Congress

Yes We Can ... Watch Something Else

Obama gave his 2012 State of the Union address last night, and all the eyes in the media and political world were tuned in. During the address, 766,681 SOTU-centric tweets were fired off , with 548 coming from inside the chamber. Despite the frenzy that takes over news rooms and congressional offices, the rest of the nation was more likely watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Wizards of Waverly Place . Ever since cable started competing with the networks for the hearts of the American public, ratings for primetime presidential addresses have plummeted, as shown by research conducted by Matthew A. Baum and Samuel Kernel of Harvard and the University of California, San Diego, respectively. Richard Nixon—not known for the most stirring rhetoric outside of defending questionable pet gifts—had 59 percent of households with televisions watch a routine press conference he gave in 1969. In 2010, Obama only had 41 percent of households watch him give the most important presidential...

Vermonters United

Sarah Harris Vermonters protest Citizen United outside the statehouse in Montpelier. “Hi. I’m Jerry. I’m a person,” said Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, as he introduced himself to the crowd with an ingratiating smile. “Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice cream: not a person.” Everybody chuckled. A crowd at the Montpelier statehouse in Vermont rang in the second anniversary of Citizens United , a 2010 Supreme Court decision recognizing that corporations have free-speech rights under the First Amendment, with a rally on Friday. Retirees and college students, elected representatives, advocacy and business leaders, and ice-cream titan Greenfield gathered to call for a constitutional amendment repealing Citizens United and abolishing corporate personhood. The gathering was part of a series of events around the nation put on by groups like Public Citizen , Move to Amend , USPIRG , and others that are opposed to Citizens United . But the Montpelier rally had its...

Tweet Revenge

Hackers take over Senator Chuck Grassley’s Twitter feed to protest his support of SOPA.

Slideshow Tweet Revenge Slideshow . Hackers claiming to be affiliated with the computer-hacker group Anonymous spiced up the news cycle Monday afternoon when they took over Senator Chuck Grassley’s Twitter feed to show their disapproval for the Iowa Republican’s support of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA)—and for his failure to use proper grammar in tweets. The circus began at 1:28 p.m. Eastern Standard Time with this tweet: “Dear Iowans, vote against ACTA, SOPA, and PIPA, because this man, Chuck Grassley, wants YOUR internet censored and all of that BS.” By the time “#WINNING” was tweeted four minutes and six tweets later, the Internet had caught on. HuffPostHill tweeted : “Why is #GrassleyHack taking so long to remedy? Did Grassley name Eeyore his social media director and not tell anyone?” Pourmecoffee tweeted : “Please return control to the Senator. I rely on this account for [University of Northern Iowa] volleyball scores and town...

The End of the Internet?

As Wikipedia and Google protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a rival bill offers a middle road to protecting copyrights.

Nancy Scola/yfrog
Google Google featured a censored doodle in protest of proposed SOPA legislation Wednesday. After President Barack Obama released a statement over the weekend that he would not sign any bill resembling the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Representative Darrell Issa postponed Wednesday’s hearing on the proposed law. News as of today is that SOPA is DOA. Since December, prominent tech figures and digital activists, including luminaries like Sergey Brin of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, have characterized the bill as a draconian measure that would chill online innovation. A number of popular websites like GoDaddy, Reddit, and Wikipedia have threatened to black out service for a day to boycott the law, and Craigslist, in its rudimentary script, has a running message on its site protesting the measure. New legislation introduced by Issa and Senator Ron Wyden called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) looks to avoid a number of the problems with SOPA that...

No More Mr. Nice Obama

With key recess appointments, the president shows he's through being held hostage by intransigent Republicans.

There’s a common and compelling logic to President Obama’s recess appointments today of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board and of three appointees to the National Labor Relations Board. In the case of both boards, the appointments were necessary if the boards were to function at al—the very reason that Senate Republicans had made clear their determination to appoint nobody at all to the two boards. In December, Republicans filibustered Cordray’s nomination, stating clearly that they had nothing in particular against Cordray but were opposed to the existence of the board itself, which had come into being as part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act passed by Congress in 2010. Lacking the votes to repeal the act, Republicans chose instead to kill the board by refusing to confirm a director, without which the board could not fully, or even substantially, function. At the NLRB, the expiration of board member Craig Becker’s term at the end of December left...

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...

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