Congress

Stop Blaming Dysfunction on "Both Sides"

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For years, liberals have argued that polarization his little to do with the Democratic Party—which they see as largely centrist—and everything to do with a Republican Party, which has moved far to the right since the 1970s. Recent research from political scientists Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal, who have measured polarization and ideological shifts in Congress, confirms that theory. According to NPR , they’ve found that the GOP is more conservative now than it’s been in a century: The short version would be since the late 1970s starting with the 1976 election in the House the Republican caucus has steadily moved to the right ever since. It’s been a little more uneven in the Senate. The Senate caucuses have also moved to the right. Republicans are now furtherest to the right that they’ve been in 100 years. Moreover, Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have to the left, and that goes a long way toward explaining the gridlock of the last three years, during...

Can Occupy Our Homes Move Congress?

A conversation with Representative Keith Ellison.

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
With Occupy Our Homes—the growing movement to fight foreclosures and evictions—community organizations and Occupy activists have teamed up in cities throughout the country to defend at-risk homeowners, pressure banks to renegotiate mortgages, and keep families in their homes. This effort has resulted in some impressive local victories. At the same time, the scope of the foreclosure crisis calls out for federal remedies. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) has proposed one such remedy. In late February, Ellison released a statement with fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona) calling on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to write down mortgage principal amounts for homeowners at risk of foreclosure. The Prospect spoke with Ellison about debt forgiveness for struggling families and about how grassroots housing activism is affecting discussion in Congress. Could you elaborate on your proposal for principal reduction? Underwater mortgages are holding people in...

Republicans Invest in Senate Races

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There are a host of organizations that track congressional elections and offer lists of the most competitive Senate races. You can consult Real Clear Politics’ list , which is backed up by polling data, or peer into Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball for a political scientists’ perspective. But perhaps the best indicator for which elections are most competitive comes the parties themselves. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) committed itself to an early ad-buy this week, penciling in $25 million to spend on ads in six different Senate races. The blitz won’t start until after Labor Day, so the group still has time to cancel or reconfigure how that money is spent, but it provides an early glimpse at the seats at play. With the current breakdown in the Senate at a 53–47 advantage for Democrats, Republicans will need to swing four seats their way, or three seats if they win the presidency and the vice president’s tie-breaking vote. Here are the six races where the NRSC is...

Today in Looney Tea Party Theories

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
With Rick Santorum finally out of the picture, the Romney campaign is reportedly starting its VP hunt, but there's no announcement on the immediate horizon. Recent hire Ed Gillespie will lead the search, according to Buzzfeed, and it will likely be a long process to make sure the party doesn't repeat its 2008 mistake in selecting someone ill-prepared for the national spotlight. A freshman congressman seems unlikely to pass that muster, but Florida Representative Allen West has received a bit of buzz thanks to support from the far right wing of the Republican Party. Herman Cain, Sarah Palin, and Nikki Haley had previously touted him as a possible running mate. "He is well-spoken, he is direct, people in Florida love him, he has a huge following," Cain said in a radio interview. It could be the start of a groundswell of support to force Romney to select a more conservative running mate than he would naturally prefer. But it won't go anywhere when West goes around making claims like this...

Paul Ryan Wants Democratic Friends

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Paul Ryan's budget has become a rallying cry for Democrats, and President Obama's re-election in particular. Republicans have long expressed an antipathy for the general concept of government services, but these were often expressed in the abstract or lone exceptions, with the party generally focusing on the starve-the-beast philosophy of reducing taxes so that government outlays would eventually have to be reduced. Ryan's budget gets that down on paper in crystallized form, codifying those ideas into a specific vision for the future that would gut all government services except health spending, Social Security, and an increased budget for defense, discarding the rest of discretionary spending. Earlier this morning, Ryan told a group of reporters in New York that his budget wasn't actually all that extreme because an anonymous selection of a dozen Democrats have told him they love his bill. From Buzzfeed: "There are a number of democrats but I don’t want to name their names, because I...

Who Benefits From Paul Ryan's Tax Cuts?

