Tag Archives | Congress

And We Complain About Dysfunctional Iraqis!

This is what’s happening regarding the payroll tax/unemployment insurance bills.

1.  First Republican House leadership wanted to have a two month bill that would extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.

2.  Republican House members rejected this.

3.   Meanwhile, the Senate passed a two-month extension by  89-10, an overwhelming bi-partisan  majority for a bill endorsed by Senate Minority Leader McConnell.

4.    The Senate left for the holidays and will return January 2nd.

5.     Normally, with a situation this serious and a bill passed across parties by the Senate, House members would vote to pass the Senate bill. INstead, the House did not take a vote on the bill itself, but used a procedural rule to have a joint Senate-House Committee reconcile the differences.  In this way, Republicans would be protected from the burden of having voted against the payroll cut and UE extensions.

So these are the choice:

1.  The House passes the Senate bill that gives a 2 month extension

2.   President Obama calls the Senate back to vote on a house fill for a full year extension.  The Houses passes it, too

3.   A House/Senate Committee works out the differences.  But since the House never voted on an actual bill, how that would happen is unclear.

4.   No bill is passed and unemployment insurance runs out for millions and millions more will see a significant increase in payroll taxes.

Don’t these people realize that taking money out of peoples’ pockets now is a clear and present danger to the economy?








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Ornstein Rips Brooks (and a bit of Obama)

Norman Orstein, founder of the American Enterprise Institute and a Congressional scholar writes with Tomas Mann in The New Republic.  Ornstein is one of the clearest thinkers around:

In his continuing, illusive quest for the Grand Bargain, New York Times columnist David Brooks has now offered some free campaign advice to President Obama: Drop the angry and divisive populist talk; link your reelection to the Congressional supercommittee to tackle the deficit; lower the ideological temperature. Political independents now recoil from big government, Brooks argues, so Obama should be blurring, not highlighting, the differences between the two parties over the role of government.

Obama should say thanks, but no thanks for the advice. Based as it is on a series of tired and false assumptions, this strategy would doom whatever chance Obama has of winning reelection

Obama should likewise know by now that working with a supercommittee whose Republican members are under orders from their House and Senate leaders to oppose all revenue increases is a fool’s errand. And imagining that a substantial center in the American public will respond positively to such an approach is pure fantasy. What sense does it make for Obama embrace an agenda without any support on the other side of the aisle, and make nice to a party whose sole objective is to deny him reelection.

In other words, highlighting differences with Republicans is essential to a national consensus – or Obama winning reelection.

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Occupy Congress: House GOP Negotiates with Self

The outright rejection by House GOP members of a Democratic plan designed to get as close to a Republican proposal as possible, including a spending cut/revenue ratio of 6:1 means that the House GOP has no intention of negotiating with anyone but themselves.

By refusing to consider any tax/revenue increases in any budget reduction package, the GOP is setting the public up for mandatory and brutal across-the-board cuts in discretionary spending including $712 billion in defense spending and $566 billion in non-defense spending such as education, veterans health benefits, energy, the environment, and a number of social programs serving the poor and middle class.

Who are these people representing?

I know not me.  In the latest NYT/CBS poll, 7 of 10 people think the House GOP budget proposals benefit the rich. Two-thirds believe the rich should be taxed more; the same number believe corporations should not be given tax breaks.

Congress included more cuts in defense spending if automatic cuts are triggered purposefully, figuring cuts that size in the military would act as incentive for the 12 Congress members in the Super Committee to negotiate a plan to present to the full House and Senate.

But the real zinger is the quote I’m including in my next post….


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Voter Dissatisfaction Widespread – Favors Obama

A new poll by The New York Times/CBS News shows just how disgusted the American public is with government, including politicians from both parties:

Not only do 89 percent of Americans say they distrust government to do the right thing, but 74 percent say the country is on the wrong track and 84 percent disapprove of Congress — warnings for Democrats and Republicans alike.

The public equally split their approval (46%) and disapproval (46%) of President Obama’s job.

With nearly all Americans remaining fearful that the economy is stagnating or deteriorating further, two-thirds of the public said that wealth should be distributed more evenly in the country. Seven in 10 Americans think the policies of Congressional Republicans favor the rich. Two-thirds object to tax cuts for corporations and a similar number prefer increasing income taxes on millionaires.

Only about a quarter of the public said that lowering taxes on large corporations or repealing the entire national health care lawwas a good idea. But half of the public favors reducing or repealing regulations on businesses in the United States.The disapproval toward Congress has risen 22 percentage points since the beginning of the year when Republicans took control of the House.

