Congress

Warren and Brown Meet in Debate

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
On Thursday evening, Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic challenger in the Massachusetts Senate race, dusted off the debate skills that, in high school, won her a scholarship to George Washington University. Scott Brown, the Republican she wants to replace, raced from a Senate session in Washington, D.C., and polished up his Massachusetts accent—as if, after every line, he were going to pat some working Joe on the back with an “Amirite?” Brown began the night with opening comments needling Warren about the Cherokee “controversy.” (Full disclosure: Amelia Warren Tyagi, Elizabeth Warren's daughter, is chair of The American Prospect ’s board of directors and is chair of the board of the magazine’s publishing partner, Demos.) The claim is that, at some point in her career, she checked off a box to identify herself as a Native American. “Clearly she’s not,” he said. How will we know if it affected her acceptance to law school or her hiring as a professor at Harvard? Only if she releases all...

Killing Dodd-Frank Softly

To block financial regulations, industries and their congressional allies delay, delay, delay—and if necessary, sue.

(Flickr/Emmanuel Huybrechts)
(Flickr/Emmanuel Huybrechts) On August 16, a group of 32 members of Congress—27 Republicans and 5 Democrats—sent a seemingly innocuous request to Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, regarding a new rule on international money transfers. "We urge you to delay the effective date of these rules and to undertake a comprehensive study of their impact before moving forward to avoid irreparable harm to consumers," they wrote. The regulation, set to go into effect in January, will force companies to disclose the full extent of the fees they charge when people send money overseas. While the letter raised concerns about the rule, the members of Congress didn’t ask the CFPB to scrap it; instead, they entreated Cordray to hold off on the rule until January 2015. Simple enough on the surface. But it is part of a broad, systematic effort by the banks and their allies to delay implementation of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the...

Richard Shelby Can't Make Up His Mind

The lead CFPB opponent wasn't always against the idea of a single director.

(Flickr/Medill DC)
Republicans haven't been shy about voicing their distaste for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many opposed the very creation of the new federal regulator created under the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. Yet no element of the CFPB has quite raised their ire as much as the structure of the agency. Unlike many other federal regulators (SEC, CFTC, FDIC to name a few) CFPB rules are not dictated by a board of commissioners; instead the agency's director has sole discretion on finalizing regulations. Republicans reject this as a sign of too much power in one unelected office. In May 2011, 44 Republican senators penned a letter to President Obama vowing to filibuster any nominee to head the agency unless the CFPB was reformed to mirror other bank regulators. They held true to their word, blocking Richard Cordray's nomination as CFPB director until President Obama used a recess appointment to put Cordray in charge this past January. Few have been as resistant as Alabama Senator Richard...

The GOP's Platform Heels

(Flickr/PBS Newshour)
(Flickr/Courtesy of PBS NewsHour) The 2008 Republican National convention Oh, what excitement we’re having for a slow August! (One of my editors, frustrated that no one would return his calls, once called these two weeks “the dead of summer.”) First we learned that Representative Todd Akin believes women have magical powers to repel a rapist's sperm from our uteruses—and the underlying ideas that, as Lindsay Beyerstein yesterday delineated so crisply, "forcible rape is the only real rape" and "women habitually lie about rape," which she notes are two sides of the same coin. Then we learned that the draft Republican Party platform will continue to insist that women should never be permitted—under any circumstances, even rape, even childhood sexual violation, or even if the pregnancy endangers their lives—to refuse to host the comma-sized embryo lodged inside them. What exactly might a world with such laws look like? Consider what happened to a pregnant teenager in the Dominican...

Playing Defense on the Sequestration Battle

As January 1 draws near, expect doomsday predictions about big national-security cuts to ramp up. 

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) I f you’ve been following the news, chances are you have heard of “sequestration” by now. Everyone in national security—from the Pentagon to Congress to industry to the think tanks—seems to agree that the spending cuts would be a menace that deserves to be squelched. But is it? Sequestration is an automatic spending cut inserted into the Budget Control Act of 2011. The cuts were designed to light a fire under the Supercommittee to agree on specific cuts, because failure would mean a blanket slashing of many areas of the federal budget, gutting both parties’ spending priorities. The Supercommittee didn’t accomplish its given task and the cuts remain, so we might theoretically see the first chunks of the $1.2 trillion in cuts (over ten years)—including $55 billion per year in reduced defense spending—take effect in January. Unless the national security establishment stops it first, that is. At about $676 billion (in FY2012), U.S. defense spending accounts for...

