Congress

Yep, Republicans Plan to Use the Debt Ceiling for "Leverage"

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
It seems I was mistaken about the GOP’s stance toward raising the debt ceiling: Top Republicans won’t walk away from using the limit as leverage for cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Here is what Mitch McConnell had to say on Meet the Press yesterday: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – who helped strike the fiscal-cliff deal with the Obama White House – didn’t disavow his 2011 comment that refusing to raise the debt ceiling is “a hostage that’s worth ransoming." McConnell told NBC’s Gregory yesterday, “What we’re saying here is the biggest problem confronting the country is our excessive spending. If we’re not going to deal with it now, when are we going to deal with it? And we’ve watched the government explode over the last four years. We’ve dealt with the revenue issue.” Likewise, in the House, Republicans are pressing Speaker John Boehner to take a stand on the debt ceiling. Here’s Politico : In a marked shift, Boehner allies are urging him — publicly and privately — to...

Calling McConnell’s Bluff

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
The budget deal that just averted the supposed fiscal cliff was only a warm up. The next fiscal cliff is the $110 billion in automatic budget cuts (sequesters) that last week’s budget deal deferred only until March. But, as long as we are using topographic metaphors, this is less a cliff than a bluff. On the Sunday talk shows, Republican leaders were full of bravado and swagger. Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona, on CBS “Face the Nation” said it was about time “for another government shutdown.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, ruled out any further tax increases, declaring that “the tax issue is finished, over, completed.” He insisted, “Now it’s time to pivot and turn to the real issue, which is our spending addiction.” But is spending really the problem? For most the postwar era, federal tax revenues hovered around 19 percent of GDP, and spending a bit more than that. But for the four years since the financial collapse, federal...

Playing Constitutional Hardball with the Electoral College

Flickr / Politics for Misfits
Republicans are playing Constitutional hardball again. It’s a dangerous game. The GOP may attempt to rig the Electoral College by changing the electoral vote allocation in GOP-controlled states which voted for Barack Obama. The idea would be to shift from the normal winner-take-all plan to something that would split the votes in those states. Ideally, from the Republican point of view, every Republican state would be winner-take-all while all Democratic states would be split more or less evenly, making it almost impossible for a Democrat to win the White House. All of that, as obviously undemocratic as it is , would be perfectly Constitutional; the Constitution leaves every state in charge of how to choose its electors. The idea should be not be seen as a stand-alone. Instead, it’s best thought of as one of a set of schemes Republicans have advanced over the last 20 years. It includes the establishment of the 60-vote Senate; mid-decade redistricting in Texas after Republicans took...

It's Worse than the Status Quo

AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File
In the midst of dealing with the fiscal cliff, Congress passed a one-year extension of the farm bill that eliminated funding for almost every even vaguely innovative agriculture policy and kept in place expensive and outdated subsidies that benefit big agribusiness. From the perspective of anyone interested in making change in America’s farm and food system, it was a disaster. “There's much isn’t to be happy about with this extension,” David deGennaro, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said. “If you care about conservation, food production, or reforming the farm bill, this is a bad deal,” said Justin Tatham, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ senior Washington representative for food & environment. “It's worse than the status quo.” “They took all the newer, smaller, but most innovative programs and left them out of the extension,” says Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. At the same time, lawmakers left in...

Purity Culture Is Rape Culture

AP Photo/ Dar Yasin
AP Photo/ Dar Yasin Indian women offer prayers for a gang rape victim at Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi. H er intestines were removed because the six men used a rusty metal rod during the “rape.” That fact—the rusty metal rod—is what’s haunted me about the violent incident that has outraged India and the world. Six men held a 23-year-old woman and her male friend in a private bus for hours while they assaulted her so brutally that, after several surgeries to repair her insides, she died. What happened to this young woman was a gang assault. It can be called a sexual assault because among other things, they brutalized her vagina. Or it can be called a sexual assault because it was driven by rage at the female sex . Since Susan Brownmiller first wrote Against Our Will — the landmark feminist reconceptualization of rape — feminists have worked on clarifying the fact that rape is less about sex than it is about rage and power. Too many people still conceive of rape as a man’s...