Public’s Views on Issues Favor Democrats

With 2/3 of the public believing income should be more fairly distributed, and only a quarter said lower taxes on corporations or repealing the entire health care law was a good idea, combined with a 22% rise in disapproval of Congress since Republicans took control of the house.

Can They Turn it into Electoral Victory

Republicans are fond of saying nobody has won the WH with Mr. Obama’s current low approval ratings.  Beyond the fact that his ratings may increase before election day,  that 89% who distrust the government to do the right thing shows the public’s curse on both parties’ houses.

In this situation, more favorable policy numbers for Democrats can be invaluable.  They give the President room for a ‘showdown’ with House obstruction on his jobs bills and substantial issues for Democrats to push in re-election campaigns




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National Give it Back to Republicans Week

Should the bill ultimately fail, Democrats believe they at least have the better political argument, and they vow to exploit what they call the Republicans’ obstruction in the 2012 campaign.

Yet any political benefit would be small consolation for the White House, given the forecasts of nonpartisan economists that without such a stimulus plan, the economy is likely to relapse into recession next year just as the president faces re-election.   – New York Times

President Has Better Argument Now!

For heaven’s sake, the Democrats have the BETTER POLITICAL ARGUMENT now!  Do they really think that voters will forgive Obama for a double recession because he had a better argument?  They want results.  And results come from confrontation when the opposite party is using confrontational tactics to block consideration of a jobs bill during an economic crisis. The situation is insane.

First, the Democrats were beaten back by the Republicans’ threat of the filibuster, which would require 60 votes to close, when they didn’t control Congress.  Now that they do, Republican leaders are  employing an arsenal of procedural measures to keep legislation from even being discussed by the elected members of Congress and the Senate.  In other words, our Representatives are being stopped from representing us.

Obama can go around the country talking to voters as  much as he wants.  He already has the majority of people on his side for most of the jobs bill’s provisions.  But he’ll get nowhere as long as he refuses to give the American public the fight it’s waiting for.  Obama should be jamming the Republicans against the wall not only for opposing his jobs plan but for refusing to even debate it on the floor of the House and Senate.  Who is the Congress to do such a thing?  Congress has no inherent right to keep the President’s program for jobs in limbo.  It makes a mockery of the constitution, the separation of powers and the boundaries of power given to Congress, the President and the Judiciary to properly balance the public interest.

Obama should wipe his schedule clean and make next week’s WH theme: National Give it Back to Republicans Week.  Hold a press conference announcing some executive decisions that show forward movement on the economy but tell the American people his powers are limited unless Congress loosens its stranglehold on legislation that would keep the economy afloat.

Worse than War

This is worse than war.  The crisis in the American economy is far more of a threat to the “American way of life” than any external threat from Iran or North Korea.  So act like it, Obama Administration!  Make the sole how to get the President’s program unlocked by the Republicans and their cynical procedural games.  Call Republican leadership out for their Unamerican and anti-democratic tactics.  They’re vulnerable to their own ‘patriotic’ language being turned against them.  Voters hear about the obstruction every night on TV, but they want their President to confirm and fight against it.

The WH needs a face-off with Republicans now, not in 2012.  Why are they afraid of even discussing the President’s plan?  Are they willing to take the fall if the economy back-tracks into another recession?

The President has a duty not just to those who elected him, but to a country he knows is misled by foolhardy brinksmanship.  The WH sense of urgency has to match reality and that reality is grim.





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HHS Scraps Part of Health Care Bill

It is of course, great news that the administration has not actually gone forward and implemented an unsustainable program that would have had disastrous effects on the federal budget.  But it’s not great news that HHS has found that the program was just as disastrous as conservatives said it was . . . yet a Democratic Congress, deep in the passion of their historic moment, passed the damn thing anyway.  It’s in fact deeply troubling.  The problems with CLASS were known from day one, but no one listened, because it gave them good numbers to sell their program politically.  Megan McArdle,  The Altlantic

What happened here is that government worked exactly the way it ought to. The CLASS Act was passed in a fog of rosy estimates and emotional appeals (it was one of Ted Kennedy’s longstanding priorities), and the Department of Health and Human Services immediately began the detailed work of writing the implementing regulations to get it up and running. And guess what? They did their work honestly and conscientiously. Even though it was a liberal program promoted by a longtime liberal icon, HHS analysts eventually concluded that its conservative critics were right and the program as passed was flawed. So they killed it. And most of the liberal healthcare wonks that I read seem to agree that, unfortunately, HHS was right.   Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

Both are writing about the Department of Health and Human Services decision to cut long-term care from the provisions under the Health Care Affordability Act.  The figures used by the CBO didn’t add up when the Department of Health Service tried to write regulations implementing the long-term health care features of the legislation.  Now, for some reason, cutting out long-term care will reduce cost savings for the over-all Act to $70 million from $150 million.