Cordray Goes to Congress

House Republicans can’t stop fuming about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Job creators, job creators, job creators. That's all you hear from Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans these days. For the most part, Republicans trot out the job creator (a figure spoken about with great veneration, but in fact a term coined and crowd-tested by GOP talking-point guru Frank Luntz) whenever large discussions on government spending or tax cuts come into play. But a quiet little hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill showed that this veneration trickles down to the most minute details of policymaking. The House Small Business Committee had summoned Richard Cordray, director of the upstart Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) , to testify on a series of regulations the agency proposed to drastically simplify the forms you see before you close a deal on a mortgage. Theoretically, the hearing was a chance for the representatives to scrutinize these regulations and propose subtle (or not-so-subtle) tweaks if things weren't working. But the types of changes...

Ted Cruz's Deceptive Triumph

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Just about every national pundit has the same take on Ted Cruz's victory in Texas's Senate primary: Another Tea Party triumph! It's just like Florida in 2010, where "moderate" Governor Charlie Crist lost to insurgent Marco Rubio, or Indiana earlier this year, where "moderate" Senator Richard Lugar was dethroned by Tea Partier Richard Mourdock. The establishment loses again, and the new wave of the GOP continues its takeover of the party. On the surface, it sounds convincing. In the runoff for the U.S. Senate nomination, Cruz, running as a hard-core conservative, did upset David Dewhurst, who's been lieutenant governor—an unusually powerful position in Texas—for almost a decade. At the Washington Examiner , Conn Carroll summed up the almost-universal spin on the result: "Following the big-government excess of the Bush years, the Republican party was in desperate need of change," he writes. "The Tea Party has helped deliver it, and a victory in Bush’s home state would go a long way to...

Will Lobby for Food

The farm bill is set to expire, which is bad news for anyone who eats.

Flickr/cordery
Something happened today that, chances are, you know little about yet care about very deeply. It helps pay for the lovely farmers market you frequent every weekend. It’s behind all those corn-syrupy soft drinks you’ve been taught to avoid. It’s the reason you started hiking to that one artisanal shop for grass-fed beef after you read The Omnivore’s Dilemma . It helps feed America’s hungry, because it authorizes the federal food-stamp program, which feeds 46 million people. It’s the farm bill, usually the concern of only the corn, wheat, cotton, peanut, and soy-bean lobby, but it really should be called the food bill, and it has to be reauthorized every five years. The House Agriculture Committee debated and passed the reauthorization of the law this morning—and it includes $16 billion in cuts to food stamps and an amendment that will kill a program designed to help small chicken farmers. Now, the bill will likely die. Most observers don’t expect House Majority Leader John Boehner to...

Not the Issue?

If you don't think Republicans are monomaniacs, may I suggest watching Mitch McConnell's performance on Fox News Sunday. Three times host Chris Wallace asked McConnell what would become of the 30 million Americans who'd be able to obtain health coverage under the Obama administration's newly upheld health-care law if the Republicans repealed the law, and three times McConnell said that such temporal concerns were beside the point. The third time Wallace asked about the 30 million Americans, McConnell responded, "That is not the issue. The question is how you can go step by step to improve the American health-care system." An incredulous Wallace followed up with, "You don't think 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue?" To which McConnell responded, "Let me tell you what we're not going to do. We're not going to turn the American health-care system into a Western European system." Ideology—maybe it's closer to theology—trumps reality. Thirty thousand, thirty million, thirty...

Mitt Romney Pretends Congress Doesn't Exist

Trust me, this'll be easy. (Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
Mitt Romney went before a group of Latino public officials today to offer some remarks on immigration. Calling it a "plan" would be too generous, although there were a couple of details, some of them perfectly reasonable, like giving green cards to people who get an advanced degree at an American university. But the part everyone has been waiting for—his reaction to President Obama's recently-announced mini-DREAM Act—was pretty disappointing, because it engaged in a kind of magical thinking that has become increasingly untenable: Some people have asked if I will let stand the President's executive action. The answer is that I will put in place my own long-term solution that will replace and supersede the President's temporary measure. As President, I won't settle for a stop-gap measure. I will work with Republicans and Democrats to find a long-term solution. I will prioritize measures that strengthen legal immigration and make it easier. And I will address the problem of illegal...

