Nel's New Day

January 11, 2017

Nominee Hearings: Make America Corrupt Again

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 9:50 PM
Tags: , ,

Writing about the timing for Senate confirmation hearings—at least accurately!—has become almost impossible. A few days, I was bemoaning how Cabinet members are being rushed through without deliberation, but every hour seems to change the GOP game plan. Originally, six Cabinet-level confirmations were scheduled on the same day that the chamber works on the budget (that one that grows the deficit by $10 trillion in the next decade) and Donald Trump (DT) gives his first press conference in six months to divert attention from his nominees. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said, “There is a whole lot of: ‘Don’t watch what we’re doing here.” Watchers now, however, can see how the GOP is failing at its job.

The inability of Betsy DeVos (Department of Education) put off her hearing until next Tuesday in the hopes that she can finished her required ethics paperwork. Her investment in a for-profit charter school would be a conflict of interest in any other administration.  As more cabinet nominees are shown to have possible conflicts of interest, they have also been postponed without the necessary review of background checks and ethics review.

Andrew Puzder (Department of Labor) may not get a hearing until February. The postponement comes at the same time as a new survey finding that two-thirds of the women who work at his fast-food restaurants (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s) reported sexual harassment in the workplace. That was followed by a spokesperson for Puzder who confirmed that his ex-wife appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about his domestic violence against her in the 1980s.

Wilbur Ross (Department of Commerce), also  scheduled for today, has his hearing next Thursday, again because the committee has not received his ethics agreement. The hearings for CIA director nominee, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KA) for CIA Director was postponed until tomorrow. That makes hearings for four different cabinet members on one day.

Conservatives are blaming Walter M. Shaub Jr., the director of the ethics office, for the delay, but nominees have not submitted their information to him.

The schedule as of recently:

  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions – Jan. 10-11
  • Homeland Security: John Kelly – Jan. 10-11
  • State: Rex Tillerson – Jan 11 (may go into Jan 12)
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao – Jan. 11
  • CIA: Mike Pompeo – Jan. 12
  • Labor: Andrew Puzder – February
  • Defense: James Mattis – Jan. 12
  • HUD: Ben Carson – Jan. 12

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) accused Democrats of trying to slow down the process in demanding the necessary paperwork, but he had been a stickler for this requirement when President Obama was elected. Now he calls them “little procedural complaints.” Necessary submissions require tax returns, FBI background checks, and Office of Government Ethics information.

Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (Department of Justice) had completed the FBI background check, but his original application skipped over years of experience. He withheld decades of records about his career—information about 1981-1993 as U.S. Attorney to the Southern District of Alabama, 1995-1997 as the state’s attorney general, and 1997-2002 as a first term U.S. senator. Also missing are the hearings after his nomination for federal judge in 1986 when he was determined to be too racist for the position and dozens of recent interviews when he made controversial statements. It all came out in the hearing anyway.

The Alabama Republican criticized Judge Sonia Sotomayor and Goodwin Liu for incomplete questionnaires, accusing the latter of his incompetence because of his “extraordinary disregard for the Committee’s constitutional role” or attempting “to hide his most controversial work from the Committee.” Sessions said that Liu might be committing a felony by omitting information from his questionnaire. After almost a year of the Senate ignoring the nominee, President Obama withdrew the nomination. Liu is now seated on California’s Supreme Court.

Sessions is perhaps the most controversial nominee, and McConnell had limited the number of witnesses called by Democrats to four in the two-day hearing, only half the length of four days for John Ashcroft, the last nominees for AG plucked from the Senate. Ashcroft’s hearings included 19 outside witnesses plus four senators. Committee Chair Chuck Grassley refused to push back the time of Sessions’ hearing because of his omissions on his applications. Two witnesses against Sessions were Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—the first time a sitting senator has testified against a sitting senate nominee—and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). Sessions did not appear for today’s hearing–but that is another story for later.

Although Sessions’ racist record goes back many decades, his current record shows racist, homophobic,  and misogynist  attitudes. For example, he gave Trump a pass for his sexist comments and admissions to sexual assault because “everybody knows that Trump likes women” and “uses this kind of talk.” He praised the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that eliminated key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965; he voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act; he voted for a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage; he opposed the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the hate crimes prevention act; and he voted to abolish a program that helps businesses owned by women and minorities compete for federally funded transportation projects. In 2015, he praised a 1924 immigration law to end “indiscriminate acceptance of all races.”