I think this is a huge case study in everything wrong with Obama pushing the health care bill as the first hallmark of his Administration.  Drum’s critique doesn’t cover what’s really wrong, only the Congressional manipulations within the legislative process.

1.  A dedicated group of health care advocates within the Democratic Party have been pushing for universal health care since the early 1970s – with approximately the same, single-issue agenda in the year 2009!  I believe they took Obama’s election as a mandate for their vision and  felt they were now ‘entitled’ to get ‘their bill’ passed. By giving Congress the leadership on the bill, Obama gave this faction an undue influence on its writing. (If I hear Ted Kennedy’s name invoked one more time I may pull out my hair.  Sentimentality has no place in writing legislation.)

2.   Some of the slimiest misrepresentations and outright lies in my political memory were made by Republicans during the health care debate.  It was despicable.  But what McArdle criticizes is despicable too:  that little care was given to the facts and figures before the Health Care Legislation was voted on.  It is exactly this type of cavalier, ‘can’t be bothered with details’ behavior by elected officials that has reduce the public’s confidence in Congress to its lowest point ever and in this Administration ability to lead.

3.  Too many Democrats refused to understand that public sentiment had turned more conservative in general but especially after the 2007-9 crisis.  Republicans hit the health care bill where every voter could feel it: in its costs.   After pushing through bail-out and stimulus programs it was downright arrogant of the Democratic House Leadership not to step back and take a more limited approach at this time of economic uncertainty.

4.   Every bill this big is going to have problems.  Once the department in charge starts writing regulations to translate legislation into rules, those problems turn up.   However, most bill are written in a way that can accommodate a certain amount of ‘winging it’ in drawing up regulation.  But the DHH could do nothing like that with this bill.  They chucked an entire section/program because the money didn’t add up!  There was no small fix in sight.

5.  The Administration deserves most of the criticism it is getting.  (I reserve the right to change my judgement on that, given the lack of principles from both sides in political discourse.)   A lot of the Republican criticisms of Obama’s support for the bail=out and stimulus were cheap shots about aiding ‘cowboy poet’s’ festivals, etc.  This was emergency legislation to ward off a worse crisis, it had to be passed before the meltdown worsened.  Pork remained in it.

The Republicans beat up on the costs of the health care bill and that message resonated with more and more voters as the months went by.  Congress pushed aside the legitimate worries of voters who saw money leaping out the window.  The opposition to the bill was not all whipped up by those ‘wascilly wepublicans!”: genuine and growing concerns spread within the public at large.  It may be that no party can foresee certain  costs and mishaps.  (Look at how much more prescription drug benefits in Medicare have ballooned.)  But an error this big should not have come from a President who came to power promising to do things in new ways.  This was not emergency legislation; it begged for more deliberation.

It is exactly these types of votes for issues that are only partially grasped by members of the House and Senate that infuriate the public.

Kevin Drum is wrong.  This is not how government is supposed to work.

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Congress Cuts Palestinian Aid Despite Israel’s Support

In another shameful acts of know-nothingness, Congress is moving to cut aid to Palestinians despite support for the aid by both the Netanyahu government and Obama Administration.  House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) placed a hold on the assistance, which funds security training; humanitarian aid and some of the PA budget.

The US has been training Palestinian security forces since the Oslo agreement.  However, it was in 2004, under President George W. Bush’s ‘road-map’ that Secretary of State Rice set up the Unite States Security Coordinator (USSC) office to train thousands of Palestinian security forces and professionalized the PA system.  Funding was temporarily lifted when Hamas won elections in 2006.  By 2007, President Abbas and the PA separated from Hamas and security assistance was funneled through the PA.  Lt. General Keith Dayton took over training and the success if joint US-PA program has been praised by the IDF, Palestinians and international observers.   Israel handed over some areas previously policed by the IDF to Palestinian security and plans to turn over more.  The Israeli government believes it in Israel’s interests to have a competent, professional and non-politicized West Bank Palestinian security force.

Hard-line Republicans and some Democrats have nonetheless interpreted Netanyahu’s hard-line on negotiations and settlements, as well as opposition from Israel and the US to the Palestine UN statehood bid, as a green light to disassemble progress made by the Palestinians under President Abbas and PM Fayyad since 2004.

There is no other way to interpret Congressional attempts to cut off aid.  The efforts of Abbas and Fayyad  led the IMF to ‘approve’ Palestine for possible statehood.  It is those efforts which have united most nations of world to support Palestinian statehood and their bid in the UN.

