Congress

Leave the Munich Pact Out of This, John Kerry

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
Somewhat at odds with its place in western political lore as the ultimate symbol of appeasement and betrayal, Munich is actually a really nice city. (Really, how could any city whose cultural life is significantly arranged around the appreciation of beer not be?) Visiting in 2011 I was taken on a group tour of the city that terminated at the Konigsplatz, the plaza that’s become the center of Munich’s museum and art gallery district. Our guide led us past a group of breakdancing teens to the Fuhrerbau, the former Nazi Party Headquarters which sits at the edge of the plaza. Now home to a music and theater academy, the Fuhrerbau is the building where the infamous Munich pact —the 1938 agreement recognizing Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia, which convinced Adolph Hitler that European leaders were not willing to risk war to stop German expansionism—was signed. “And here,” our guide said, leading us inside, around the building’s grand staircase and into a...

Let's Not Give the White House a Blank Check in Syria

With Congress highly unlikely to take the initiative, Barack Obama did something unexpected and good for American constitutionalism: he asked for congressional approval for military action against Syria. His recognition that warmaking is fundamentally a shared rather than a unilateral presidential power is most welcome. But this victory for a more rational policy process will ring hollow if Congress gives the Obama administration everything it's asking for. Admittedly, not everyone sees Obama asking Congress to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities as a good thing. You may remember the second Bush administration from such events as ... oh, I don't know ... the several catastrophic foreign policy blunders that happened under its watch. Rather than permanently hiding their heads in shame, several architects of these military and human rights disasters are publicly complaining about Obama's turn from presidential unilateralism. John Yoo, the arbitrary torture advocate and producer...

The Republican Team Effort on Obamacare Obstruction

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, you have to give Republicans credit for sheer sticktoitiveness. They tried to defeat the law, but it passed. They tried to get the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional, but that didn't work. So now, as the open-enrollment period for the exchanges approaches on October 1, they're thinking creatively to find new ways to sabotage the law. Sure, at this point that means screwing over people who need insurance , but sometimes there's unavoidable collateral damage when you're fighting a war. Their latest target is the Obamacare "navigators." Because not just the law but the insurance market itself can be pretty complicated, the ACA included money to train and support people whose job it would be to help people get through this new system, answering consumers' questions and guiding them through the process. Grants have been given to hospitals, community groups, charities like the United Way, churches, and the like in the 34 states that are...

War Powers for Dummies

Nixon and Kissinger meet with John Wayne, probably to talk about how Congress is a bunch of no-good varmints. (White House photo)
Congress is now debating—informally until they return to session on Monday, formally thereafter—whether we should take military action against the Syrian government. But the Obama administration has made clear its belief that it doesn't actually need congressional approval for the strikes it plans to undertake. Are they right? Herewith, a brief explainer on presidents, Congress, and war powers: Doesn't the Constitution give Congress this power? The Constitution gives Congress the sole power to declare war, but it also says that the president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. So the way presidents have usually responded is simply by not bothering to ask for a declaration of war when they want to begin a military undertaking. In fact, the last time Congress declared war was in 1942, when it did so against Romania, or as it was known then, Rumania. There were six separate war declarations in World War II, one for each country in the Axis (see here for more detail on our 11 war...

Will Congress Continue to Refuse Its War Powers Responsibilities?

AP Photo
Matt Duss has an excellent piece for the Prospect explaining why military action against Syria is probably a terrible idea on policy grounds. In addition to the question of whether the policy is wise, however, it's worth considering whether a unilateral decision to attack Syria by the president would be legal. At the outset, I should make clear that I'm talking purely about legality under domestic law; I'll leave the question of whether military action against Syria is justified under international law to others . I also don't subscribe to the the most formalist conception of the president's military power, which holds that any non-emergency action by the president requires a congressional declaration of war. Military action accompanied by a congressional authorization for military action (as with the second Iraq War) should be considered clearly constitutional, and I'm inclined to think that presidential initiations of military force in the face of congressional silence are...

Total Eclipse of the Fetal Heart

AP Images/Rogelio V. Solis
B y 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. This...

Brian Sims Wants to Fix Pennsylvania

AP Photo
AP Photo Representative Brian Sims, a Democrat, is blocked from speaking on the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives by a colleague citing "God's law." S ince 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...

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. This paragraph of polite rage is brought to you by a current feature over at Slate ridiculing funny shaped House districts—such as one in Maryland which, as Chris Kirk tells us, has been called “’a crazy quilt,’ ‘a blood spatter from a crime scene,’ and a ‘broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.’” Kirk brings us through the most successful partisan gerrymanders of the last cycle—Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and a few more. And it’s true: In a handful of states, partisan gerrymanders really did cost Democrats (...

Who Cares What the Framers Thought about the Filibuster?

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Even the most indefensible elements of the status quo 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 to 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 core of Arenberg's argument is the protection that the...

The Road Forward on Immigration Reform

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli More than a dozen marchers on the first day of a 21-day march calling for immigration reform in Sacramento, California. I t 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. Providing citizenship for...

Mortgage Reform: Watch Your Fannie

AP Images/ Manuel Balce Ceneta
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. Obama said, “For too long these companies were allowed to make huge profits buying mortgages, knowing that if their bets went bad, taxpayers would be left holding the bag. It was 'heads we win, tails you lose,' and it was wrong. The good news is right now there's a bipartisan group of senators working to end Fannie and Freddie as we know them. And I support these kinds of reform efforts." It sounds good, but there is reason to worry that this plan would protect the government against losses but at the price...

Majority Power Play

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid T he 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. At least for the time being, we have something like simple-majority confirmation for executive-branch nominations: Confirmations still must defeat a filibuster, which requires 60 votes, but the deal appears to be that Republicans will supply at least six of them. So as long as the 54 Democrats in the chamber hold together, a filibuster can be defeated. Democrats were able to force that compromise after a series of unprecedented filibusters, including “...

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...

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 : What that means in practice is that while pretty much everybody heard that the IRS was "targeting conservative groups," far fewer people have learned that there is now lots of evidence that the IRS wasn't targeting conservative groups (see Alec MacGillis for a good explanation). In the news organizations' defense, one could argue that the allegations were pretty dramatic, so they reported on it a lot when they emerged. But then...

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 his party. How could he be in danger of losing? For starters, Grimes looks to be a serious opponent. Her father is a well-known former state senator, she's already won a statewide campaign, and she's made some terrific videos with her grandmothers, tapping into Kentucky's substantial pro-grandma vote. But that's not the real source of McConnell's problems. While one might think that the more important and influential a senator is in national politics the easier time he'd have winning re-election, the opposite is true, especially at a time like this. Almost 40 years ago, political scientist Richard Fenno identified a curious phenomenon among voters: they hate...

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