Congress

Rip It Up and Start Again

Democrats were fed up at the start of the year. They had held 59 seats in the Senate for most of the previous two years, their largest majority since the 1970s. But that near-supermajority wasn't enough to overcome a Republican fillibuster. A 60-vote hurdle became a common deathtrap for every Democratic bill or Obama nomination confirmation, leaving the executive branch understaffed and the federal bench depleted. It looked like Democrats had finally had enough and developed the backbone to fight back when the Senate reconvened in January. There was talk of rewriting Senate rules to end the filibuster. Republicans would have moaned about how Democrats were breaking with all sorts of historical norms, but ending the filibuster falls well within constitutional limits; no previous body can dictate the procedural rules for a future Congress. It never reached that point, though, because Republicans—no longer concerned with progressive legislation originating in Speaker Nancy Pelosi's House...

Elizabeth Warren: Bailout Queen

Karl Rove’s latest ad has to set an all-time record for hypocrisy and factual inversion. The ad actually manages to blame Elizabeth Warren for the bank bailouts. As anyone who hasn’t spent the past three years in a cave must know, Warren has been the nation’s single most effective, relentless, and brave critic of the bailouts. It was that service as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that made her one of America’s most admired public leaders. The ad slyly begins with Warren speaking, leading the viewer to imagine that this is a Warren ad. Warren says, “The first thing I’m going to promise is that I’m going to be a voice in the room on behalf of middle-class families.” Then a sneering female voiceover cuts in, and asks, “Really? Congress had Warren oversee how your tax dollars were spent bailing out the same banks that caused the financial meltdown, bailouts that helped pay big bonuses to bank executives while the middle class lost out.” The ad concludes, “Tell Professor Warren...

The Fanatics of the Center

Moderation has its zealots, so convinced of their righteousness that they ignore the likely impact of their actions.

Thomas Friedman via Center for American Progress
T he political center has an undeserved reputation as the home of the most dispassionate and reasonable people. According to a strain of thought that stretches back to the 18th century, parties endanger democracy; partisans see only their side of the truth, pursue their own narrow interests, and aggravate tensions and conflict. The rational course supposedly lies in the middle, where champions of civic virtue counsel compromise and invite us to put the public good first. The anti-partisan story is a seductive myth, and a dangerous one. Those who represent themselves as standing in the center have their own partialities. Many people who call themselves nonpartisan or independent actually lean left or right but for one reason or another resist coming out of the closet as Democrats or Republicans. Some people who tell pollsters that they’re independents don’t follow politics closely or care about it enough to risk taking sides. They’re hardly model citizens. Besides this muddled middle,...

Where Are Gingrich's Enemies?

For many members of Congress, it must seem truly strange to observe the current Newt Gingrich boomlet. This is, after all, the same Gingrich who was run out of Washington 13 years ago after his party suffered a rare midterm loss that left Republicans barely hanging on to control of the House. Gingrich not only stepped aside as speaker but resigned his congressional seat. He left the chamber with his tail between his legs and did not exactly endear himself to his fellow members on the way out, calling the other congressional Republicans "hateful" and "cannibals" who blackmailed him out of office during a conference call announcing his departure. With his bombastic style, Gingrich was well set for a life of public speaking and book career far away from any other elected office. That was the mind-set of the political class when Gingrich entered the presidential field earlier this year (especially after his entire staff fled his campaign over the summer), and yet now Gingrich has—at least...

GOP vs. Job Creators

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll—that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job creators by proposing to off set the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small businesses...

Madisonianism or Opportunism?

Matt Dickinson’s blog Presidential Power over the weekend updated us on an important legislative development (hard though it is to believe there could be a legislative development at present): the Senate’s odd bipartisan effort to require that all terrorism suspects be detained by the military and tried, if at all, by military tribunals rather than the civilian courts. As Matt notes, this would be true even if the suspect was an American suspect, captured on American soil. President Obama has threatened a veto. A New York Times editorial urged that he do just that about a month ago, on the grounds that it was a bad idea, but also that Congress was committing “an outrageous usurpation of executive authority.” Two quick thoughts. One, for nearly a decade – and as recently as the NATO intervention in Libya (though an “all’s well that ends well” attitude towards that adventure seems to have kicked in) – the left’s accusation has been that the president was usurping legislative authority...

GOP vs. Job Creators

Republican opposition to extending the payroll tax misses the point.

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll – that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job-creators by proposing to offset the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small...

Queering Congress

(AP Photo/Russel A. Daniels) Tammy Baldwin, center, and Jared Polis, right, both openly gay members of Congress, answer questions from Jonathan Capehart, left, at the International Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference in San Francisco, Saturday, December 5, 2009. Both spoke optimistically about key legislative agenda items sought by LGBT advocates. W hen California teacher Mark Takano ran for Congress 15 years ago, he lost to Republican challenger Ken Calvert by a scant 519 votes. Two years later, things looked more promising. Police had caught Calvert with a prostitute; Takano should have easily clinched a win. But just three months before the election, Ray Haynes—a Calvert supporter in the state assembly—outed Takano as gay. "I said quite clearly I personally don't want a homosexual representing me in Congress," Haynes said at the time. Takano's opponents sent a late mailer, which asked voters in pink letters to consider whether Takano should be "A Congressman for Riverside … or...

Republicans Deep-Six the NLRB

Doing filibustering Senate Republicans one better, the one Republican member on the (currently) three-member National Labor Relations Board appears to have decided to bring the board to a screeching halt by refusing to vote and thus denying it a quorum. In a letter made public yesterday, Republican Brian Hayes wrote fellow GOP-er John Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, that he might well not participate in the Board’s scheduled November 30 vote on changing the rules for union certification elections. The proposed rule change essentially would shorten the period between the time that workers file for a union-representation election and the election itself from the current time period, which is as long as management can delay a vote (sometimes, for years) to roughly three or four weeks. In his letter, Kline complained that he was not privy to some of the deliberations of the board (that is, of the two Democratic members) and thus might fail to show up for...

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...

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