Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Did Senate Dems trade ACA for Russia sanctions?

June 15, 2017

Senate Democrats reportedly made a deal to allow Republicans to gut Obamacare in return for their support of tougher sanctions against Russia.

The Republicans have a 52 to 48 majority, so they have the power to force through their plan.   We the public don’t know what it is going to be, but, in order to be reconcilable with the House bill, it will include denying government health care benefits to millions of people in order to enable tax cuts for the very rich.

There are procedural tactics that the Democrats could use to delay action until public opposition has time to build, but they reportedly have agreed not to do this.

So the public loses a program that, despite its many flaws, has saved lives in return for the increased possibility of war with Russia.

Reports of a deal may be false or exaggerated and, if there is a deal, not all Democrats may be on board with it.

But it is an indisputable fact that the Democratic leadership in Congress is putting much more energy into investigation, so far fruitless, of Trump’s ties with Russia than into opposing the Republican political agenda.

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Rep. Alan Grayson and his hedge fund

March 21, 2016
Rep. Alan Grayson

Rep. Alan Grayson

[Rep. Alan] Grayson may be the only sitting member of Congress who runs a hedge fund.  If you asked him why that is, he’d probably tell you that he’s the only one who’s smart enough to do that.

Perhaps, but besides being highly intelligent and well informed, he prepared himself well to jump into the asset management game.

He sat on the Financial Services Committee and also served on the subcommittees on Capital Markets and on Oversight and Investigations. Those duties must have been instructive: Hey, I can do this. Why should I spend half my valuable time hitting up swells for swag and playing nice-nice with the Democratic Politburo?  Screw that.  I’ll finance myself with small donations and profits from my fund.

Source: Counterpunch

Grayson, an outspoken liberal, is running for the Democratic nomination to fill Marco Rubio’s Senate seat in Florida.   Does the fact that he is a hedge fund manager put him in a different ethical position from a candidate who solicits donations from hedge fund managers?

Maybe.  He might have a conflict of interest, but he wouldn’t cut off contributions to himself for voting against his own interests.

Could the Supreme Court be un-packed?

February 15, 2016

The death of Justice Antonin Scalia has left the U.S. Supreme Court with an even number of justices.  If they divide four-four on any case, the decision of the lower court stands, but it does not become settled law.

 As things stand now, a divided court would not be the worst thing from the standpoint of liberals.  They mostly like existing precedents and mostly oppose have them overturned.

My friend Bill Elwell wonders what would happen if President Obama or President Hillary Clinton simply refused to nominate someone to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to pack the Supreme Court with nominees of his liking.  Bill asks: Would this be un-packing the Court?.

I don’t see how this would be any different, or any more obstructive, than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that Republicans will automatically reject any Obama nominee, no matter who the person is.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution grants the President the power to appoint Supreme Court justices, with the advice and consent of the Senate, but I find no wording requiring him to do so in a timely manner.

President Obama has already said that he intends to nominate someone to fill Scalia’s vacancy, but does he have a responsibility to nominate a second person or a third if the Senate rejects his first nominee?  Of course this is a moot question if the Republicans are going to reject any nominee.

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Sauce for the goose: the 41-vote rule

September 9, 2015

I strongly criticized the 41-vote rule in the Senate when the Republican minority used it to block legislation and appointments proposed by President Obama.

imbalanceNow Democrats are using the same rule to prevent the Republican majority from disapproving the Iran nuclear inspection deal negotiated by President Obama and other world leaders with the Iranian government.

I am glad of the result, but I still think it is a bad rule.

The rule allows Senators to use a kind of virtual filibuster to block Senate action, which can be over-ridden only by a vote of 60 Senators.  It is not part of the Constitution.  It is not a law.  It is a rule of the Senate itself.

The United States already has more checks and balances than any other contemporary democracy.  Laws, appropriations and taxes require approval of a House of Representatives elected by popular vote, a Senate elected on the basis of state sovereignty and a President elected by a hybrid system through the Electoral College.

Even then, the Supreme Court, which is appointed not elected, can overrule decisions by the President and Congress.

I don’t think the United States needs more checks and balances than are provided for in the Constitution.

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Bernie Sanders’ record in Congress

June 27, 2015

If you’re going to judge what a politician stands for, you’d do better to look at their advisers and supporters than their campaign rhetoric, and you’d do even better still to look at their record.

