Yesterday was a landmark day: the Senate approved, for the first time, a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Until seven years ago, the agency had a real director—not just an acting one—but the NRA persuaded Congress to put an amendment into the PATRIOT Act requiring Senate confirmation for that position. Since that time—seven years—the Senate has refused to confirm any nominees.
Seven months ago, President Obama nominated B. Todd Jones, the most recent person proposed for the position, but Senate GOP members held up the confirmation through filibustering until Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Harry Reid (D-NV) made a deal to stop the filibuster for seven other presidential nominees. The 60-40 vote to end the filibuster was not effortless: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) had to fly back from North Dakota after being ill, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) had to be persuaded to vote with the Democrats and the other GOP senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and John McCain (R-AZ).
George W. Bush nominated U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan for director, but the NRA accused Sullivan of “overly restrictive legal interpretations” and “overly zealous enforcement activities.” Sens. David Vitter (R-LA), Larry Craig (R-ID) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) threatened to filibuster Sullivan, and he was never confirmed. President Obama’s nominee in 2010, Andrew Traver, lost to the NRA because he supported a ban on .50 caliber rifles.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the man who called Edward Snowden a criminal, refused to support Jones who he accused of “retaliating against a whistle-blower.” One case has been closed because of a technical review of the complaint document, and the other has been moved to mediation.
This will be the last action before Congress heads home to campaign for five weeks, supposedly listening to what their constituents say. They declared this week “Stop Government Abuse,” which would be better described “Stop Government.” Instead of using this last week to clean up bills languishing in the House for months, that chamber considered ways to control government workers and give people the right to record their conversations. The new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, just nine days of House meetings away. They have eight out of 12 appropriation bills left to determine, including the farm bill. For weeks, conservative GOP representatives have been threatening to close down the government if Obamacare is not overturned. And we know how well that worked two years ago!
Conservative scholar Norm Ornstein calls the GOP behavior “irresponsible.” He asserted that the GOP has five different parties: a House party, a Senate party, a presidential party with Southern and a non-Southern one. According to Ornstein, the dominant parties are the House and the Southern one, and they are wreaking disaster on the nation:
“You could say it’s a do-nothing Congress but that doesn’t do justice to it. These guys are doing something, which is to destroy the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare.”
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) warned his House colleagues that aiming toward the shutdown of the government would be a “suicidal political tactic.” He compared their position to that the Pickett’s unsuccessful attack during the Battle of Gettysburg leading to Confederate retreat.
The polls agree with Cole and Ornstein. Republican pollster Whit Ayers, president of North Star Opinion Research, found that respondents opposed the shutdown strategy by a 64-29 percent margin.
But the GOP plods along with its “stop government” tactics. With Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s leadership, 43 GOP senators blocked the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill. Although 19 GOP senators wanted to bring the bill to the floor in June, McConnell managed to whip his caucus into a “stop government” position. House Republican leaders also pulled their THUD bill from the floor because there weren’t enough Republicans to vote in favor of the bill.
The House “stop government” focus this week was on bills with such titles as “Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act” and “Stop Playing on Citizen’s Cash Act.” The STOP IRS Act, STOP standing for “Stop Targeting Our Politics,” would let the IRS to fire employees “who take official actions for political purposes.” As some of the people in Congress are already leaving for their nice five-week vacation, House GOP leaders plan the 40th vote against Obamacare, its efforts to bar the IRS from implementing or enforcing any piece of the 2010 health-care law.
When lawmakers come back in September, however, playtime is over, especially if constituents tell GOP legislators that they shouldn’t close down the country. By now, the effects of the sequester is far more evident, and people without jobs are angry.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) showed his piece of “stop government” when he was asked about is the mis-named “Hastert Rule” that supposedly requires a majority of Republicans to approve a House bill before the House votes on the bill. He tried to dispel the myth in this way: “It is not, ‘they don’t come to the floor unless we have a majority of the majority,’ because we don’t know if we have a majority until we vote on it.”
At face value, this statement seems to give the impression that Ryan thinks the Hastert Rule should be ignored. That’s a good idea because, as McCain frequently claims these days, bills deserve to see the light of day and receive an honest debate. A spokesman clarified Ryan’s language when he told Ryan’s constituent, “The House will consider only those immigration reforms that garner a majority of House Republicans.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is already practicing the lies that he will tell his constituents. Yesterday morning, when asked about the president’s recent series about the economy and the middle class, Boehner said, “If I had poll numbers as low as his, I’d probably be out doing the same thing, if I were him.” Poll numbers are something that Boehner really shouldn’t touch.
The latest NBC/WSJ poll showed Obama with a 48% favorability rating; the same poll showed Boehner with an 18% favorability rating. The president’s approval rating, depending on which poll you like, is somewhere between 45% and 50%, while Boehner’s Congress’ approval rating is between 11% and 19%.
In other polls:
- 55 percent of people think that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, not a traitor, in contrast to Congressional opposition toward Snowden’s actions.
- 78 percent of the people want a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S.; the House refuses to even consider the possibility.
- only 21 percent of the people think that abortion should not be allowed.
- 68 percent of the people think that Republicans are doing too little to compromise with President Obama.
- only 33 percent of the people that the distribution of wealth in the nation is fair, and a majority of the people believe that the government should do something about this.
- 55 percent of the people think that marriage equality should be legalized, up from 46 percent less than nine months ago.
Boehner should check out the polls. He might find them enlightening.