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Via Ezra Klein, here are handful of charts from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that perfectly captures how Paul Ryan's budget would essentially wipe out all government services for those in need in order to fund a massive redistribution of wealth back up to those at the top of the income scale. Ryan's budget goes beyond the GOP regressive standard of turning all of the Bush tax cuts permanent and includes a number of other tax reductions that would benefit the wealthy. According to the Tax Policy Center that adds up to an extra $265,000 average windfall in fewer taxes that people earning over $1 million wouldn't have to pay each year. The total distribution of those tax cuts would tilt sharply toward the country's highest income bracket. It'd be one thing if this plan just represented the views of a lone congressman from Wisconsin, but the Ryan plan has become accepted dogma in the GOP. Only 10 House members broke ranks to vote against it last week, and the plan has a seal...

The Return of Earmarks

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For as distasteful as they might seem to the public, earmarks—when used in moderation—are an important part of the legislative process. They make compromise easier, and bolster the status of elected officials by giving them the ability to directly help their districts. Railing against earmarks makes for good politics, but as we’ve seen with congressional Republicans over the last year, it doesn’t actually improve governance. Which is why I’m glad to see that some Republicans are reconsidering their opposition: The huge federal transportation bill was in tatters in early March when Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama posed a heretical idea for breaking through gridlock in the House. […] Bring back earmarks, Rogers, who was first elected to Congress in 2002, told his colleagues. Few members of Congress have been bold enough to use the “e” word since both the House and Senate temporarily banned the practice last year after public outcries about Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere” and other...

Paul Ryan No Longer Thinks the Military Is Lying

(Flickr/SpeakerBoehner)
Last Friday I noted Paul Ryan’s comments where he, in essence, accused the top military brass of lying to Congress to cover-up potential harm to the nation’s security in Obama’s proposed budget. To Ryan’s credit, he went on the Sunday shows to retract the claims. Per TPM : “I really misspoke,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union . “And I did not mean to impugn the integrity of the military in any way.” Asked whether he has apologized to Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ryan said, “Yeah, I called him and told him that.” It was not the impression I meant to give,” Ryan added on ABC’s This Week . “I talked to General Dempsey on it, and expressed that sentiment.” Calling his words “clumsy,” Ryan doubled down on his broader point that the Pentagon is conforming to adjusted military spending levels in President Obama’s budget, when he argues they should have put out their plan first. Good on Ryan for stepping back rather than going for the typical politician...

Paul Ryan's "Smoke and Mirrors"

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Paul Ryan, the supposed champion of fiscal restraint among right-wing Republicans, has put his colleagues in an awkward bind. His budget includes a host of unpopular provisions, and if implemented, would eviscerate almost every part of the government except defense, health care, and Social Security by 2050 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yesterday, all but 10 House Republicans entered their name in the congressional record as supporters of the bill, providing Democrats with ample material for negative campaigning this fall. Ryan's proposal shows a reckless disregard for the country's less fortunate. Any social safety net for non-senior citizens would disappear, and while the plan would largely maintain Medicare for current retirees, the move to premium support would rob future generations of needed health care coverage, all to achieve lower taxes It might seem like Ryan has never run across a federal program he would like to destroy, but he debunked that...

Senate Dems in Trouble?

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Presidential elections tend to suck up all the air in an election season, and the (probable) Romney-Obama race is already the dominant plotline seven months away from Election Day. But as the tribulations of Obama's first three years and office made evident, the fate of Congressional races often dictate the direction of policy. Republicans' gains in the 2010 midterms paired with a year of redistricting has likely entrenched their House majority for at least another term. And Democrats entered the year with an uphill battle in the Senate. The party must defend 23 seats compared to just 10 for Republicans. Emory University political scientist and all-around smart dude Alan Abramowitz is out with a model predicting the upcoming Congressional elections that offers grim news for Democrats. Abramowitz predicts that Democrats will gain only a few seats in the House—two or three he says—but are on track to possibly lose the Senate majority. Abramowitz's model has Republicans with an "expected...

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...

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