The presidential candidate Bernie Sanders served in the House of Representatives from Vermont’s at-large district from 1991 to 2007 and in the U.S. Senate from 2007 to the present, so he has a long record to go by.

Sanders has been a political independent, not a Democrat, for most of his political life, and is the only member of Congress to call himself a socialist.  The 2016 Presidential campaign is the first campaign in which he has run as a Democrat to organize Congress.

BernieSanders1_1280His congressional record seems to me to be like a 1930s New Deal Democrat.  He is a staunch defender of the New Deal programs such as Social Security, a champion of labor unions and an opponent of Wall Street.

While his voting record is favorable to abortion rights, gay rights, affirmative action and civil rights for African-Americans, he does not have a high profile on these issues as he does on bread-and-butter economic issues.

Liberals might have trouble with the fact that he was first elected to Congress as an opponent of gun control and still has reservations about gun control.

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Here are some highlights of his legislative and voting record:

He founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991 and chaired it for eight years.

In 1999, he defied U.S. law on drug imports by organizing a trip to Canada with constituents to buy cancer medications at 10 percent of the U.S. cost

In 2005, he joined with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to repeal the section of the USA Patriot Act requiring librarians to give the government information on patrons’ book-borrowing.   It passed the House, but did not become law.

In 2010, he gave an eight-and-a-half hour speech against the Tax Relief, Unemployment and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended the Bush era tax cuts.  The speech drew nationwide attention and was later published as a book.

In 2011, he successfully introduced legislation calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve System’s bank bailouts, which revealed that the Fed had granted $16 trillion dollars in assistance to troubled banks, some of their foreign banks.

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Who said Obama isn’t a strong leader?

June 11, 2015

Anybody who said that Barack Obama is a weak leader must eat their words in the light of the way he is pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement through Congress.

Likewise those who said he is incapable of working with the Republican leaders in Congress.

Barack ObamaI think people mistook his character because they mistook his priorities.  The President is a tough fighter for things that matter to him.

It is just that issues such as closing Guantanamo Bay or defending Social Security were not among his top priorities.  The TPP and the Trade Promotion Authority, aka Fast Track, are.

The TPP is supposedly a trade agreement, but based on what’s been leaked out about it so far, that’s not what it is.

It creates new international law that limits the power of sovereign governments to enact laws and regulations to protect public health, the environment and the well-being of their citizens/

And it sets up a mechanism by which corporations can have governments penalized if a tribunal rules that laws and regulations deny them their just profits.

Corporate executives say they will invest more confidently in countries if they have assurance that they won’t be subject to onerous laws and regulations and if they can have recourse to a special tribunal if national governments impose laws and regulations they think are unfair.  No doubt!

That doesn’t mean that no investment will take place if they don’t get all these special protections.

My idea of a free trade agreement is an agreement among nations to lower tariffs and import quotas so that people within those countries can freely exchange goods and services.  Most such barriers were eliminated years ago.  That’s why almost everything you pick up in an American department store is labeled “Made in Vietnam” or “Made in Korea” or “Made in Bangladesh”.

Eliminating restrictions on currency manipulation, or demanding privatization of public services, is very different.   This is a way of shifting governance from national governments to international corporations.

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A note on the TPP and fast track

April 23, 2015

I’ve been writing about the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement as if it were a done deal, and the only significance of the Trade Promotion Authority bill, aka “fast track,” in regard to the TPP is to push it through with a minimum of debate.  This is not so.

I do in fact think that is the significance of “fast track,” but I should emphasize that the TPP is not a done deal.  The Japanese government is balking at some of the proposals and, without Japan, the TPP would be meaningless.

So a “fast track” plan that allowed Congress to give meaningful input into the negotiations would be important.  Whether or not the Wyden-Hatch-Ryan bill does this is an important question.

‘Fast track’ involves more than just the TPP

April 21, 2015

The significance of “fast track” goes far beyond clearing the way for quick approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

There are other TPP-like trade agreements now under negotiation, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade In Services Agreement.

The Trade Promotion Authority bill, otherwise known as “fast track,” would govern how such agreements are negotiated and voted on in the future.

