Tag Archives | Congress

Show Down or Showmanship?

Governor Pawlenty, former GOP presidential contender, recently lamented to John Stewart that politicians today are expected to be entertaining as well as smart and well-versed in policy.  Pawlenty was vilified by the media for presenting a boring, low-key (if not slow) image to voters.  He was proclaimed, Not Presidential Material, his fate sealed.

If he’s right, then the House of Representatives is where the ambitious politician first learns to be a clown.  Nancy Pelosi acted out a caricature of ‘San Francisco liberal’ well enough.  Stunts such as holding out for the ‘public option’ in the 2009 health care bill debate and feasting the Dali Lama worked well enough.  And Representative Wiener provided ample fodder for late show comedians, comic strip writers and general debouches for over a month.  His art was letting silly things he did leak out slowly and retain public interest.  Republicans learned how to play barking dog and straying cat during Pelosi’s reign as Speaker of the House.

But nothing before comes  close to the master class in buffoonery that Republicans have generously shown us since taking charge of Congress last January.  The central shtick in the Republican repertoire is a twist on the Key Stone cops.  Obama articulates a policy and right away each Republican House member turns and dashes himself against the Obama wall they ask us all to imagine.   Sometimes the leadership, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor, trip over each other in their enthusiasm to lunge without thinking.

Magic tricks are a big hit in Congress.  Michele Bachman never misses a chance to change a good fact into nonsensical fiction.  The two Rands delight other Tea Party backers in storytelling and fantasy, although they can be a bit morbid and their calls for no government period shows them to be radical anarchists at heart.  (I think Lenin called Bukharin an ‘infantile leftist’.)  Newt, father progenitor, continues spitting out bombs to shock and awe his audience but most end up being duds, so no one pays him much mind these days. Not even the worst GOP anti-Muslim bigots really believe Islam is taking over America.

So far, President Obama, trying to be the President of all Americans, has humored, if not spoiled Republican House members into thinking their way is the only way.   Now, however, President Obama is brandishing a gauntlet, warning that he’ll veto any deficit package without tax increases on the wealthy.

When will the show-down come?  I can’t wait!  Will President Obama really jack Republicans to the wall?  Have all his compromises been bait leading up to this last Great Battle of Wills?  Will Boehner be eating dirt for dinner?  After all, Obama puts on a good show, too.




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Insiders Talk about Dysfunctional Congress

The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a “high functioning” institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.

Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic.

This from a former GOP Senate aide of 30 years in a sizzling article in Truth-Out.

The article is ‘making the rounds’ on Capitol Hill and has inspired more staffers to write into James Fallows at The Atlantic to verify the above and add their own disgust, here and here

Updated for title

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Is War on Terror Legally Over?

Bruce Ackerman, writing in Foreign Policy reminds everyone that the War on Terror was authorized through a congressional resolution:

The legal authority for the war on terror is a congressional resolution, passed immediately after the 9/11 attacks, approving the use of force against groups that “planned, authorized, committed, or aided” the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. But a decade later, this resolution can no longer credibly support ongoing military operations.

To me this is crucial, not so much because of the separation of powers issue per se, but


If another attack hits the homeland, it will likely come from terrorists based in Somalia, Yemen, or some other failed state, acting independently of al Qaeda’s increasingly disorganized “central command.” Yet these new groups simply aren’t within the scope of Congress’s decade-old authorization. Now is the time for the president to declare victory in the war against al Qaeda and return to Congress for a new resolution dealing with the new threats of the coming decade, in a world where trillion-dollar wars are an unaffordable luxury…

As long as he pretends to be fighting yesterday’s war against al Qaeda and its vaguely defined “affiliates,” Obama can continue to wield the war-making powers granted him by the 2001 resolution. Once he declares that this mission has been accomplished, the Constitution gives him no choice but to deal with troublemakers in Congress in hammering out new strategic principles for the real-world threats we face.


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Public Favors Obama on Economy

Because I’m always down on how the White House get its message across, I’m humbled by the newest New York Times/CBS poll  that finds Americans trust President Obama (47%) more than Republicans in Congress (33%) to handle the economy.

Even more surprising given the all-put Republican assault on President Obama as a ‘big-spender’:

they (respondents) were still more likely to blame President George W. Bush for the bulk of the nation’s deficit: 44 percent said that the deficit was mostly caused by the Bush administration, 15 percent said it was mostly caused by the Obama administration and 15 percent blamed Congress.