In addition to being racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, and anti-woman, Sessions has connections to Southern Co., one of the nation’s biggest electric companies and his biggest corporate donor. Favors for the company could impact his legal work on the Clean Power Plan which regulates carbon emissions from electric utilities. A power plant that the company is building is also being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. ExxonMobil also gave to campaigns of Sessions who then vociferously objected to any investigations into the company concealing its knowledge of climate change from its shareholders and the public. This is the man who would be guiding the country in protecting the laws and civil rights.

Sessions has said that he will not recuse himself from voting on his own nomination as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry did.

Even the Republicans admit that they have different standards for DT’s nominees. Asked if past standards of disclosing foreign payments apply to DT’s Cabinet nominees, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) said it should not. HuffPo repeated, “So it’s different now because it’s Trump?” Inhofe said twice that’s “just right” about different standards for DT. The question came from a GOP letter, also signed by Inhofe, demanding  “unprecedented disclosures” from former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) when he was President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense. At that time, Senate Republicans had a concern about “the potential for foreign conflicts of interest.” The same Republicans no longer have that concern.

The hearing for Elaine Chao (Department of Transportation) went quite well if you can stomach sexist comments such as “I regret that I have but one wife to give for my country’s infrastructure” (Mitch McConnell and “I keep thinking … how excited your daddy is right now … and that he is responsible for you and your performing” (Jim Inhofe).  Even the Democrats joined the nonsense.

John Kelly (Department of Homeland Security) said gave all the right answers to keep his hearing audience happy, but the questions were softballs.

Donald Trump’s press conference was also today. But that, too, is another story as is information from the hearing for Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State).

The lights have already gone out twice in a week at the Washington Monument. It could be an indication of the coming dark ages.

January 7, 2017

115th Congress: First Four Days toward Erasing Democracy

Hard to believe that the new GOP Congress has been passing bills for only four days! At least they leave town at the end of next week.

GOP members of Congress are growing insecure about their plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) despite a poll that indicates 75 percent of the people in the United States oppose getting rid of the ACA without a viable replacement. In an effort to prove that constituents want a repeal, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is conducting a phone poll at 1-202-225-0600. The instructions explain that the caller should press 2 for a recording; if you support continuing the ACA, press 1. I tried it tonight—Saturday night—and received a busy signal for almost an hour with about 30 attempts. I’ll try tomorrow!

Ryan has already called security to remove people who tried to deliver 87,000 petitions to continue Planned Parenthood. When Planned Parenthood volunteers lined up at Ryan’s office to deliver these signatures, he sent out security to protect him. You can try to call him at 1-202-225-0600.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the witch hunt against Planned Parenthood, asked her constituents if they wanted to repeal Obamacare. Sixteen percent said yes; the remaining 84 percent said no. She claimed ACA was a failure because it didn’t insure the poor—after her state blocked Medicaid.

GOP legislators have passed a “rule” that their staffers can question subjects of GOP inquiries under oath without any congressional member being present. These staffers can “compel any American to appear, sit in a room, and answer staff’s invasive questions on the record,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY). Drew Hammill, spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) pointed out, “This rules change represents a shocking continuation and expansion of House Republicans’ abusing of congressional processes to intimidate private citizens just as they did with the Select Committee to Attack Women’s Health.” It feels like a return of the Sen. Joe McCarthy days of the 1950s only on steroids.

GOP House members claim they want transparency—think about the 11 committee hearings investigating Hillary Clinton’s non-existent Benghazi involvement—but they’d prefer that the sunlight doesn’t strike their own problems. Concealing their ethics violations didn’t work, but they thought they succeeded in a Russian-style ban on lawmakers’ use of video and camera in the House. TV producer and self-described “newbie activist,” Blaine (no last name), has set up an online crowdfunding page to pay all the fines that Republican House members plan to charge Democrats if they film the GOP behavior. His goal is $25,000; any money not used for fines goes to the nonprofits Public Citizen and the Dow Jones News Fund. Although the building housing Congress technically belongs to the people of the U.S., the C-SPAN cameras supposed to be operating during all legislation are owned by the House and Senate, giving the GOP total control of information coming from Congress.