In theory this could work well.  Negotiators would pursue objectives set by Congress, the leaders of Congress would be kept informed as negotiations progress and ratification of the agreement would be only a formality.   But there is no mechanism in the current fast track bill by which Congress can call the negotiators to account or demand information.

Fast track assumes good faith on the part of all concerned, and, based on the historic record, including the way the TPP has been negotiated, I think this would be a naive assumption.

LINK

Hatch Bill Would Revive Controversial 2002 Fast Track Mechanism That Faces Broad Congressional, Public Opposition by the staff of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division.

What’s Wrong With Wyden-Hatch-Ryan’s Fast Track Bill – The Specifics by Gaius Publius for Down With Tyranny (via naked capitalism).  [Added 4/22/2015]

Doctors Without Borders on the TPP

April 17, 2015

tpp_infographic2_0

It is not too late to modify these harmful rules.  Negotiations among the United States and 12 other nations have been  are in the process of being completed, and it is now will then be up to the United States Congress to approve the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement—or not.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation on the TPP

April 17, 2015

tpp_1Well, it’s too late now to try to influence the negotiations.

Senators Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate finance committee, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, the chair of the House ways and means committee, agreed to support fast-track approval for the proposed 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

This would mean that the House would have 60 days to discuss the agreement, and the Senate would have an additional 30 days, before they voted “yes” or “no”, with no possibility of amendment.

The fact that President Obama and powerful Congressional leaders support fast track does not mean that it has been approved.  The procedure requires a vote of the House and Senate, and, since there is strong opposition in both parties, it may well not be approved.

IRS budget cuts are bad for honest taxpayers

April 15, 2015

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The Internal Revenue Service is less and less able to serve the public well because of budget and staff cuts imposed by a Republican-dominated Congress.

Nobody likes to pay taxes—I certainly don’t—but IRS employees don’t write the tax laws.  Their responsibility is to collect the taxes, without which the government couldn’t function.

When Congress cuts the IRS budget, it means that the IRS is less able to serve honest taxpayers and to audit and collect from dishonest taxpayers.

If the process of filling out income tax forms is overly complicated, only Congress has the authority to simplify the tax code.

Some of the recent IRS scandals have been bogus, some real, but the way to deal with a real scandal is to fire the people responsible, not to hamstring the agency as a whole.

This starts a cycle, which may be intentional, in which Congress supposedly punishes an agency for bad performance by cutting its budget, which results in worse performance, which generates more punishment, and so on.

LINKS

An Emotional Audit: IRS Workers Are Miserable and Overwhelmed by Devin Leonard and Richard Rubin for Bloomberg Business.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)   This is the source of the charts.

The IRS sucks because Republicans made it suck by Joan McCarter for Daily Kos.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

Ten reasons to oppose the AUMF resolution

March 12, 2015

Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich listed 10 good reasons why Congress should not authorize President Obama to use military force against the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL).

1.  ISIS is not a threat to the U.S. homeland.
2.  The AUMF disingenuously calls for a “limited” war, while it is written to guarantee a permanent war, thus nullifying the power of the people’s representatives in Congress.
3.  The AUMF is a blank check and a fiscal black hole.
4.  Regional armies appear to be rising to their own defense.  U.S. presence will escalate war.
5.  The U.S. could get drawn into a worldwide religious war.
6.  ISIS and Al Qaeda are divided. US re-entry into war could unite them.
7.  A solution: Follow ISIS’ money and shut it down.
8.  Another solution: Cyber response.
9.  Endless wars enable Washington to ignore a domestic agenda.
10.  The time has come for the U.S. to review the effects of interventionism.

Kucinich served in Congress 16 years. He was always an independent thinker who, in my opinion, made a lot more sense than many of his colleagues who had higher positions and bigger reputations.

In addition to refusing a new AUMF resolution, Congress should refuse to renew key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which otherwise would expire June 1.

These two refusals would be modest but important steps toward ending perpetual war and perpetual martial law and returning the United States to the status of a normal country.

LINKS

Ten reasons to vote against the use of military force by Dennis Kucinich for Fox News.  His supporting arguments for each point are worth reading.  (Hat tip to Hal Bauer)

Tell Congress to put an expiration date on unconstitutional bulk surveillance by Demand Progress.  (Hat tip to Cannonfire)

Why were Democrats AWOL on minimum wage?

