Congress

Total Eclipse of the Fetal Heart

AP Images/Rogelio V. Solis

By the end of July, it was clear opponents of abortion were going to have a banner year. In the first half of 2013, state legislatures across the country enacted dozens of restrictions on abortion clinics that will slim their hours or shutter them completely. States like Wisconsin and Indiana added requirements like ultrasounds and waiting periods for women seeking the procedure. After a high-profile debate, Texas passed a law that bars abortion after 20 weeks, bringing the total number of states with similar bans to 11.

The show’s far from over. Earlier this month, at a press conference that featured the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame, two Ohio state legislators announced they were restarting the fight for one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. House Bill 248, generally known as the “Fetal-Heartbeat Bill,” was introduced on August 22 in the House Committee on Health and Aging, chaired by the bill’s co-sponsor, state representative Lynn Wachtmann.

Brian Sims Wants to Fix Pennsylvania

AP Photo

Since he beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in the race to represent Philadelphia’s Center City, Brian Sims has made a name for himself as a strong supporter of LGBT rights. As one of the first openly gay representatives in the state—shortly after he was elected to office, Republican Mike Fleck also came out—he has introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage as well as an employment nondiscrimination bill protecting LGBT workers in the state. But Sims is also a strong progressive across the board: He’s voted against privatizing the state’s liquor industry, which he says would kill “good union jobs”; spoken against Republican efforts to restrict access to abortion; and fiercely criticized current Governor Tom Corbett’s massive cuts to education spending.

He most recently made headlines after a scuffle on the Pennsylvania state House floor in which he was blocked from speaking about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, which a Republican colleague said would violate “God’s law.” The Prospect recently sat down with Sims to talk about where things are headed in Pennsylvania.

All the Pretty Little Districts

Why you need to stop whining about gerrymandering

flickr/Andy Proehl

Of all the good-government obsessions that keep people focused on process instead of substance, one of the very worst—and I know that lots of you reading this share it—is over the “unfairness” of how congressional district lines are drawn. Within that overrated problem, there’s nothing worse than the obsession with pretty and ugly districts. Really: let it go. If you care about politics and public policy, find something else to worry about.

Who Cares What the Framers Thought about the Filibuster?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Even the most indefensible elements of the status quo will always have their passionate defenders. The filibuster as currently practiced in the U.S. Senate has become particularly indefensible, and one of its staunchest defenders is Richard A. Arenberg, author of Defending the Filibuster. Arenberg has an op-ed in Politico summarizing his defense, which fails to convince.

I do agree with Arenberg on one point—the filibuster is constitutional. The Constitution does give the Senate the authority to set its own rules, and the filibuster violates no provision of the Constitution. Since I'm not a Republican nominee on the current Supreme Court, that settles the question for me however little I like the outcome. The Constitution gives the Senate the authority permit the filibuster if a majority chooses to do so. Whether the Senate has exercised its authority wisely is another matter, however, and in this case it simply hasn't.

The Road Forward on Immigration Reform

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

It was like watching the Grinch's heart grow three sizes on Christmas. Representative Bob Goodlatte was talking about giving citizenship to "Dreamers," young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. "These children came here through no fault of their own and many of them know no other home than the United States," the Virginia Republican said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing shortly before August recess. It was a sharp about-face: Three weeks earlier, Goodlatte and other Republicans on the committee had voted to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Obama administration’s initiative to stop the steady deportation of Dreamers. Now he and his colleagues were talking about making these youngsters, people who had known no country but the United States, citizens.

Mortgage Reform: Watch Your Fannie

AP Images/ Manuel Balce Ceneta

Speaking in Phoenix on Tuesday, President Obama associated himself with a bipartisan proposal to slowly get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac out of the business of backing mortgages. According to the plan, formulated in the Senate, a new federal agency called the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation would backstop banks and other private investors against catastrophic mortgage losses, but only after they had run though their own substantial capital first.

Majority Power Play

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

The Senate deal on executive-branch nominations is holding: Not only did the Senate confirm each of the seven nominees for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that it agreed to during a showdown over the filibuster in mid-July, last Wednesday it even confirmed a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—the first time the Senate has appointed a director to the agency in seven years.

Charles Krauthammer Is Making Sense! Almost.

If you asked a hundred conservatives which opinion columnist they most admire, I'm pretty sure Charles Krauthammer would come out on top. Unlike, say, George Will, Krauthammer is free of even passing heresies against conservative dogma. Unlike, say, Cal Thomas, Krauthammer doesn't paint conservative culture warring in explicitly religious terms, allowing everyone to join in the smiting of sinners. And, they'll tell you over and over again, he's brilliant!