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New Poll Trashes Congress

The newest  New York Times/CBS poll is a disaster for Republicans and the Tea Party and a virtual broadside against Congress as a whole.  The 80% of Americans who disapprove of Congress is the highest number since the poll began in 1977.  Given the acrimony of the past month, these figures are especially significant:

More than four out of five people surveyed said that the recent debt-ceiling debate was more about gaining political advantage than about doing what is best for the country. Nearly three-quarters said that the debate had harmed the image of the United States in the world.

All told, 72 percent disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress handled the negotiations, while 66 percent disapproved of the way Democrats in Congress handled negotiations.

Respondents split evenly on President Obama’s handling of the debt ceiling debate, 47% disapproving and 46% approving.  Tea Party unfavorables jumped from 29% to 40% in a month.  Only 20% of Americans view the Tea Party favorably.

The poll notes Republican calls for deficit reduction are resonating, yet by 2 to 1 Americans think fixing unemployment is more important.

44 percent of those polled said the cuts in the debt-ceiling agreement did not go far enough, 29 percent said they were about right and only 15 percent said they went too far. More than a quarter of the Democrats polled said that the cuts in the agreement did not go far enough.

63% of Americans agree with President Obama on “raising taxes” for those making over $250,000/year.






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How UnAmerican is Work without Pay?

Incredibly, the government has asked 4,000 FAA employees, responsible for airport safety and construction safety, to work without pay until September.  Why?  Because Congress didn’t pass legislation appropriating their salaries.  Transportation Secretary Ray Hood has even asked them to be ‘professional’ and pay their own expenses, promising the money is there just not authorized.

After dealing with the debt crisis, Senate negotiators tried and failed on Tuesday to end a stalemate over temporary financing for the Federal Aviation Administration, leaving 4,000 agency employees out of work and relying on airport safety inspectors to continue working without pay.

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Debt Ceiling Poll: Overwhelming Support for Congressional Compromise

debt ceilingThe newest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds Americans still reject partisan gridlock and want leaders to compromise to take action on the deficit and debt ceiling.

When Democrats and independents are asked if they want the Democrats in Congress to make compromises to get consensus on the current budget debate, 65% do and 27% want them to stick to their position.  When Republicans and independents together are asked, 53% want compromise, 42% do not.  38% of all respondents believe the debt ceiling should be raised, compared to 31% who don’t and 30% who felt they didn’t know enough to say yes or no.

55% of those polled believe not raising the debt ceiling would be problematic, only 18% did not.

A clear majority, 58-36% support President Obama’s plans to address the budget issue (cuts plus taxes, 10-years) over the Republicans (spending cuts only).

President Obama is rated favorably by 47% while those who think the country is on the wrong track rose to 67%.

One long-time pollster for Democrats, Peter Hart, and one for Republicans, Bill McInturff, conducted the poll.






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Norman Ornstein on “Worst. Congress. Ever.”

Norman Ornstein, long-time fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Congressional scholar with 40 years of experience, contrasts bi-partisanship in past Congresses (even during Vietnam) with a dysfunctional legislative branch today.  His discussion elaborates the difference between a US-type ‘checks and balances’ system and a Parliamentary system, drawing out the corrosive effect partisan sectarianism has on the US model.  Ornstein writes his bleak assessment in Foreign Policy:

Yes, the 111th Congress, during the first two years of the Obama presidency, produced an impressive spate of major legislative accomplishments, from a stimulus package to a sweeping health-care reform bill to major financial regulatory reform. But all were passed after contentious, drawn-out, partisan battles that left most Americans less than happy with the outcomes. And look what we have now: a long-term debt disaster with viable bipartisan solutions on the table but ignored or cast aside in Congress; an impasse over the usually perfunctory matter of raising the statutory debt limit placing the United States in jeopardy of its first-ever default; sniping and guerrilla warfare over two major policy steps enacted in the last Congress, health-care reform and financial regulation; no serious action or movement on climate change, jobs, or the continuing mortgage crisis; and major trade deals stalled yet again despite bipartisan and presidential support.

The Framers saw deliberation, institutional loyalty, and compromise as the only way to produce sensible and legitimate policy decisions in an extended republic. Many Republicans, especially former office holders, understand this. Many of the party’s current members surely would prefer to solve problems, if the culture and atmosphere — and the primary process that gives inordinate power to both parties’ ideological bases — did not make it so hard to do so. But there is little chance that a suitable climate for compromise and bipartisanship will take hold anytime soon — meaning that we can look forward to more headaches ahead at home and abroad.

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