The House plans to help DT deregulate everything so that he can make more money. The Koch-provided REINS Act (HR 26 – Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017) dictates that a “major rule shall not take effect unless the Congress enacts a joint resolution of approval” and won’t become law if Congress does not pass that resolution by “70 session days or legislative days, as applicable.” In other words, agencies can set any rule that they want, but Congress has to pass the rules for them to be enacted. Specific targets of the bill are net neutrality, the Clean Power Plan, and voting rights. The mission is to keep people from an awareness of what’s happening, pollute the planet, and then prevent people from voting. The bill has passed the House by 237 to 187 and now goes to the Senate.

Another bill, this one passing the House by 238-184, is “the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017” which allows Congress to repeal every rule passed in the last 60 legislative days of a final year of a president’s term. If it passes the Senate and is signed by DT, it deletes all rules passed since May 26, 2016.

One of DT’s popular promises was to “build the wall.” Mexico has always said that it won’t pay for it, but Republicans have a new plan. They will build the wall—costing $12 billion to $38 billion—and then charge Mexico for it. Unlike some of the other bills in Senate, however, Democrats can filibuster the funding for the wall. Ten red-state Democrats are up for reelection in 2018, and the GOP Senate needs only eight Democratic defectors to break a filibuster. Of these eight, four will probably not play nicely with the GOP to pay for a wall that hurts employers in their states.

The House isn’t the only chamber that’s busily tearing down the country. Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX, and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have introduced legislation to remove security at U.S. diplomatic sites. Gone is the horror about deaths at Benghazi and the call for the U.S. to protect its ambassadors. The bill restricts funding for “Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance”—except for the embassy in Tel Aviv until its hoped-for GOP relocation to Jerusalem. In essence, half the funding for embassy security will be removed until the new secretary of state reports to Congress that the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem has “officially opened.”

The international community does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the city hosts no foreign embassies. Relocating the U.S. embassy to a city that doesn’t belong to Israel would totally destroy a two-state peace solution between Palestine and Israel as well as causing massive unrest among other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan. And embassy security is sadly underfunded as shown by the problems at Benghazi.

In order to persuade the slave-owning states to join the United States in the 18th century, the U.S. Constitution gave each state two senators no matter their size. Those states are still controlling the majority of people in the United States. In the recent election, DT lost the popular vote by almost three million, but the electoral vote—giving each state two electoral college votes no matter what its size—came in on the side of DT. For example, California is 66 times larger in population than Wyoming but each state got two electoral votes for the number of senators.

This disparity is made obvious by the overwhelming majority of votes for the minority of Democrats in the Senate. Those 48 members of the chamber collectively earned 78.4 million votes; the 52 Republicans got 54.8 million votes. Therefore Democrats, in the Senate minority, received 23.5 million more votes than the majority determined to give the country to the top 0.1 percent and destroy the country for the rest of us. If the Senate operated on the popular vote, it would have 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans. But of course if the country operated on a popular vote, Hillary Clinton would be president instead of a crazy TV personality. At least DT goes bonkers every time that he hears about what a loser he is. So sad!

When the GOP took control of Congress two years ago, a Republican friend told me that a GOP Congress would remove gridlock. At that time Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised that a Republican Congress would get things done. The last two years have been such a disaster for Congress that its approval rating is at 17 percent—16 percent approval among Republicans. Now the GOP is in control of the country. Republican voters: be careful what you wish for!

January 4, 2017

No Select Committee to Investigate Russian Hacking

Senate buddies John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have caved in to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in their demand to investigate Russian hacking into the presidential election that may have caused Hillary Clinton to lose to Donald Trump (DT). McConnell, who blocked information about the hacking last September, “declined” to allow a select committee, claiming that existing Senate committees are enough. In the past, McCain has said about the hacking, “When you attack a country, it’s an act of war. “If you try to destroy the fundamentals of democracy, then you have destroyed a nation.” After his brief return to being a “maverick,” McCain has gone back to wimp.

FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2016, file photo, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stands on the balcony of the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. Ecuador says it’s ready to set a date for Swedish prosecutors to question Assange, who has been holed up in the South American country’s embassy in London for four years. Assange is wanted for questioning by Swedish police over rape allegations stemming from his visit to the country in 2010. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

 (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

DT and his team claim that Russia had nothing to do with interfering in the presidential election. Their source? Sexual assault fugitive Julian Assange who has been hiding for years in the Ecuador Embassy in London.  Assange is noted for his Wikileaks smears about Clinton’s inner circle as bunch of crazed, creepy Satanists.