January 26, 2015

President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union message proposed tying the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

A blogger named Jamison Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, did not introduce any legislation in 2014 to accomplish that.

minimum_wage_onpagePresident Obama in his 2014 State of the Union message proposed an increase in the minimum wage.

Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who still had a majority in the Senate, introduced a bill in April to raise the minimum wage and, when it failed, they did not try again.

The Republicans who controlled the House of Representatives meanwhile passed bill after bill to repeal Obamacare.

Pundits ridiculed them for this, but in the 2014 elections, the Obamacare mess was a much bigger issue for voters than minimum wage.  Some states that passed referendums to increase the minimum wage still voted Republican.

This is a failure of the whole Washington leadership of the Democratic Party.

What good are politicians who won’t fight for the public good even when it’s popular?

LINK

After the State of the Union by Jamison Foser.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

Obama’s tax plan: Better now than never

January 19, 2015

When Barack Obama ran for President, he promised lower taxes on the American middle class and higher taxes on the super-rich.  Public opinion polls show most Americans favor this.

Barack_Obama_Hope_posterNow, in the seventh year of his Presidency, Obama has a new tax plan that will do just that—reduce taxes by $175 billion on working people and increase taxes by $320 billion mainly on holders of financial assets.

It’s not a radical plan, but it’s almost certain to be opposed by Republicans in Congress, and that will make a good campaign issue for Democrats in 2016.

The cynic in me wonders why the President didn’t introduce this in 2009 when Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress, and there was some possibility it would be enacted.

But the pragmatist in me thinks it is a good thing to get politicians and the public talking about tax justice even if it doesn’t result in legislation on the first try.

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President Obama finally has his Piketty moment by Matt O’Brien for the Washington Post.  Hat tip to Cannonfire.

Five things about Barack Obama’s Robin Hood tax plan by Brian Faler for Politico.

Americans are sick to death of both parties

December 23, 2014

Americans are increasingly disillusioned with both Democrats and Republicans.  That’s why only 36 percent of registered voters cast ballots this year—a drop of 22 percentage points from 2012.

The national turnout was the lowest in 70 years in spite of the fact that more money was spent in the campaign than in any off-year election in American history.

fatcatPolitical scientists Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson said Americans have good reason for their disillusionment.

They explained in an article on Alternet how neither Democrats nor Republicans can represent the interests of working Americans because they are financed a tiny elite of wealth, and Americans are starting to catch on to this.

The Democrats rely instead on appeals to cultural liberalism, the grievances of women and minorities and memories of the New Deal.  The Republicans rely on appeals to cultural conservatism and prejudice, a big turnout of upper-income voters and hindrances to voting by lower-income voters.

But neither party has a convincing program for dealing with globalization, financialization, de-industrialization and the erosion of good jobs.

Average Americans may not understand the subtleties of economic policy, but they understand what is happening to them.  As John Dewey once wrote, you don’t have to be a shoemaker to know your shoes are a bad fit.

Burnham and Ferguson didn’t speculate as to what will happen if this goes on indefinitely.  My own opinion is that the USA will experience an upheaval worse than the labor violence of the 1890s and 1930s.

The militarization of American police and NSA surveillance of ordinary Americans then will be used by government in league with corporations to protect the social order from the masses.

Radical change would not necessarily be change for the better.  If there is a public uprising, it is likely to be led by someone like Huey Long or Joe McCarthy as by a great statesman.  But I don’t see how things can go on as they are.

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Here are key paragraphs of Burnham’s and Ferguson’s article.

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Obama-GOP compromise? I hope not

November 14, 2014

All ways in which President Obama and Republicans in Congress could reach agreement are bad for the American people.

All of President Obama’s initiatives that are good for the American people are unacceptable to the Republicans.

Bad for Americans, acceptable to Republicans

Pro-Business Trade Treaties

free-tradePresident Obama has pushed for new trade treaties that give foreign corporations the right to appeal for damages if countries pass laws that unjustly deprive them of profits.  Similar provisions in existing trade treaties have been used against environmental regulation, subsidies for renewable energy and financial regulation.  Proposed new treaties are believed to go further.

The proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement appears doomed, but the Trans Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (aka the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and the Trade in Services Agreement might sneak in under the public’s radar.   Corporate American favors these treaties, so the GOP might go for them.