Efforts by Congress to cut aid for building PA institutions, particularly the security forces, that was initiated under George Bush’s ‘road map’ (2004) once again show how some are trying to make support for Israel into a partisan issue. They violate twenty years of bi-partisan American policy calling for a two-state solution to the conflict.  US Secretary of Defense Panetta met with Israeli Defense Minister Barak and PM Netanyahu this week after which he re-iterated, on behalf of all three, that cutting Palestinians funds at this point would endanger Israel.


What does this mean for US Foreign Policy

At this dangerous time in the Middle East, the American government should be speaking with one voice, the President’s.  The power to conduct foreign policy lies with the executive branch.  By using its funding power, however, the House has once again embraced an idea on its own that contradicts the Administration’s foreign policy and is detrimental to the long-term viability of Israel as well as US interests in the Greater Middle East. 

It is these type of GOP attemps to by-pass bi-partisan commitments made in the name of the US in the past, and single-shot attacks on Presidential authority, that weakens America’s standing within the Middle East and across the globe. US policy is increasingly seen by major global players as inconsistent and subject to whims of US politics and their parochial interests.

This insanity has to end!

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FEMA Funding and GOP Anarchy

I consider the Tea Party and House Republicans who support them to be anti-government anarchists.  They profess to want ‘small government’ (limited to what’s necessary for the immediate protection of the public’s  safety and health, as well as defense).

But their actions in the latest stop-gap spending bill, required to be passed within four days, one again threatens to shut down government operations over a dispute about funding one of those ‘limited government’ agencies .  Both Republicans and Democrats agreed to a spending bill several weeks ago.

Because nature seems to be wreaking fire, hurricane, tornado, even earthquake damage at an unprecedented pace, the President and Democrats want to increase funding for FEMA, the federal disaster agency.  This would not push spending above the limit that the two parties’ had already set for the total bill.  Nevertheless, at the 11th hour, Republicans in Congress say they won’t support the entire government funding bill unless any FEMA increases are taken out of the budget someplace else. This 11th-hour ploy, first of all, means Republicans are reneging on their previous agreement to pass the bill.

More broadly, of course, this is exactly the type of high-risk poker now embraced by Republicans that shakes up the capital markets and lead to the S&P downgrade of US debt.

What is going on?   Certainly, disaster relief is one of the core functions of government.  It is vital to individual and the collective safety.  Why would House Republicans hold this bill hostage to what they normally would consider a wise use of money?  Republican pledges to oppose everything Obama does have once again trumped the country.

It’s beyond even that.  This brinksmanship threatens all rules that have guided American politics since its founding. Norman Orstein, long-time fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, explains:

Here is the reality. Congress’s policy towards disaster relief has always been that money is allocated in the budget, and if more is required because there are more or deeper disasters, Congress provides it in supplemental funding. The roots of this showdown go back to Cantor announcing on August 25, while Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc, that he would break precedent and demand offsets for recovery expenditures. Cantor and his House Republicans then wrote their continuing resolution for this year’s appropriations to take money from popular research programs to pay for the disaster relief, and insisted that the Senate accept their plan.If the insistence on offsets is unprecedented, the ploy is not—government by hostage-taking and blackmail has become standard operating procedure for congressional Republicans. That was the approach in the debt limit negotiations, and in the move by Transportation Committee Chair John Mica before the August recess to get his way on weakening unions and shutting down subsidies for small airports or provoke a shutdown of the FAA. In the latter case, the FAA was indeed shuttered, at a cost to the government (and an addition to the deficit) of $400 million in lost revenues, along with a slew of furloughed construction workers at the height of the season.

Vladimir Lenin famously called the early Russian anarchists ‘infantile leftists’ for opposing any policies that didn’t instantly bring down the Czarist regime.   I think it’s safe to call the House Republicans ‘infantile right-wing’ anarchists based on a reckless disregard for commitments already made through the legislative process; using a government spending bill to play brinksmanship politics on an issue not germane to the bill;  and double-crossing Democratic leaders who themselves compromised to put a bi-partisan package together in the first place.  Making up and changing the rules in the middle of the game is underhanded, topped only by a dismissive and ugly arrogance.

McConnell was ebullient because, from his perspective, the hostage-taking worked: Republicans could make non-negotiable demands, threatening to unleash catastrophe if they were not met, and count on Democrats caving to avoid tumult in the country. On the issue of disaster relief, Democrats are saying, for the first time, that they will no longer appease blackmail.

We’ll see.

UPDATED: spelling

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