At this time, Assange’s follower, DT, can’t even keep track of when his meetings are scheduled: he has accused officials of postponing until Friday his “intelligence” briefing on the “so-called ‘Russian hacking’” that he doesn’t believe. The briefing was always scheduled for Friday, and DT’s “Presidential Daily Briefing” was scheduled yesterday. He rarely attends these briefings so he may not bother to keep track of the times. The one yesterday did not concentrate on Russian hacking because that briefing is scheduled for Friday.

Much has been said about Russians hacking only Democrats; DT accused them of not having “hacking defense” like the Republicans. In another indication of Russians influencing the election, however, U.S. intelligence officials say “the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.” On New Year’s Eve, DT told that press that “I know things that other people don’t know” about the hacking and promised to tell all yesterday or today. His team has withdrawn that disclosure.

Basically, a president-elect is taking sides with a criminal hacker with Russian connections over the United States intelligence agencies. Assange has had a program on Russia’s propaganda station,  and DT has started a feud with his own intelligence community to side with Assange who leaked names of Afghan civilians acting as U.S. informants. That president-elect was elected by a hawkish political party that has been skeptical about Communist Russia’s relationship with their nation. Former vice-president elect Sarah Palin called Assange “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands” and now apologized to him.

DT is so supportive of Russia that he plans to reduce the office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the CIA. His real motive may be that he’s afraid that intelligence will find out things about him that he doesn’t want them to know.

DT’s faith in Assange is at opposite ends from major Republicans in Congress. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) told conservative Hugh Hewitt that “the guy [Assange] is a sycophant for Russia. He leaks, he steals data, and compromises national security.” Graham, who backed down on investigating Russian hacking, said:

“We have two choices — some guy living in an embassy on the run from the law … who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us. I’m going with them.”

Even VP-elect Mike Pence has stated that there is sufficient evidence that Russia played a part in the election.

While DT spreads his opinion far and wide on Twitter that his 17 intelligence agencies are wrong, the current CIA director, John Brennan, talked to Judy Woodruff on PBS about the upcoming release of the Russian intelligence report this coming Monday. He recommended a “wait and see” approach:

“There is no intelligence community worldwide that has the capabilities, the expertise, the analytic capability of the U.S. intelligence community. And so I would suggest to individuals who have not yet seen the report, who have not been briefed on it, that they wait and see what it is that the intelligence community is putting forward before they make those judgments.”

DT has a lot at stake regarding information about Russian hacking. He wants only three things: money, vengeance, and popularity. Finding out that he won the presidency because a foreign government illegally influenced his election could damage the last piece.

Admitting to Russian hacking could also damage his relationship with Vladimir Putin, who DT calls his “best friend” and who may hold the purse strings of much of DT’s investments.  DT’s friendship with Vladimir Putin can also put money into his pocket. President Obama’s sanctions stopped a $500 million oil deal between the Russian government and Exxon. Lifting the sanctions could put lots of money into DT’s pocket and be a major reason for Putin to make sure that Trump got elected. As Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson could help make money for both him and DT.

A hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled for tomorrow with McCain as chair, but McConnell may be able to destroy that one too. Today, George Little, a former spokesman for the CIA, tweeted about DT, “Let’s stare this reality square in the face: PEOTUS is pro-Putin and believes Julian Assange over the @CIA. On Jan. 20 we will be less safe.”

DT’s strategy is always creating a diversion when the media might address something detrimental to him. Look for his tweets in the next couple days to see where he leads the media.

 

January 3, 2017

Day One of the 115th Congress, Its Stumbles

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 10:22 PM
Tags: , , ,

The 115th Congress is one day old, and a strange thing happened: some Republicans seemed to exhibit shame—or perhaps just fear of constituents. Their embarrassment began yesterday when GOP members of the House voted in a closed session to put the House in charge of ethics charges for House members. The process seems to be a redux of the 2004 GOP decision to weaken ethics rules in the GOP-controlled House, led by then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) who was later convicted of violating election law. Vice-president Mike Pence, a representative at that time, strongly supported the move.

After the vote to weaken the ethics procedures, a large number of House members, almost all Republicans, were caught in illegal scandals—one of these the Abramoff affair—that put some of them in prison. When Democrats ran against this “culture of corruption” in 2006, they won both congressional chambers and set up an independent committee to take care of House ethics matters.

