Congress

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...

Texas GOP Holds Hispanics in Check

(Flickr/jmtimages)
Last week Scott offered a great defense of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that Section Five—a clause that requires southern states to receive preclearance before changing any voting procedures—is a necessary correction to the limits of the Fifteenth Amendment. That provision was recently overturned by the D.C. Circuit, setting up a hearing in the Supreme Court that could possibly strike down the landmark civil rights legislation. Given the recent conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, some legal experts are predicting that the circuit court's decision will be upheld, with the majority arguing that the act was crafted during circumstances no longer relevant to the political climate. The recent spate of voter suppression laws tell another story and are often trotted out by liberals as the best evidence to highlight the continued need for Section Five. However today's primaries in Texas also offer a good test case for why the Voting Rights Act needs to be strengthened rather than...

The Continuing Importance of the Voting Rights Act

In her excellent piece about the Republican Party's systematic vote suppression efforts, Dahlia Lithwick details the various strategies: Whether it’s onerous (and expensive ) voter ID rules that will render as many as 10 percent of Americans ineligible to vote, proof of citizenship measures, restricting registration drives, cancellation of Sunday voting , or claims that voting should be a privilege as opposed to a right , efforts to discount and discredit the vote have grown bolder in recent years, despite vanishingly rare claims of actual vote fraud. The central issue here is the claim that "voting should be a privilege as opposed to a right." What's worse is that this isn't just a modern Republican creation but a flaw deeply embedded within American constitutionalism. Ratified in 1870 with support for Reconstruction already waning, the Fifteenth Amendment stated that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any...

Tie Goes to the President

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The basic odds make it fairly unlikely that the Democrats will maintain their Senate majority. They only hold a narrow 53-47 edge after the 2010 midterms, and the party must defend 23 seats in 2012, compared to just ten for Republicans. Their troubles only increased when moderate Democrats hailing from conservative states—Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad as the most notable—decided that now was the time to retire, all but ceding their spots to the GOP. Every scenario looked doom and gloom for their chances. But then Republicans decided to sabotage those odds. First Olympia Snowe announced her retirement, after growing tired of her party's partisan rancor. Her seat is expected to go to the independent—but Democratic friendly—candidate Angus King. Last week, Indiana Republicans booted out longtime Senator Dick Lugar in favor of a Tea Party challenger, while Nebraskans selected the right wing candidate in their primary earlier this week. Polling maestro Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight is out...

Supporters of Marriage Equality Need to Quit Whining

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You know how I felt about President Obama declaring himself in favor of same-sex marriage. I was gobsmacked . It’s politically risky . It’s symbolically powerful , in ways that Melinda Hennenberger noted sharply at the Washington Post . It pushed Senator Harry Reid, the next-highest-profile Democratic laggard on the issue, to support marriage equality, making full marriage rights pretty much the official platform of the entire Democratic Party. So I've been surprised by the number of people declaring that the announcement was too little, too late. Maybe, yes, it would have been better for him to have made his declaration a few days before, when his opinion might have influenced the appalling vote in North Carolina, which on Tuesday joined all the rest of the former Confederate states—and, actually, most of the country —in writing its opposition to marriage equality into its constitution . Okay, it's worse than that: The North Carolina law bans any recognition of same-sex partners or...

Today in False Equivalence

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The 111th Congress was practically defined by Republicans who turned an extraordinary measure–the filibuster–into a routine tool of obstruction. GOP senators invoked holds and filibusters on virtually everything that came from Senate Democrats, resulting in a session that saw more filibusters than any previous session in history. This nifty graph is illustrative: Democrats aren’t blameless, but their use of the filibuster pales in comparison to Republican abuse, which made 60 votes a de facto requirement for the passage of any legislation. This is obvious to anyone who looks at the last two years of congressional action—Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, for example, have been excoriating Republicans for filibuster abuse for the past four years. Regardless, false equivalence continues to reign in congressional coverage. Here’s Politico ’s Manu Raju, who seems to have missed 2006 to 2010: It takes 60 votes — and time-consuming cloture motions — to overcome a filibuster, a tool that has...

Bring On Less Democracy

(Flickr / afagen)
Is anybody else as depressed as I am about the next four years? No matter who wins, we face the prospect of bitterly divided government, savage partisanship in Congress, and increasing executive desperation. Even if Republicans win the Senate and retain the House, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; even if Obama holds on to the White House, he will face filibusters in the Senate and outright defiance in the House. A Congress that cannot deal with the tiny student-debt problem in orderly fashion is unlikely to be able to tackle big problems at all. The response to legislative paralysis is, of course, executive aggrandizement. Charlie Savage of The New York Times laid out recently the turn by the Obama administration to executive authority as its means of governing the country. It’s entirely predictable; legislative fecklessness has led to presidential power-grabbing for more than a century. And if Mitt Romney becomes president, he is already poised to follow...

