Congress

Leave Boehner Alone!

He's a very sensitive guy. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
The government shutdown is a crisis with its roots in both policy differences and disagreements about what means are appropriate to settle those policy differences. But it's also a conflict of individual people and personalities. Not that this should be news to anyone, but the key players involved—President Obama and the four congressional leaders, but most particularly Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid—really, really don't like each other. Nothing too surprising there, but I'm beginning to wonder whether Democrats are helping things by the way they're talking about Boehner. Ordinarily, this kind of thing might matter only at the margins, but we're in a situation now where personal enmities and bruised egos could play a significant part in how and when this whole thing gets settled. Let's stipulate that Boehner is incredibly weak, even pathetic. Democrats look at him with contempt. It's apparent to all that he knows the shutdown is bad for the...

America's Neediest Families Are About to Run Out of Money

AP Images/Melanie Stetson Freeman
Update: Governor Jan Brewer has ordered state officials to redirect $650,000 in state funds so that families continue to receive welfare benefits. W hen Congress shut down the government, one of the many programs caught up in the fracas was Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 welfare-reform law. Spending on the program is mandatory, and normally wouldn’t be a casualty of an appropriations fight like the one waged now. But the law officially expired three years ago. Instead of taking it up again, Congress has simply extended the last reauthorization with each new spending bill. No spending bill, no welfare program. The biggest way the ’96 reform law changed the program was by turning it into a block grant to states: Whatever the federal government appropriated for programs designed to help poor families, they would send it in chunks to state governments that were fairly free to decide how to spend it. TANF continues to provide cash benefits to some...

Good News About the Debt Ceiling May Mean Bad News About the Shut-Down

John Boehner apparently will let the debt ceiling rise, even if he has to rely on Democratic votes to do it . This is both good news and bad news. It’s good news because we won’t have a global financial panic in two weeks time. Boehner apparently got Wall Street’s message loud and clear: If you make the United States government default on its debts, you take responsibility for a worldwide economic catastrophe. But the flipside of Boehner’s back-off is that there’s less pressure on House Republicans to end the government shut-down. The Tea Party wing of the party, having lost what they believed was the most potent weapon in their arsenal, will likely compensate by seeking to roll the shut-down on—and on, and on. Boehner, having made a concession to reality by not forcing a governmental default, will have to go along with a prolonged shut-down. Unless there are 18 center-right Republican House members willing to threaten bolting the GOP’s ranks if Boehner doesn’t permit a vote on a...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find Out What It Means to the Tea Party

Newly famous Rep. Marlin Stutzman, seen here at left playing dress-up with other members of Congress. (Flicrk/SpeakerBoehner)
I'm always reluctant to make too much of any particular off-the-cuff statement a politician makes, to play that game where people on the other side say, "Aha! You have revealed yourself to the be the scoundrel we always knew you were, and this is the proof!" But sometimes, politicians do say revealing things, particularly in a situation like the one we're in now, where the outcome of a controversy that is already affecting millions of people and could threaten the entire economy is dependent on things like hurt feelings and the desire to feel like you won. So the quote of the day comes from this article in the Washington Examiner , in which a Tea Party congressman sums up nicely the fight over the government shutdown: "We're not going to be disrespected," conservative Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., added. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." And there you have it. The part that's most important isn't that Stutzman doesn't know what they want,...

Obama's Opening Salvo In the War of Words

President Obama making a statement today.
Starting today, Americans are going to learn three things when they watch media coverage about the government shutdown. First, they'll see Republicans say that Obamacare totally sucks and everybody hates it, and also that President Obama is being super-mean by not giving them what they want. Second, they'll learn that their fellow citizens have a pox-on-both-their-houses view on this whole thing, because nothing says "journalism" like going out on the Mall or to the local diner and getting a few quotes from average folk saying, "They're all acting like children!" And third, they'll hear Barack Obama say that with their intransigence, Republicans are hurting regular Americans. And not just regular Americans generally, but actual, specific regular Americans. Many of these Americans will be seen standing patiently behind the President as he tells their stories. That's what he did today in his first post-shutdown statement, which combined a celebration of the opening of the health-care...

