Nel's New Day

August 20, 2014

Congress, Presidential Candidate Politics in August

Outside the tragedy surrounding Ferguson (MO) , congressional members on their summer vacation are keeping a very low profile except for campaigning. Yet the GOP leaders haven’t given up their threats to destroy the country if they don’t get their way.

Ten months ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said, “A government shutdown is off the table. We’re not going to do it.” Now he’s threatens to shut down the government by attaching restrictive policy riders to spending bills if the GOP takes over the Senate this coming November. When asked if this could lead to another shutdown, McConnell said that the president would decide whether to veto spending bills to keep the government open. In other words, McConnell plans to blackmail the president and the country to get his own way on anti-choice, anti-immigrant, and anti-U.S. benefits bills. The result will be business as usual: last-minute bills to keep the government operating for a few weeks or a few months. He wants more high drama.

Although McConnell will most likely keep his position, he suffers from the same problem that caused former Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to lose his primary—ignoring his constituency. McConnell tried to convince women that he “voted for even stronger protections than Obama’s agenda will allow,” but he actually voted against the version of VAWA that passed the Senate and went on to become law. Instead, McConnell supported a scaled-back GOP version of the legislation that eliminated key protections for LGBT, Native American, and undocumented immigrant victims of domestic abuse. McConnell may have been a co-sponsor of the original bill 23 years ago, but he has repeatedly voted against it since then.

McConnell also voted against equal pay for women, including the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and supported the Hobby Lobby suit to stop freed contraception for women through their insurance. Another of his anti-woman actions was to actively block a spending bill that contained $41 million in grants for reducing the rape kit testing backlog.

This week, he’s telling farmers that he has helped them, but he has missed every Agriculture Committee hearing since 2009 while he had time for the media. At the end of 2011, McConnell missed the hearing, “Continued Oversight of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act” where the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission testified. The same day, however, he appeared on Sean Hannity’s conservative talk show. Later that year, he missed the hearing, “Eliminating Waste in the Farm Bill,” but appeared on Fox News. Last spring, McConnell skipped confirmation hearings for three of the president’s nominees for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, although he originally recommended Chris Giancarlo for commissioner, to make a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference where he awkwardly waved a rifle.

Another big McConnell mistake was to say that bringing jobs to Kentucky was “not my job.” Then he got  upset because the news media printed his quote.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) isn’t promising a shutdown, but he’s be running scared about more far-right radicals winning House seats. Boehner has to keep these conservatives happy to retain his speaker position.

The first fiscal bill after the 114th Congress takes over at the beginning of January 2015 is raising the federal limit, a crisis that has already threatened the country’s credit ratings and the financial markets. If the House keeps its 234 seats, only 17 Republicans can vote “no” to sink legislation without Democratic support. Boehner’s only choices will be to move farther right (ugh!) or gain votes from Democratic representatives. The latter shift will most likely bring more mutiny from conservatives. The middle in Congress is gone.

Boehner has kept his job by catering to the radical conservatives and passing legislation that has no chance in the Senate. Democratic votes helped pass a tax increase on the wealthy and provide $50.7 billion for Superstorm Sandy victims, but Boehner won back the conservatives by supporting the Tea Party’s attempts to withhold funding from the Affordable Care Act. That led to the disastrous 16-day government shutdown but won Boehner from some of his GOP members.

Because of resignations or losses in GOP primaries—primarily to farther-right candidates—thus far this year, 28 incumbents will not return to the 114th Congress. One of the replacements may be Glenn Grothman from Wisconsin who is slightly ahead in the primary to replace retiring Rep. Tom Petri. One of Gov. Scott Walker’s legislators who helped tear down all the progress the state has made in a century, his positions are far to the right of Petri.

Grothman Wisconsin introduced a bill to officially list single parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse while Petri supported raising fuel taxes, now 39 percent lower than 20 years ago, to replenish the Highway Trust Fund. As Grothman hopes to head for Congress, he said, “Immigration is … going to destroy the country” because it will change the country’s culture.

The number of moderates in the House, defined as those willing to cross party lines in voting, has decreased from about half the members in the 1970s to less than 20 percent last year. Gerrymandering to make GOP districts more “safe” has contributed to this change and accelerated with the Tea Party success.

Pundits and politicians are trying to figure out winners for the next presidential election, with the idea that governors might make better leaders than other politicians—especially members of Congress. The Hill has published a list of 65 possible presidential candidates in 2016, and 30 of them, almost half, are current or former governors. Scandals, however, show a different picture.

  • Rick Perry (TX) has been indicted for abuse of power and coercion because he threatened to veto funding for the state’s Public Integrity Unit if the person running it didn’t resign. She didn’t quit, and he cut the funding. At the time, the Unit was investigating a cancer research institute, one of Perry’s project, and one of its former high-ranking officials now faces a felony corruption charge. That might not have happened with a Perry-chosen replacement. Side note: His indictment means that he cannot buy or carry any guns.
  • Chris Christie (NJ) has not only caused “traffic problems in Fort Lee” but also suffers another bridge scandal involving securities law violations from the source of funding to repair the Pulaski Skyway. Christie also gave $260 million in tax breaks to Atlantic City’s Revel Casino Hotel that closed after two years.
  • Scott Walker (WI) is implicated in an allegedly illegal coordination scheme between his campaign and third-party conservative groups. People on both sides are waiting to see if a special prosecutor files charges against Walker.
  • Robert McDonnell (VA) was a strong contender for vice-president while still governor; now he’s on trial for gifts and cash that he received while in office. He hopes to get off by blaming his wife for everything.
  • Rick Scott (FL) faces accusations involving personal financial interests in a rail project and a natural gas pipeline.
  • Sam Brownback’s (KS) close associates are being investigated by the FBI regarding influence-peddling operations to the governor and top administration officials, especially in connection with Brownback’s privatization of the state’s $3 billion Medicaid program.
  • Pat McCrory (NC) was subpoenaed regarding his knowledge about a disastrous coal ash spill because of his close relationship to Duke Energy.
  • Andrew Cuomo (NY), the lone Democrat in the batch, allegedly hobbled an anti-corruption commission he created, steering the commission away from investigating his allies and a media-buying company that had worked on his campaign. He ultimately disbanded the commission altogether.

The theory supporting governors for better presidents came from the idea that leadership of states and nations are similar, but the problems around the country makes one question this theory. New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez, considered a prime candidate for the GOP because she’s a Latina, attracting both females and minorities. Yet her image has been tarnished within the past few months through her corruption and her foul language when she didn’t know she was being taped.

The prime governor candidates are carrying heavy baggage, and candidates such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) will use the candidate debates to through a few more rocks into their luggage.

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