History repeated itself yesterday when GOP House members voted 119-74 to put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the control of the House Ethics Committee despite opposition for leadership House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Yet the majority had decided to keep investigations from public view and allow the House committee to stop investigating at any time, based on a House vote. Anonymous tips would not be investigated, and crimes could not be sent to law enforcement, a practice not only unethical but also unconstitutional. The full House would have to agree to move forward on an investigation, but the committee had no ability to search for evidence to get the approval.

The decision was not a done deal: the entire House had to vote on this change as part of the rules package today. Judicial Watch, the conservative group which pushed to get the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails, described the change as “shady and corrupt, a “drive by effort.” Phones lit up and tweets flew. Donald Trump (DT) sensed the disturbance and tweeted that the House should do other things first that favored him personally. After all, he thinks he cannot be investigated:

“With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”

DT’s staff disagreed with him. His counselor, Kellyanne Conway praised the weakening of ethics, saying that it will cut down on “overzealousness.” She lost. Only a few of the 119 supporters were willing to go public or admit that they were in favor of it. GOP constituents constantly supported the change until an emergency GOP conference meeting reversed yesterday’s vote by unanimous consent. DT took credit for this action, but one representative said that the strong public opposition had killed it before DT wrote anything.

One conclusion from Day One of the 115th Congress suggests that shame works. Without public outcry, the Republicans would have moved ahead to hide all their illegal activities. This reversal could even set a precedent when the GOP tries to eliminate health care, Social Security, Wall Street regulations, taxes for the wealthy, etc. Protest!

Of course, it’s not over. The GOP can revert to their idea when they think no one is watching or hide it inside a major bill. House Ethics Chair Susan Brooks (R-IN) said that the ethics panel will review the proposal make recommendations in late summer or early fall—probably hoping that people will be on vacation then.

A major question is whether the GOP House leadership has any more control over their members. Despite top-level arguments against weakening the ethics rules, the caucus decided to move forward on it—briefly. The Republicans in Congress have been badly split since the Tea Party revolution of 2010, creating a dilemma on negotiation. Who does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or DT work with if Ryan and McCarthy don’t agree with the underlings.

While the House was dithering about ethics, the Senate, with less attention, bragged about repealing “Obamacare.” Today they put together an introduction to the “reconciliation process” to out-maneuver a Democratic filibuster against any health care repeal bills. The process can be used only in bills affecting spending and revenue and must be approved by the Senate Parliamentarian before the vote can move forward.

Last year, the GOP passed the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act (RAHFRA, which probably can’t be pronounced) using the reconciliation process. Budget parts of the Affordable Care Act such as insurance subsidies, Medicaid expansion, tax increases, and the mandate to buy coverage were approved to be covered by reconciliation. Left standing was covering young people through age 26 on their parents’ policies and pre-existing conditions.

The process cannot be used for legislation increasing the deficit in ten years or more. That’s the reason that George W. Bush’s tax cuts, passed by reconciliation, had to expire in 2011.

Afraid of protests from people losing their health care or charged more for insurance, Congress wants to move quickly and hope that no one will notice the problems. Two thirds of the people in the U.S. think that the ACA either didn’t affect the number of people with health insurance or caused more people to be uninsured. With no replacement, ACA repeal will leave 22 million people without coverage and millions others suffering from the havoc in the individual insurance market.

Conway, DT’s counselor, promises that no one with health insurance will lose their coverage.  GOP legislators will most likely not live up to her promise. The half-hearted suggestions for replacement go from almost nothing to keeping the ACA marketplaces, in general disadvantaging older, sick people and offering less financial help to people who use more insurance. Costs can skyrocket for people who need more health care.

With no replacement, the loss of the ACA can drastically drop coverage even if the planned repeal is years from now. Conway said that DT doesn’t have a plan ready because Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) has not been confirmed as Secretary for the Health and Human Services Department. Price wants a fixed tax credit starting at $1,200 a year for buying insurance on the private market and state high-risk pools—the ones that miserably failed in Florida and 33 other states.

Another way that the GOP is hiding its increase in deficit by repealing the ACA came from the rules package requiring the director of the budget office to prepare an estimate of whether any bill would cause a boost in spending in excess of $5 billion over the next four decades. Any bill, that is, except a bill, joint resolution or amendment that would repeal Obamacare. A major advantage of ACA was its reduction of the deficit so repealing the law would increase the deficit. To avoid the issue, the reconciliation bill keeps cuts to Medicare doctor payments, thereby scoring the bill as reducing the deficit.

