threw out new congressional maps drawn by the Texas legislature earlier this year. One of the fastest growing states in the country, Texas gained four additional US House seats after the 2010 census. Most of that growth can be attributed to the state's booming Hispanic population, which now represents almost 40 percent of the state. Yet when the Republican legislature went to redraw the maps, they gerrymandered the new seats to favor their party and shut the minority population out. Civil rights groups appealed and convinced the federal court to create a more representative map, increasing the number of majority-minority districts from 10 to 13, giving Democrats a strong possibility of gaining three of the four new House seats next year. Texas Attorney General Greg...

Barney Gets Frank

Over at the Washington Blade , longtime gay community reporter Lou Chibarro Jr. offers up the gay exit interview with Barney Frank. Here's why we love Mr. Curmudgeon: Frank said he became the first member of Congress to voluntarily disclose he was gay in 1987, six years after taking office in 1981, after he determined staying in the closet was too constraining on his personal life. “I got there and I thought, OK, well I can be privately out but publicly closeted,” he said. “But it didn’t work. I found it very hard to have a satisfying, healthy emotional and physical life.” Frank said that during the years he withheld disclosing his sexual orientation, both as a congressman and a member of the Massachusetts State Legislature, he promised himself that he would never hold back on his strong political support for LGBT rights in an effort to conceal his status as a gay person. “I remember my thought process was, well I can’t be honest about being gay. I wouldn’t win. But it would be...

Republicans' Governing Glossary

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Agencycide noun – The effective killing of a statutorially established agency of government by legislative refusal to confirm the nominees required to lead that agency. The term dates from December 2011, when Senate Republicans killed (by exploiting Senate rules requiring a supermajority to bring up votes) President Barack Obama’s nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray for the position of director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which had been created by the Dodd-Frank Act passed by the previous Congress. Republicans stated that they had no objections to Cordray himself but didn’t wish to appoint a director so long as the agency possessed the autonomous power with which it was vested by Dodd-Frank, preferring that it be reconstituted as subordinate to other regulatory bodies charged with helping and sustaining banks. While this one episode of nominee-blocking was not sufficient to give rise to the neologism agencycide , it was to be followed in short...

Legislative Stranglehold

Passing the REINS bill would give Republicans the ability to veto any significant new regulations.

With only four Democrats voting for the measure, yesterday the House passed H.R. 10, “Rules from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny” (REINS). If it were to become law, this radical piece of legislation would prohibit all federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Securities and Exchange Commission from minting any new regulations impacting the economy by more than $100 million unless they passed both the U.S. House and Senate within 70 legislative days. The requirement that regulations be agreed to by both the House and Senate would give the staunchly anti-government Republican majority in the House the ability to unilaterally veto significant regulations by simply refusing to pass the legislation within the accorded time frame. Many of the new protections scheduled to go into effect this year and next are the result of laws passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama in his first two years in office. These...

Rip It Up and Start Again

Democrats were fed up at the start of the year. They had held 59 seats in the Senate for most of the previous two years, their largest majority since the 1970s. But that near-supermajority wasn't enough to overcome a Republican fillibuster. A 60-vote hurdle became a common deathtrap for every Democratic bill or Obama nomination confirmation, leaving the executive branch understaffed and the federal bench depleted. It looked like Democrats had finally had enough and developed the backbone to fight back when the Senate reconvened in January. There was talk of rewriting Senate rules to end the filibuster. Republicans would have moaned about how Democrats were breaking with all sorts of historical norms, but ending the filibuster falls well within constitutional limits; no previous body can dictate the procedural rules for a future Congress. It never reached that point, though, because Republicans—no longer concerned with progressive legislation originating in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House...

Elizabeth Warren: Bailout Queen

Karl Rove’s latest ad has to set an all-time record for hypocrisy and factual inversion. The ad actually manages to blame Elizabeth Warren for the bank bailouts. As anyone who hasn’t spent the past three years in a cave must know, Warren has been the nation’s single most effective, relentless, and brave critic of the bailouts. It was that service as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that made her one of America’s most admired public leaders. The ad slyly begins with Warren speaking, leading the viewer to imagine that this is a Warren ad. Warren says, “The first thing I’m going to promise is that I’m going to be a voice in the room on behalf of middle-class families.” Then a sneering female voiceover cuts in, and asks, “Really? Congress had Warren oversee how your tax dollars were spent bailing out the same banks that caused the financial meltdown, bailouts that helped pay big bonuses to bank executives while the middle class lost out.” The ad concludes, “Tell Professor Warren...

The Fanatics of the Center

Moderation has its zealots, so convinced of their righteousness that they ignore the likely impact of their actions.

Thomas Friedman via Center for American Progress
T he political center has an undeserved reputation as the home of the most dispassionate and reasonable people. According to a strain of thought that stretches back to the 18th century, parties endanger democracy; partisans see only their side of the truth, pursue their own narrow interests, and aggravate tensions and conflict. The rational course supposedly lies in the middle, where champions of civic virtue counsel compromise and invite us to put the public good first. The anti-partisan story is a seductive myth, and a dangerous one. Those who represent themselves as standing in the center have their own partialities. Many people who call themselves nonpartisan or independent actually lean left or right but for one reason or another resist coming out of the closet as Democrats or Republicans. Some people who tell pollsters that they’re independents don’t follow politics closely or care about it enough to risk taking sides. They’re hardly model citizens. Besides this muddled middle,...

Where Are Gingrich's Enemies?

For many members of Congress, it must seem truly strange to observe the current Newt Gingrich boomlet. This is, after all, the same Gingrich who was run out of Washington 13 years ago after his party suffered a rare midterm loss that left Republicans barely hanging on to control of the House. Gingrich not only stepped aside as speaker but resigned his congressional seat. He left the chamber with his tail between his legs and did not exactly endear himself to his fellow members on the way out, calling the other congressional Republicans "hateful" and "cannibals" who blackmailed him out of office during a conference call announcing his departure. With his bombastic style, Gingrich was well set for a life of public speaking and book career far away from any other elected office. That was the mind-set of the political class when Gingrich entered the presidential field earlier this year (especially after his entire staff fled his campaign over the summer), and yet now Gingrich has—at least...

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