Weakening Social Security and Medicare

obama_cutsPresident Obama repeatedly proposed changing the formula for Social Security benefits and raising the age for Medicare, in exchange for modest tax increases on upper income brackets.  Even though the tax increases are off the table, Republicans might go for such a “grand bargain” on other issues.

Starting New Wars

Obama-and-DronesIf President Obama discovers some new threat that he says requires military intervention in a foreign country, the Republicans in Congress are sure to support him—short of actually voting authorization, which he says he doesn’t need anyway.  Likewise for new authority for surveillance, preventive detention, drone strikes, prosecution of whistle-blowers, etc.

Tar Sands Pipeline  [Added 11/15/14].

The Canadian government and Trans Canada corporation want to bring corrosive tar sands bitumen from northern Alberta to oil refineries in the United States.  Republicans in Congress are strongly in favor of this.  President Obama’s stand on the Keystone XL pipeline is uncertain, but federal regulators have already quietly approved the alternative Alberta Clipper pipeline.  Overall the President is a strong promoter of energy development, including hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Good for Americans, unacceptable to Republicans

Climate Change

waronglobalwarming63-300x0President Obama says that he wants laws and regulations that limit the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.  A larger segment of the Republicans deny that human-caused climate change is even taking place, let alone that something should be done about it.

Immigration Reform

The only feasible immigration reform, as I see it, is some provision providing a path to citizenship for the millions of unauthorized immigrants already in this country.  I admit this is not good, but the alternatives are worse.

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A pre-emptive counter-revolution in the USA?

October 8, 2013

tumblr_luwdnp4plT1qzlfumo1_1280

Eric Hoffer wrote in The True Believer that people do not revolt because they are poor and miserable.  If that there the case, the world would be in a constant state of revolt.  No, Hoffer wrote, people revolt when something to which they think they have a right is taken away from them, or when hopes are raised that things will get better.  Having a lot of highly educated young people without jobs is a spark that sets off the tinder.

If that is the case, the American people are ripe for revolt right now.   Although we are wealthier and more free than much of the world’s population, our economic security and political rights are being eroded.  The younger generation knows it is worse off than the generations that came before.  And the hope of change generated by Barack Obama has proved to be an illusion.

Historically the powers that be in the United States headed off revolt by responding to the discontented and bringing them into the system.   This happened with the labor movement in the 1930s and the civil rights protests of the 1960s.  But I think this time is different.

The electoral process is being altered to increase the power of money and to shut out minority groups, poor people, young people and others who might upset the status quo.  The legislative process is being altered so as to give veto power to the opponents of progressive reform.  The administration of government is becoming interlocked with corporations and shielded from public view.

Protest and dissent are being criminalized.  The U.S. government has the legal and institutional basis to impose a police state.  And the United States is being locked into NAFTA-like trade agreements which give corporations rights that override national law.

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Crisis in government: Links & comments 10/4/13

October 4, 2013

Shutdown Standoff: One of the Worst Crises in American History by John B. Judis for the New Republic.

What’s at stake is whether a political bloc has the power to bring the American government to a halt in order to get its way.   If the Tea Party Republicans get their way, Judis warned, the U.S. government could become unable to function, leading to the rise of extremist parties of the right and left.  I don’t think he exaggerates.

Debt Ceiling Chicken and Trench Warfare by “Yves Smith” for Naked Capitalism.

The United States may be in for a longer and more destructive political siege than anyone expected.  Not only are there no plans for the two sides to meet, nothing is being done to prepare for discussions.  The problem is that this is an either-or situation not subject to compromise.  Either you recognize that a political faction has the right to crash the government, or you don’t.

Republicans Are No Longer the Party of Business by Joshua Green for BloombergBusinessWeek.

The government shutdown creates economic uncertainty and hampers the economic recovery.  That’s why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is opposed to it.

Tea party lawmakers see the culmination of years of effort in shutdown by Zachary A. Goldfarb for the Washington Post.

Since Barry Goldwater ran for President in 1964, members of the right wing of the Republican Party have seen the size of the federal government as the main threat to American freedom.  Ronald Reagan didn’t accomplish this, Newt Gingrich didn’t, George W. Bush didn’t.  Now, at long last, the Republican small-government conservatives think they can accomplish their goal.

The real reason for the government shutdown by Dean Baker for Al Jazeera America.