This Madness Will Never End

AP Photo/Marcy Nighswander
I wish I could write something optimistic as we begin the government shutdown. I wish I could, but I can't. In fact, this morning I can't help but feel something close to despair. It isn't that this shutdown won't be resolved, because it will. It will be resolved in the only way it can: when John Boehner allows a vote on a "clean CR," a continuing resolution that funds the government without attacking the Affordable Care Act. It could happen in a week or two, whenever the political cost of the shutdown becomes high enough for Boehner to finally find the courage to say no to the Tea Partiers in his caucus. That CR will pass with mostly Democratic votes, and maybe the result will be a revolt against Boehner that leads to him losing the speakership (or maybe not; as some have argued, Boehner's job could be safe simply because no one else could possibly want it). But the reason for my despair isn't about this week or this month. It's the fact that this period in our political history—the...

Budget Roulette: The Uncertain End Game

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
AP Images/Carolyn Kaster This budget crisis, weirdly, has nothing to do with the budget. It is the expression of the Tea Party Republicans’ animus against Obamacare, their general loathing of government, and their willingness to resort to wildly destructive tactics. As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, one of the few heroes in this mess, put it so aptly, “They’ve lost their minds.” A fine irony is that one of the few things that the government shutdown doesn’t affect is the Affordable Care Act, which takes effect today. The Act is a mandate to purchase affordable insurance via hybrid “exchanges,” which are not closed by the failure to approve a budget. In a just world, the extremist Republicans would take the fall. Republicans as conservative as Dana Rohrabacher of California, who came to prominence as an ally of the John Birch Society, and arch conservative Karl Rove, have warned that the Republicans are courting political suicide. “What we’re doing here is shooting ourselves in the...

Why the Tea Partiers Think They'll Win

Their fearless leader. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Way back in the days when bloggers carved their missives out on stone tablets (by which I mean 2005), Digby noted , in response to the nascent trend of conservatives deciding that George W. Bush wasn't a conservative after all, wrote, "Get used to hearing about how the Republicans failed because they weren't true conservatives. Conservatism can never fail. It can only be failed by weak-minded souls who refuse to properly follow its tenets." We've seen that a lot in the years since—the interpretation of every election Republicans lose is that they weren't conservative enough, and if they had just nominated a true believer or run farther to right, victory would have been theirs. There's already a tactical division within the Republican Party about the wisdom of shutting down the government in an attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act. The members who have been around a while understand that no matter what happens, Barack Obama is not going to bend on this one. He won't dismantle his...

John Boehner Has Speaker Tenure for Life—If He Wants It

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Molly Riley D on’t worry about John Boehner. Yes, there seem to be near-constant rumors and suspicions of a revolt against him, and Republican members of the House have been conspiring with Texas senator Ted Cruz. But it’s unlikely to actually cost him his job. He’s probably going to survive and remain as speaker of the House just as long as he wants to. At least, as long as divided government and the Republican House majority last. Over at The New Republic , Noam Scheiber argues that Boehner’s job will “ almost certainly ” be lost if he allows the debt limit to be raised with mostly Democratic votes. That’s probably wrong. To see why, however, we need to step back. See, the reasons that Boehner has seemingly been five minutes from getting ousted throughout his speakership have nothing to do with Boehner; they’re structural. Which means that any possible speaker—Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Michele Bachmann, or Ronald Reagan risen from the dead—would have pretty much...

Republican Palace Intrigue Gets Interesting

A man alone, beset by enemies on all sides. (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Congress is full of factions in both parties. Many of them are ad hoc and temporary—say, two groups that coalesce around differing versions of a bill to do pretty much the same thing. They try to persuade their colleagues, one group wins or loses, and though there may be some hurt feelings, they know they'll be working together again eventually. And of course, there are ideological allies who work with each other more frequently and may come to see some in their own party as opponents or even enemies. But what you don't see too much of is real cloak-and-dagger, House of Cards -style plotting, with clandestine meetings, vicious backstabbing, and high-risk conspiracies. It happens now and again, like the bungled coup that attempted to unseat Newt Gingrich in 1997. But it's the exception, not the rule. So fans of Republican infighting, rejoice. Looks like there's something similar going on right now. Robert Costa of the National Review reports that Senator Ted Cruz is leading a bunch of...

Memo to Republicans: You Lost. Now Deal with It.