The GOP's Dangerous Debt-Ceiling Threat

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr Even for someone unmoved by hyper-ideological, right-wing rhetoric, Senator John Cornyn’s most recent op-ed for the Houston Chronicle is astounding in its mendacity and utter disregard for responsible governance. To wit, after engaging in a little bizarro history—where he blames the president for brinksmanship on the debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff, as if Obama has an obligation to implement the GOP agenda—the two-term Texas lawmaker presents a government shutdown as a responsible way to force spending cuts: Over the next few months, we will reach deadlines related to the debt ceiling, the sequester and the continuing appropriations resolution that has funded federal operations since October. If history is any guide, President Obama won’t see fit to engage congressional Republicans until the 11th hour. In fact, he has already signaled an unwillingness to negotiate over the debt ceiling. This is unacceptable. […] The coming deadlines will be the next...

Boehner Opens 113th Congress with Sad Posturing

Flickr/Gage Skidmore
John Boehner has held on to his job as Speaker of the House for now, mostly because no one ran against him. That may be because none of his Republican colleagues wants that nightmare of a job, or it may be because they want it, but just think biding their time a little longer is the best play. In any case, Boehner now faces the challenge of dealing with a caucus full of nutbars who would happily send the country off all manner of cliffs, fiscal and otherwise, if it meant sticking it to Barack Obama or those mooching 47 percent of Americans they think he represents. And how do you deal with a group like that? Empty symbolic gestures, of course! Boehner has apparently made it clear to his caucus that he'll no longer participate in one-on-one negotiations with President Obama, letting them know that just like them, he thinks Obama is such a low-down dirty snake that there's no point in even talking to the guy. But can they still talk on the phone? What about texting? If Obama calls...

Call it Trafficking

AP Photo/Moises Castillo
Last week, in a horrifying move, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill to ban American citizens from adopting Russian children—ironically enough, in retaliation for U.S. efforts to punish Russian violations of human rights. It's ironic because thousands of Russian children (and children across the former Soviet bloc) live in institutions, as no child should. Denying those children desperately needed new families could almost be considered a violation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that countries act on behalf of the best interests of the child. Many of the children in those Russian institutions have medical or developmental challenges, whether that's HIV, fetal alcohol syndrome, or attachment disorders, so finding families for them is difficult. But American adoptions of Russian children hurt Russian pride, and some of those adoptions have gone so terribly wrong (as with the 2010 incident in which Tennessee woman returned her adopted son by...

One Man's Disaster Relief Is Another Man's Pork

Flickr/Bob Jagendorf
In all the attention paid to the drama over the fiscal cliff, most people momentarily forgot that there were a few other important things the 112th Congress was supposed to take care of before its ignominious term came to an end. But yesterday, thanks to a couple of prominent politicians criticizing their own party—something always guaranteed to garner plenty of media attention—everybody remembered that states in the Northeast, particularly New York and New Jersey, are still waiting on federal disaster aid. First New Jersey governor Chris Christie came out and gave a blistering press conference in which he blasted House Republicans for not taking up the relief bill, saying, "There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner." Christie also said he called Boehner multiple times, but Boehner wouldn't return his calls. Then Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, delivered a rather...

Will John Boehner Lose the Speakership?

Flickr/Talk Radio News Service
Flickr/Talk Radio News Service The fiscal-cliff deal —which cleared the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority earlier this week and passed the House late Tuesday—might end up costing House Speaker John Boehner his job. The legislation raises taxes on individuals earning more than $400,000 but cements the Bush tax cuts below that threshold. Only eight senators—five Republicans and three Democrats—dissented. But when the bill reached the House floor, conservatives revolted. The vast majority of House Democrats voted for the compromise measure while 64 percent of House Republicans—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy—voted against the bill. By introducing the compromise hammered out between Senate Republicans and the White House, Boehner violated the so-called "Hastert Rule," the operational norm by which only bills supported by the majority of the caucus in power are brought up for a vote. The timing couldn't be worse for Boehner. On Thursday,...