Baker said the Ted Cruz Republicans see this as their last chance to stop Obamacare, because it will be popular if it ever is allowed to work.

The government shutdown could end today.  All it would cost is John Boehner’s speakership by Chris Gilizza and Sean Sullivan for the Washington Post.

Seventeen Republicans have said they’d vote for a “clean” continuing resolution, which would allow the government to resume normal functioning.  They and the Democrats would be a majority in the House of Representatives.  But if John Boehner allowed that to happen, he would lose his party’s support to be Speaker.

The Shutdown in 10 Infuriating Sentences by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Kevin Drum demonstrated that the shutdown is not a result of equal stubbornness on both sides, but a faction of the Republican Party that intends to rule or ruin.

Even if the shutdown ends, the government is operating under the budget sequester, which is a victory for right-wing Republican priorities in itself.

The shutdown is a Constitutional crsis.

October 3, 2013

The government shutdown, and the impending government debt default, are Constitutional crises.  If President Obama gives in to the threat, he will have set a precedent that will permanently undermine democracy and cripple the U.S. government.  Threatening to shut down the government or force a debt default will become a normal political tactic.

Furloughed federal employee holds sign on the steps to the U.S. Capitol after the U.S. Government shut down last night, on Capitol Hill in WashingtonWhen I studied political science in college in the 1950s, my professors mocked the French Chamber of Deputies, with its continuing crises and deadlocks.   They contrasted it with our American political culture, based on common sense, compromise and loyalty to the common good.  But nowadays the French government functions well.  It is we Americans who are in danger of becoming prisoners of ideology and gridlock.

As “B Psycho” and Matthew Yglesias have pointed out, the government as a whole has not been shut down.  It is business as usual for government employees with uniforms, badges and guns. [Update: Maybe not]  It is only the employees whose work directly helps people who have been told to stay home.  The WICS program, which helps low-income pregnant women and newborn infants, has been suspended.  Experimental cancer treatment by the National Institutes of Health is on hold.  If the shutdown runs too long, disabled veterans will cease to receive payments.

federal.government.shutdownI don’t like this priority any better than they do, but law enforcement, civil order and national defense are core functions of government—they are defining functions of government—and given the fact of a shutdown, it is to be expected they will continue.

I don’t think that a government shutdown should be used as leverage to change homeland security policy (not that anybody important is proposing to do so) any more than it should be used to change Obamacare.  Shutdowns should not be allowed to become an accepted method of deciding policy.

That’s why I think President Obama should stand firm in refusing “compromise” offers by the House of Representatives to fund particular government operations while continuing the overall shutdown.  This is a backdoor way for them to force the Senate and the President to accept their priorities.  The Republican caucus in the House shouldn’t be allowed to decide, all by themselves, which parts of the government should be allowed to operate and which parts shouldn’t.

If the President backs down, then threats of shutdowns will become a substitute for the normal legislative process.  The government will be in a state of perpetual crisis, unable to carry out policies or perform its lawful functions—although still able to spy on citizens, to persecute dissenters and to wage war.

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The two basic facts about the shutdown

October 2, 2013

James Fallows of The Atlantic pointed out something important:

To people who follow politics these two facts are obvious.  But they’re not part of most “tragedy of gridlock” false-equivalence stories, and I believe they would come as news to most of the public.

The two facts are:

  1. John Boehner

    John Boehner

    If the House of Representatives voted on a “clean” budget bill — one that opened up the closed federal offices but did not attempt to defund the Obama health care program — that bill would pass, and the shutdown would be over. Nearly all Democrats would vote for it, as would enough Republicans to end the shutdown and its related damage.  And of course it would pass, has already passed, the Senate, repeatedly, unless the minority dared filibuster it, and would be signed by the president. … …

  2. So far House Speaker John Boehner has refused to let this vote occur.  His Tea Party contingent knows how the vote would go and therefore does not want it to happen; and such is Boehner’s fear of them, and fear for his job as Speaker, that he will not let it take place.

These two points are why the normal D.C.-poohbah moanings about the need for compromise do not apply.   The Democratic administration, and a sufficient number of Republicans, already agree and are ready enough to compromise to solve this problem.  If the normal machinery of democracy were allowed to work, the manufactured crisis would be over.  The only reason the senseless damage is being done is that hostage-takers have terrorized members of their own party.

via James Fallows – The Atlantic.