Artist's rendering of the House Republican Caucus. (Flickr/Ian Turk)
Imagine you're a third-grade teacher, and the school announces that all the classrooms are going to be repainted, and the kids will get to choose the colors. You let your students each make a case for the color they'd like for their classroom, and it comes down to a choice between blue and green. The two sides give cute little speeches to the class about their favorite colors, and then you take a vote. There are 20 kids in the class; 12 choose blue and 8 choose green. Blue it is. But then the kids who wanted green insist that the color has to be green. They go to the principal's office and make their case that blue sucks and green rules. The principal tells them that the class chose blue, so the walls are going to be blue. Then the pro-green kids return and say that since there was a new kid who joined the class since the vote, we have to have the vote again. Another vote is held; it's still blue. Then the pro-green kids announce that because anyone can see that blue is sucky, they're...

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" Shows Why We Can't Have Nice Things

AP Photo
AP Photo/Columbia T he year of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inaugural, director Frank Capra—not yet renowned as the inventor of "Capracorn"—made a racy, exotic movie called The Bitter Tea of General Yen, starring Barbara Stanwyck as a virtuous Yankee missionary who falls for a Chinese warlord. Because things don't end well for him, wags promptly retitled it The Bitter Yen of General Tea. But to understand why today's GOP is known in my household as "The Bitter Tea Party of Frank Capra," you only need to recall a much more influential film of his. I mean, of course, 1939's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, maybe the only "political" movie Americans have ever truly loved. Ted Cruz's one-man show this week was blatantly indebted to its celebrated climax: hoarse, beleaguered Jimmy Stewart on the Senate floor, fighting the good fight with only his frayed vocal chords keeping evil's triumph at bay. But was Cruz's unofficial remake really such a travesty? Afraid not, folks. Not only this week...

Hawks at Home—Obama and Rohani's Shared Obstacle

U nless you’re someone who relishes the prospect of U.S.-Iran conflict, President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday didn’t disappoint. Recognizing the opportunity presented by the new Iranian president, the speech marked a return to the conciliation of Obama’s first term, only this time backed up by several years’ worth of economic sanctions. While it’s easy to dismiss Obama’s reiteration of America’s commitment to the United Nations at the top of the speech as the usual internationalist boilerplate, the importance of robust American participation in multilateral institutions is something that has underpinned his administration’s approach to foreign policy. (For a wide-angle view of the speech, read John Judis’s excellent take .) It’s this approach—pursuing U.S. goals within a broader multilateral framework—that has facilitated the ongoing international effort to pressure and cajole Iran to address concerns over its nuclear program. Notably, the...

Senator Talks for Hours, While in Real World, Things Proceed According to Plan

Politics is, to a degree we don't often notice, mostly about talking. Politicians describe what they do in heroic, usually martial terms—they "fight" for things, they wage "battles," and so on—but what they actually do is talk, and talk, and talk some more. They talk on the floor of Congress, they talk in committees, they talk to constituents, they talk to each other. There are a few of them, oddly enough, who are not particularly good at talking. But the successful ones are almost all good talkers. So it isn't too surprising that Ted Cruz, the former debate champion who is known as an exceptionally good talker, is able to get up and talk about the satanic plot that is Obamacare for 18 hours straight. There's something fitting about this last stand. Let's recall that just a few days ago, Cruz was being branded a traitor by Tea Partiers simply for acknowledging that the defunding effort will fail in the Senate. So what better way to get back in their good graces than a grandiose,...

Arcane Senate Rules Will Save the Country (Maybe)

As always, this guy knows exactly what he's doing. (Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
I doubt you're eager to hear a great deal more about the impending government shutdown (if you find yourself interested in it for more than four hours, consult a medical professional immediately), but there's a glimmer of hope today that things may turn out OK, at least until we have to fight over the debt ceiling in two weeks. And it's all thanks to absurdly complex Senate procedures, which could allow Republicans to save face while keeping the government from shutting down. As you may have heard, the House recently passed a continuing resolution (CR) temporarily funding the government so long as the Affordable Care Act is defunded, President Barack Obama publicly renounces any intentions to help people get insurance ever again, and a nine-year-old girl with leukemia is delivered to the House floor so members of the Republican caucus can tell her to her face that she's a loser who should get a job and stop being such a drain on society (well OK, not those last two, but perhaps they'...

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