Tough Choices

Over at the New York Times , Ross Douthat has a mostly excellent take on the Wisconsin recall and what it means for American politics. The short story is that economic distress will result in a zero-sum politics, where both sides vie for the greatest gains while doing as much as possible to block their opponents. He exaggerates the extent to which this is true on the Democratic side—Democrats haven’t pushed laws to keep Republicans from voting, nor have they used legislation to attack core GOP constituencies—but the point is well taken. Politics has become hyper-partisan and totalistic, and while Douthat doesn’t say it, you can trace this to the Republican Party’s utter disregard for institutional norms (see: the filibuster ). The problem with Douthat’s argument comes at the end, where—in a bold bit of projection—he praises Republican innovation and accuses the Democratic Party of policy nihilism: The House Republicans have spent the past two years taking tough votes on entitlement...

Filibuster Reform Lies in the Voters

(Flickr / Cle0patra)
In 1906, journalist David Graham Phillips scored a best-seller with his book The Treason of the Senate . “The Senate is the eager, resourceful, indefatigable agent of interests as hostile to the American people as any invading army could be,” Phillips wrote. There’s a good case that the “millionaire’s club” of 1906 was Audie Murphy compared to today’s Senate. The case against the Senate—and in particular against the misuse of the filibuster to paralyze the federal government—is brilliantly laid out in the Complaint filed last month by Common Cause in the federal District Court for the District of Columbia (It’s good: download it and read it now ). The complaint is a great service to public education. But the remedy Common Cause is seeking—judicial invalidation of part of Senate Rule XXII—is not only beyond the authority of the courts, but would, if granted, create a precedent worse than the disease it attacks. The Constitution gives each House the power to set its own rules, with no...

A Gun to the Debt-Ceiling Fight

(Flickr/zieak)
If Barack Obama turns out to be a one-term president, historians may mark the summer of 2011 as the moment his failure became inevitable. At that point, the new right-wing Republican House majority declared the national debt hostage and demanded Obama’s surrender to them on all points of domestic policy. When the debt-ceiling statute required authorization of a new federal borrowing limit, they refused to vote on the measure without massive cuts in federal spending and no increase in federal revenue. The crisis was averted by the appointment of an idiotic congressional “supercommittee” that was supposed to identify future cuts, matched with a set of “automatic” cuts that were to take effect if the “supercommittee” failed to come up with a compromise aimed at reducing federal debt. Not surprisingly, the “supercommittee”—perhaps better known as the “Clark Kent committee”—was unable to produce a compromise. The debt showdown, which paralyzed Washington for much of spring and early summer...

Cruz-in' for a Fight in Texas

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Ted Cruz, who managed to force a run-off election with current Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, deserved his victory party Tuesday night. He had a strong showing despite being outspent by a considerable margin by his rival. Towards the end, Cruz benefitted from national attention as Sarah Palin and Tea Party groups pushed his candidacy. Support from the Club for Growth and Senator Jim DeMint also helped. With Dewhurst netting 45 percent to Cruz's 34, the two men will now face each other again at the end of July. For the Cruz team, the late primary is a good thing; summer in Texas tends to bring out right-wing voters while Moderates, it's assumed, leave the state for cooler climates. Cruz has a clear shot if he can get a few breaks—the run-off gives his campaign clear momentum and he'll likely be able to raise more money in these next few weeks. Dewhurst still has the advantage, however. Despite Cruz's Tea Party lustre, Dewhurst has been a loyal Rick Perry soldier for quite...

27th Amendment or Bust

How the newest amendment to the Constitution was ratified, and why it's so hard to change the law of the land. 

(Flickr/The COM Library)
One afternoon in March 1982, an undergraduate student at the University of Texas named Gregory Watson was poking through the stacks of the Austin Central Library, researching a term paper he was going to write on the Equal Rights Amendment. He happened upon a book published by the Government Printing Office that included a copy of the Constitution, as well as several amendments that had been passed by Congress but not yet ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states. One such amendment limiting Congress' ability to give itself a raise caught his attention. Over the following ten years, it would become Watson's obsession, his life, and ultimately—20 years ago this month—the 27th and most recent Amendment to the United States Constitution. While the story of its enactment is an encouraging testament to the individual citizen’s power to enact change, the amendment's legality remains a gray area for legal scholars and it sets a troubling precedent for other amendments to be...

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