Lugar Sounds the Alarm against GOP Extremism

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There's been a lot of talk about how veteran Senator Dick Lugar could have salvaged his campaign . The Indiana Republican was soundly defeated by nearly 20 points yesterday in primary race against a Tea Party-backed challenger. He lost amid criticisms that he's too close to Obama and not dogmatic enough for the GOP. Many of those criticisms came from outside groups, including Grover Norquist's Club for Growth and Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, which poured money into the effort to defeat the well-liked senator. In the end, Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock won the primary—and in response, Dick Lugar sounded a call of alarm for Republicans about the fate of the party. Lugar noted his own Republican bona fides , including that he'd voted with Reagan more than any other senator. Then he went after Mourdock, the Tea Party, and the general intractability that's taken hold of his party: If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated...

Non-Partisans Finally Agree With What Partisans Have Been Saying

Flickr/K P Tripathi
The most talked-about op-ed over the weekend was "Let's Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem," a piece in The Washington Post by DC eminence grises Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. They're both not only deeply respected but known as non-partisan Congress-watchers (Ornstein even works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute), which is why the piece will get more attention. But should that matter? Either they're right or they're wrong, and the fact that they are who they are ought not make any difference. And if you look at their argument, it's nothing that you couldn't have found in magazines like The Prospect and a hundred other places many times over the past two years. I feel like I've written versions of Mann and Ornstein's piece a dozen times myself (see here , or here, or here ). Mann and Ornstein's reputations do make it harder for Republicans to dismiss them as just liberal partisans, but that doesn't mean they're going to have some kind of seriously difficult...

Romney vs. Congressional Republicans

(Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
President Obama was prepared to spend his week contrasting himself with Republicans on students loans, but Mitt Romney deflated that argument yesterday afternoon. The 2007 College Cost Reduction and Access Act lowered the interest rates from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent for federal student loans, but comes with an expiration date: this July. A one-year extension would cost just $6 billion dollars, but would benefit over 7 million young people with student loans. The Obama campaign has highlighted the lack of action from congressional Republicans on the issue, and the president will speak at three college campuses today and tomorrow. He can’t use this against Romney, though, after the presumptive Republican nominee came out in support of the extension yesterday. Romney’s pivot to the center doesn’t mean the issue is settled. This marks the first point of disagreement between Romney and his party since he cleared the primary competition. How congressional Republicans respond over the...

President Romney and the Republican Congress

The Congressional Tea Party Caucus. In the rear, Rep. Louie Gohmert appears to be about to swallow a small child whole.
As we've discussed here many times, there a number of factors that make it more likely than not that Barack Obama will win re-election in November. But it's also quite possible that Obama will lose, and Mitt Romney will become president in January. If Romney does win, chances are that he'll come into office with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress. That's because whatever conditions produce a Republican win at the top will also probably allow Republicans to hold on to the House and take the Senate. It's even possible that Obama could win and Republicans wind up with both houses, since Democrats right now hold only a 53-47 lead in the upper chamber, and they are defending 23 seats in this year's election, while Republicans are defending only ten. There's an outside chance that a big Obama win could allow Democrats to hold the Senate and take back the house, but for now let's focus on the possibility of a Romney win, which will probably leave him with the benefit of total...

They're Just Not That into Romney

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Yeeesh, what does Mitt Romney have to do to drum up a bit of enthusiasm from his party? Sure, he's got to be feeling pretty content as each day brings another Republican casting aside the somehow-still-going campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul to accept the inevitable proposition that Romney will be the party's nominee. Yet few can seem to offer an explanation for why they like Romney beyond the fact that they’re stuck with him. Shortly after I noted John Boehner’s lackluster endorsement yesterday, reporters asked Mitch McConnell for his take on Romney and were given the same nod-and-sigh routine : “Yeah, I support Governor Romney for president of the United States,” Mr. McConnell said. “And he is going to be the nominee. And as you have noticed, the party is in the process of unifying behind him. And I think it’s going to be an incredibly close, hard-fought race. Everybody is banding — bandying polls around, but just look at the Gallup tracking poll yesterday actually had...

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