What Do You Mean, "Both Sides?"

NBC News
Of the many frustrating things about political punditry, one of the most frustrating is the extent to which many writers choose to ignore core facts about our political world and instead rely on generalities, intuition, and lazy conventional wisdom. For one great (terrible?) example of this, look no further than the most recent column from Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal , in which he blames the near-collapse of the fiscal-cliff deal on “both sides”: There are multiple reasons that even what seems easy is hard in Washington right now. The problems start, of course, with the basic polarization of not just Congress but the country. America is in an unusual political state, in which the two parties are quite evenly divided in power, but far apart ideologically. […] In the House, there is almost no middle ground, and the vote there Monday night was far more divided along partisan lines. Most members come from such reliably Democratic or Republican districts that they simply feel no...

Advertising Those Second Amendment Rights

AP Photo/Seth Perlman
After the shooting in Newtown, some politicians who had previously been endorsed by the NRA and long supported nearly unlimited gun rights came forward to declare that they were rethinking their positions. The first and perhaps most notable was West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, and nearly every news story about his change of heart mentioned that in a famous television ad when he ran for the Senate two years ago, Manchin not only touted his NRA endorsement but dramatically fired a bullet through a copy of a cap and trade bill. But if you though a candidate brandishing a gun to demonstrate his cultural affinity with rural voters was something unusual, you'd be wrong. We've assembled some of the gun-totin'-est political ads from the last few years. Let's start with Manchin, who showed voters how he'd deal with legislation that might restrict the West Virginia coal industry's ability to pollute the air: Manchin isn't the only one who knows that the best way to handle a law you don't like...

The Republican Party Is the Problem

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr After weeks of negotiating, we have a deal on the fiscal cliff, which—in true, congressional fashion—passed hours after the government went “over” the cliff. The details of the deal are straightforward: Tax rates will rise permanently to Clinton-era levels for families with income over $450,000 and individuals with income over $400,000. For everyone below that ceiling, taxes will remain at Bush-era levels. Likewise, for families and individuals at that income threshold, the taxes on capital gains will rise to 20 percent, while staying at 15 percent for everyone else. Given the financial situation of most Americans—who don’t earn much, if anything, from investments—this is a good move, considering the circumstances. Estate taxes will rise to 40 percent, but Republicans were able to win a key concession—estates up to $5 million are exempt from the tax, which amounts to a large tax giveaway for a small number of wealthy families. The deal also reinstated the phase-...

Get Ready for the Next Crisis

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Barack Obama in the Oval Office before he leaves the White House after the passage of the fiscal cliff bill B y the time you read this, President Obama will probably have declared victory in fending off the fiscal cliff/austerity trap, and there are certainly some things in the agreement that progressives should be pleased about. But we should also understand what Republicans won. The great Republican triumph of the current negotiation—and whether it came from hard-nosed negotiating or simple capitulation on the White House's part, I'm not sure—is the fact that an end to the debt ceiling was not part of the deal worked out by Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden. Nor, for that matter, was the question of sequestration resolved; instead, it was simply put off for two months. That means we'll be facing not one but two more crises, when we get to do this all over again. And when we do, the conditions will be very different. On the debt ceiling, President...

Retrench Warfare

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
AP Photo/Alex Brandon Senator Mike Johanns, a Republican from Nebraska, left, walks with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky to the Senate floor for a vote on the fiscal cliff early this morning. The Senate vote just before dawn in favor of a permanent tax hike on the top one percent defers virtually all of the other budget battles. Assuming the House follows suit today, it is up to President Obama and the Democrats to radically change the conversation. In the deal that the Senate agreed to, with only eight senators voting against, the Democrats won big in two respects. They forced the Republicans to raise taxes on the rich, and they took all spending cuts including in Social Security off the table—for now. If Tea Party Republicans vote against the deal and it passes the House with the voters of nearly all Democrats and a few dozen renegade Republicans, it could cost John Boehner his Speakership. But automatic cuts of $120 billion this year and $1.2 trillion over a...

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