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The budget crisis: Links & comments 10/2/13

October 2, 2013

What If Voters Don’t Punish Extremism? by Ed Kilgore for Washington Monthly.

Barack Obama has a history of standing aside and giving his opponents enough rope to hang themselves, then jerking on the rope.  I think this is what he is doing in the government shutdown and debt default crises.

Ed Kilgore thinks this might backfire in the current crisis.  Voters are being told by that both sides are equally to blame—even though, in his opinion, the blame rests mainly with the Republicans.

Shutdown Could Last Weeks by Jonathan Strong for National Review Online.

Neither side is willing to back down.  Obama insists on a “clean” continuing resolution to allow the whole government to keep functioning.  Congressional Republicans plan to introduce “rifle shot” bills to keep specific government departments and programs functioning, but President Obama has said he will veto them (although he did sign a bill to continue paying active duty military personnel).

Strong said it is not just a conflict between the President and the House Republican caucus.  The real deadlock is between House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who detest each other.

The Individual Mandate and the Government Shutdown by Ian Welsh.

Welsh argued that the Republican Obamacare proposal is reasonable.  It did not suspend Obamacare, but only its most unpopular provision, the individual mandate to buy health insurance whether you want it or not.

The problem with Welch’s argument is that, without the individual mandate, the complicated Obamacare system crashes.  If the people who sign up for Obamacare are only people who are poor and already sick, the system cannot pay for itself itself.

What Exactly Did Boehner Promise at Williamsburg? by Jonathan Strong for National Review Online.

The House GOP’s Legislative Strike by Jonathan Chait for New York magazine.

The Republican congressional caucus agreed in January to the Williamsburg Accords, an agreement to use the threat of a government shutdown and debt payment default to force President Obama to agree to their program.  The current crisis is not an accident.  It is part of a planned strategy.

Why Boehner doesn’t just ditch the hard right?, an interview of Robert Costa, the National Review’s Washington editor, by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives has less influence on the Republican caucus than does the Tea Party or Fox News.

Who to blame for the U.S. budget crisis?  Try the Kaiser by Uwe Bott for the Toronto Globe & Mail.

Once upon a time the President had to ask Congress for approval each time the government borrowed money.  In order to pay for the cost of fighting in World War One, President Woodrow Wilson asked for, and got, approval to borrow money, up to a certain limit—the debt ceiling.

What does it take to enact a law in the USA?

September 30, 2013

In a country with a parliamentary system, a Prime Minister is chosen by the party with a majority in parliament, or by a coalition of parties if none of them has a majority.  The Prime Minister then proposes laws and normally they are enacted by parliament.  If parliament rejects an important bill, the Prime Minister has the option to call an election, and let the people decide which they think is right.

Here in the United States, the process is different.  In order to become law, the Affordable Care Act has to get a majority of votes in the House of Representatives and 60 out of 100 votes in the U.S. Senate.  It then had to be signed by the President and reviewed by the Supreme Court.  It seems to me that, whether or not you agree with the law, that ought to be enough.

Source: Buffalo News

Hat tip to Buffalo News.
Update: President Obama signed a law providing for continuation of pay of active-duty military personnel.

But now the Republicans in the House of Representatives are threatening to shut down the government unless the Obama administration delays implementation of the health care act.  They don’t have the votes to repeal the law, so they are using a blackmail tactic instead.

In my opinion, Obamacare is a flawed plan which is unlikely to work as intended.  But it is law, and millions of individuals and thousands of businesses have made plans based on the schedule for implementing it.   Shutting down the government would be harmful to the country, but there would be even more harm from the economic uncertainty created by doubts as to whether a law really is law even after it is enacted.

Granted, there are worse things that could happen than a temporary shutdown of government.  But it creates unnecessary disruption, unnecessary hardship and also unnecessary expense, because it is more costly to shut down and restart than to continue operations.  It is terrible way to run a government.

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The price of averting a debt payment crisis

September 28, 2013

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Congressional Republicans are threatening to shut down the government unless Obamacare is defunded.  But the real danger to the government’s functioning, as blogger Steve Benen pointed out, is the refusal of the Republicans to raise the debt ceiling unless their demands are made.  These demands are shown in the graphic above.

