Congress

What to Read Before You Unwonk Tonight

Jonathan Chait wrote a truly excellent essay in this month’s issue of New York that refuses to sympathize with the liberal journalists and scholars who have been writing damning commentary on Democratic presidents since the early 20th century. Instead of adding to the journalistic canon of how Obama is a traitor to his 2008 campaign, he turns his sight back on the Drew Westens and Patrick Caddells and Doug Schoens of the world and tries to explain why liberals are never satisfied with the people they elect: For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage. When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace. No one should be surprised that the...

Decoding Michele Bachmann's New Book

Michele Bachmann—or at least her publicity manager—did her research. The Prospect received an early copy of Bachmann’s new book, "Core of Conviction: My Story," last week. In honor of the book’s release today, we’ve compiled the five “Best of Bachmann” moments from the book. 1. Bachmann’s great-great-grandfather won a farm from Jesse James in a game of poker. Bachmann claims that Halvor Munson won a farm in Iola, Kansas, playing poker with Jesse James on a river raft. According to a short biography on Munson, written by a family genealogist, it is likely that Munson did meet Jesse James (before his name became synonymous with outlaws of the American West), but the claim that he won a farm from James is nothing more than family lore. 2. Bachmann is not a fan of Gore Vidal. She even goes so far as to insinuate that Vidal’s book, Burr , prompted her to change her party affiliation to Republican. She refers to Vidal as “snotty” and “disgusting.” She spends two pages slamming the novel for...

What Happened to the Tea Party?

When the 2012 Republican nominating contest was getting underway earlier this year, it was widely predicted (I predicted it myself) that the race would eventually come down to a contest between an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, and a Tea Party candidate more appealing to the party's base. It seemed perfectly reasonable at the time; after all, the Tea Party had energized the GOP and propelled it to the historic 2010 congressional election victory. With its anti-Obama fervor, the Tea Party was the focus of all the GOP's grassroots energy, to such a degree that nearly every Republican felt compelled to proclaim him or herself a Tea Partier. Once the Tea Party's champion was selected, we would discover just how much strength the party establishment still held in our decentralized political age. Yet with the Iowa caucus just six weeks away, it appears that there will be no grand battle between the establishment and the insurgents, the old guard and the new. There...

Super-Duper Failure

As many of us have been hoping and praying, the Super Committee fell of its own weight, making room for a much better debate about where budget cutting fits into a recovery strategy (if at all), and how to raise taxes progressively in order to finance the investments and jobs that America needs. President Barack Obama was unwise to make this devil’s bargain in the first place; he has since moved on to emphasizing jobs and recovery. The Super Committee crack-up should be the last gasp of the “bipartisan” folly about deficit reduction as key to recovery—which the president himself gave a big boost with his appointment of the late Bowles-Simpson Commission. Now, mercifully, the Republicans stand exposed as the party that would ravage Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other valued social outlays in order to spare the richest 1 percent any tax increases. Republicans have been in their own echo chamber for so long that they don’t quite grasp that most of the voters oppose this idea...

What to Read Before You Unwonk for the Weekend

Rejoice! Congress won at not ruining the Constitution today! The Super Committee won at doing nothing . NERD FIGHT. Round Two. Or three. This has been going on for a while. The Monkey Cage’s John Sides added his two cents to the Economics v. Campaigns election forecast debate, saying that it’s difficult to assess how effective campaigns are while we’re watching them unfold. Maybe it’s time to bench this topic and bring it back for round three after next November. Nate Silver also tried to find out which economic factors have been most consistent in predicting electoral outcomes. Turns out the ISM manufacturing index is a better predictor of whether an incumbent will re-win the White House than the change in unemployment rate or GDP. Yay data. As an addendum to the “Do Campaigns Matter” debate, the “Do Debates Matter” debate might also become a thing soon, followed inevitably by the, “Do the Party Elite matter” and “Do Superdelegates matter” debates that close every primary season. I’m...

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. Moreover, Social Security does not belong in this conversation, and Democrats are better off, substantively and politically, defending it against Republican proposed cuts rather than lumping it in with budget talks. But I digress. The Post has been an editorial champion of the Super Committee and...

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. But the most senseless provisions were, perhaps, the ones that prevent the USDA from finishing revisions to the rules that govern how meat markets work. The rules, which are enforced by a division of the USDA known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, regulate the markets through which chicken, hog, and cattle farmers interact with meatpacking companies. Food advocates have long described the ways in which power has consolidated among meatpackers so that a handful of companies control the...

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

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: In February 2011, Obama’s administration made big news when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his office would no longer defend DOMA in court—because they believed it was unconstitutional, for the reasons listed in the lawsuits below. This was controversial. However: The U.S. has stopped some deportations of a binational married couple’s foreign-born spouse, saying that getting rid of people who are here...

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. To find a case where the Supreme Court struck down the centerpiece of a sitting president’s legislative agenda, you would have to go back to the New Deal, when reactionary holdovers like Willis Van Devanter and James McReynolds—the latter a justice so racist and anti-Semitic he would refuse to shake the hands of Jewish colleagues and turn his back on African American lawyers making oral arguments—created a constitutional crisis by repeatedly striking down key New Deal legislation. The Supreme Court's decision to hear the ACA challenge raises three key questions: Should the Supreme Court strike down the...

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. Some Republicans on the panel, such as Representative Jeb Hensarling of Texas, proposed a “two step” process, whereby the committee would agree on a target figure for revenue increases and leave the details to the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. But the Texas Two-Step is another trap. Cuts in Social Security and Medicare would be negotiated first, and the details of tax hikes would come later—after Democrats had given up their leverage. Senator Dick...

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. Let’s ignore the oxymoron “pretty much strictly” and assume Tomasky means “strictly.” First point: This is not what political scientists think about presidential elections. Since I’ve written a direct response to the very Economist article that...

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. states and the District of Columbia currently marry same-sex couples; see the map here .) That means, for instance, that my wife would stop paying thousands of dollars in federal taxes for listing me on her health insurance; a New Hampshire man married to a Brazilian, say, could sponsor his foreign-born husband for legal residency or citizenship. The discussion in the committee was short, nothing like the full theater of the July 20 hearing on the bill, in which everyone said the same things as they did back...

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.” Poor Rove. He has gone from arguing that Warren is too much of a pointy-headed intellectual for Massachusetts to branding her as a dangerous radical. Thankfully, Warren has a whole year in which to introduce herself to voters personally. This theme is unlikely to work any better than the last one—but it will energize Warren’s own troops.

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. The public sentiment expressed in these polls should spell disaster for Republicans who are perceived to be recklessly blocking popular legislation. In elections today and a year from now, these sentiments should play to Democrats' favor. The problem, however, is that in hard economic times, the president takes the blame, even if the other party deserves a hefty...

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. For now, the six Republicans on the Super Committee, predictably, want all of the budget savings to be on the spending side and are adamantly opposed to any tax increases. On Thursday, 33 Senate Republicans sent a letter to their colleagues on the committee warning them not to support any form of tax increase. What’s bizarre, however,...

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