I can't say I've ever seen it that way—Krauthammer may not be a numbskull or anything, but I've never read anything he's written and said, "Wow, that's a really smart argument—I'm not sure how I'd counter it." And if you've seen him on television, you know that he's a particularly grim figure, usually looking like he's vaguely bored with whatever he's talking about and displeased with the fact that he has to be wherever he is. His columns, furthermore, are often driven by a particularly venomous attitude toward Democratic politicians and liberals in general that may be cheered by his ideological compatriots but is hard to get past for anyone else.

So it was with some surprise when this morning I read him offer Republicans some advice that I found not only practically wise but on target analytically as well.

The Rise and Fall of a "Scandal"

He never quite got what he wanted. (Flickr/stanfordcis)

Remember the IRS scandal? Haven't heard much about it lately, have you? Yet for a while, it was big, big news, and so often happens, the initial blockbuster allegations were everywhere, penetrating down to even the least attentive citizen, while the full story, which turned out to be rather less dramatic, got kind of buried. News organizations aren't in the habit of shouting, "BREAKING: That Thing We Said Was Huge Last Week? Eh, Not So Much."

Brendan Nyhan has looked at how this "scandal attention cycle" played out with the IRS and turned it into some charts:

It's Hard Out There for a Minority Leader

To many people, a poll released today by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling probably came as a surprise. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader in the Senate, is shown trailing his challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, by a point. But he's a Republican in a conservative state, and one of the leaders of the Republican party. How could he be in danger of losing?

Not Much, But Better than Nothing

President Obama yesterday in Chattanooga with Amazon workers. (White House photo/Chuck Kennedy)

President Obama offered a "grand bargain" yesterday, and although it wasn't particularly grand, it was a bargain: Republicans would get a lowering of the corporate income tax rate, something they've wanted for a long time, and Democrats would get some new investments in infrastructure, job training, and education. Inevitably, Republicans rejected it out of hand. "It's just a further-left version of a widely panned plan he already proposed two years ago, this time with extra goodies for tax-and-spend liberals," said Mitch McConnell. At this point, Obama could offer to close the E.P.A., eliminate all inheritance taxes, and rename our nation's capital "Reagan, D.C." if Republicans would also agree to give one poor child a sandwich, and they'd say no, because that would be too much big government.

Just as inevitably, in-the-know politicos are wondering, why does he bother with this stuff if he knows what the result will be? Didn't we get enough of this I'm-the-reasonable-one-here-even-if-it-doesn't-produce-anything posturing in his first term? What's the point?

That's not an unreasonable question to ask. But the better question is: As opposed to what?

Pray the Atheists Away

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Earlier this week, two Democratic representatives felt the sting of the old adage, “no good deed goes unpunished.” Earlier this summer, Colorado representative Jared Polis and New Jersey representative Robert Andrews tried to push through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act—a large defense budget bill—that would allow the Department of Defense to add nonreligious chaplains to the ranks of the military. Not only did the amendment fail, its opponents were so incensed that they introduced their own amendment, requiring any chaplain appointed to the military to be sponsored by an “endorsing agency,” all of which are religious. The new measure passed resoundingly, 253 to 173.

Run, Women, Run!

Rebecca D’Angelo

Susannah Shakow's first impression of Tristana Giunta was that the high school junior was awkward. "Like couldn’t look you in the eye kind of awkward," Shakow says. Giunta was attending the first Young Women's Political Leadership conference—the flagship program offered by Running Start, the organization that Shakow, a lawyer with experience pushing women into politics, started in 2007 to get girls excited about governing; excited enough to run for office.

Congress Tells NSA to Keep Up the Good Work

National Security Agency headquarters.

What with the important news of a baby being born in England and the further adventures of Anthony Weiner's penis dominating our attention, you probably didn't notice the failure yesterday of an amendment in the House to end the NSA's program collecting phone records on you, your neighbors, and every other American. Keep in mind that, as Sen. Ron Wyden has intimated, there are almost certainly other NSA surveillance programs that we would also be shocked to hear about, but remain secret.

That this amendment, sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Amash, got a vote at all is somewhat surprising, but from all appearances, Speaker John Boehner saw it as a way to allow the more libertarian members of his caucus to let off some steam and take a stand against government surveillance. It may not have ever had much of a chance of passing both the House and Senate, but the Obama administration pushed for a no vote and General Keith Alexander himself went to Capitol Hill to lobby against it, and in the end it went down by a vote of 217-205

Rhode Island’s Small Victory

AP Photo/Susan E. Bouchard, File

When Governor Lincoln Chaffee signed the Temporary Care Giver’s Insurance law last week, Rhode Island became the third state—along with California and New Jersey—to grant paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new baby.

Rhode Island’s law, which goes into effect in 2014, will not only provide most workers with up to four weeks off with about two-thirds of their salaries (up to $752 a week), it will protect employees from being fired and losing their health insurance while they’re out.

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