These demands are basically the Mitt Romney presidential platform, which the American electorate rejected a year ago.   All of them, in my opinion, are bad for the country.  But if I’m wrong about that, then let the proponents enact laws through the regular lawmaking process.

The fact that the Republicans have a majority in Congress at all is due to the way congressional districts are drawn.  Democratic congressional candidates last year got a million more total votes than Republican candidates.

I don’t know what the effect of refusing to raise the debt ceiling would be.  It seems to me that the Federal Reserve Board could solve the problem by creating money to buy up the excess debt.  Maybe this would set a bad precedent.  In any case, I don’t expect this to happen.

One of the big assets of the United States is the world’s confidence that our government debt will be repaid.  To the extent this is damaged, it could add untold billions in the government debt service costs and maybe even undermine confidence in the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  Risking this is deeply irresponsible.

The criticism that is made of President Obama is that he refuses to compromise.  But the ordinary meaning of the world compromise is to give up something in order to get something in return.  There is no question of compromise here—only the question of whether and to what degree he will give in to threats.

Six years ago, we had the same political situation that we do now, in reverse.  Republicans occupied the White House and had a majority in the Senate, Democrats had a majority in the House of Representatives.  Congressional Democrats never threatened to close down the government or damage the credit rating of U.S. Treasury bonds in order to get their way.  Nor, for that matter, did Senate Democrats insist on a 60-vote majority for routine business.

When I studied political science in college in the 1950s, I was told of the superiority of the pragmatic American political culture to the ideological French and Italian political parties, who pushed ideology to the limit regardless of consequences.  But that was then.  This is now.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 9/19/13

September 19, 2013

The Stranglehold on Our Politics by Elizabeth Drew for the New York Review of Books.

Elizabeth Drew reported on how the Republican victory in state legislature elections in 2010 enabled them to redraw legislative and congressional districts so that they can win a majority of seats even without a majority of votes.  Republicans have a majority of votes in the House of Representatives, and the Tea Party bloc has a majority in the Republican caucus.  So a political minority is in a position to veto what a majority of voters want.

I don’t admire the current Democratic leadership, with a few exceptions.  I think the current Republican leadership is worse, also with a few exceptions.  Even if Americans only have a choice of evils, they deserve a free and fair choice.

The United States’ disservice to Afghan translators by Dakota Meyer and Bing West for the Washington Post.

The United States has a disgraceful history, going back to the Vietnam Conflict, of abandoning foreigners who served the U.S. military in our unsuccessful wars.  We seem to be about to repeat that history in Afghanistan.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, we Americans have a moral obligation to our troops who risked and sacrificed to carry out that policy, but to their Afghan comrades who put their trust in the United States.

Chin Peng tale shows difficulties of confronting history by Achara Ashayagachat for the Bangkok Post.  Hat tip to the Big Mango.

The Malayan Communist guerrilla leader Chin Peng fought the British, the Japanese and the newly independent government of Malaya, and spent the last third of his life in Thailand, where he died last month at the age of 88.  More than 30 years after he laid down his arms, the Malaysian government forbids his body to be returned to his home country for burial.

The Entire State of the US Economy, the Fed and the Stock Market in One Disturbing Paragraph by Joe Weisenthal for Business Insider.

I got virtually no interest on my bank account or my money market fund, so if I don’t want the real value of my retirement savings to dwindle because of inflation, I need to keep a portion of them in stock and bond mutual funds.   The reason that interest rates are close to nothing is the Federal Reserve Board’s policy.

Women Waiting Tables Provide Most of the Female Jobs Gains in the U.S. by Ian Katz and Alex Tanzi for Bloomberg Business News.

War resolution is a trap for Congress

September 6, 2013

pew.poll.syria

Why does President Obama want authorization from Congress to attack Syria, when he claims he doesn’t need it and some administration officials say he may go ahead even without authorization?

Surely one reason is that a favorable vote will give him political cover.  Senators John Kerry and Hillary Clinton voted for the Bush administration’s requests for authorization to use military force against Iraq and Al Qaeda.  That made it possible for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to say that they had equal responsibility.

That same will be said by Barack Obama and Joe Biden if Elizabeth Warren or Rand Paul vote for the authorization to use force against Syria, and later criticize administration policy.  It’s a good political ploy.  Let’s hope that a majority of the Senate and the House of Representatives have as good an understanding of the situation as a majority of the American people.

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