Today’s budget proposal from the Republicans raises the national deficit from about $600 billion next year to a $10 trillion increase within the next decade. The bill has to pass both chambers of Congress; the question is how long Republicans can hide the increase in the deficit under the pretense that the bill concerns the repeal of Obamacare. This bill covers no specific spending. Other bills will have to do that–expenditures such as repealing the ACA, building the wall, cutting taxes for the wealthy, etc., all acts that vastly increase the deficit.  Lawrence O’Donnell explains the situation here, beginning about Minute 32.

Like a dog chasing a bus, the GOP has been chasing the repeal of health care for six years. What happens when they catch it?

The GOP House members did approve a rules package that fines members who take pictures or video from the House floor. Evidently transparency is not high on their list, especially after their embarrassment from the 26-hour sit-in protesting Ryan’s refusal to allow any votes on gun safety bills.

September 29, 2015

What John Boehner Hath Wrought

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 7:43 PM
Tags: , ,

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will disappear from controlling every law in the United States at Halloween, and representatives will select another person to determine what bills are permitted on the floor of the House. Millions of paper reams and billions of Internets bits have assessed the reason for his disappearance, but the best may be Paul Krugman’s column about what Boehner has done to the U.S. for almost five years. The only definite conclusion is that the situation in the country can—and most likely will—get worse.

150925_POL_BoehnerPope.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2

From Paul Krugman:

John Boehner was a terrible, very bad, no good speaker of the House. Under his leadership, Republicans pursued an unprecedented strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism, which did immense damage to the economy and undermined America’s credibility around the world.

Still, things could have been worse. And under his successor they almost surely will be worse. Bad as Mr. Boehner was, he was just a symptom of the underlying malady, the madness that has consumed his party.

For me, Mr. Boehner’s defining moment remains what he said and did as House minority leader in early 2009, when a newly inaugurated President Obama was trying to cope with the disastrous recession that began under his predecessor.

There was and is a strong consensus among economists that a temporary period of deficit spending can help mitigate an economic slump. In 2008 a stimulus plan passed Congress with bipartisan support, and the case for a further stimulus in 2009 was overwhelming. But with a Democrat in the White House, Mr. Boehner demanded that policy go in the opposite direction, declaring that “American families are tightening their belts. But they don’t see government tightening its belt.” And he called for government to “go on a diet.”

This was know-nothing economics, and incredibly irresponsible at a time of crisis; not long ago it would have been hard to imagine a major political figure making such a statement. Did Mr. Boehner actually believe what he was saying? Was he just against anything Mr. Obama was for? Or was he engaged in deliberate sabotage, trying to block measures that would help the economy because a bad economy would be good for Republican electoral prospects?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but those remarks set the tone for everything that followed. The Boehner era has been one in which Republicans have accepted no responsibility for helping to govern the country, in which they have opposed anything and everything the president proposes.

What’s more, it has been an era of budget blackmail, in which threats that Republicans will shut down the government or push it into default unless they get their way have become standard operating procedure.

All in all, Republicans during the Boehner era fully justified the characterization offered by the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in their book “It’s Even Worse Than You Think.” Yes, the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier” that is “ideologically extreme” and “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science.” And Mr. Boehner did nothing to fight these tendencies. On the contrary, he catered to and fed the extremism.

So why is he out? Basically because the obstructionism failed.

Republicans did manage to put a severe crimp on federal spending, which has grown much more slowly under Mr. Obama than it did under George W. Bush, or for that matter Ronald Reagan. The weakness of spending has, in turn, been a major headwind delaying recovery, probably the single biggest reason it has taken so long to bounce back from the 2007-2009 recession.

But the economy nonetheless did well enough for Mr. Obama to win re-election with a solid majority in 2012, and his victory ensured that his signature policy initiative, health-care reform — enacted before Republicans took control of the House — went into effect on schedule, despite the dozens of votes Mr. Boehner held calling for its repeal. Furthermore, Obamacare is working: the number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply even as health-care costs seem to have come under control.

In other words, despite all Mr. Boehner’s efforts to bring him down, Mr. Obama is looking more and more like a highly successful president. For the base, which has never considered Mr. Obama legitimate — polling suggests that many Republicans believe that he wasn’t even born here — this is a nightmare. And all too many ambitious Republican politicians are willing to tell the base that it’s Mr. Boehner’s fault, that he just didn’t try blackmail hard enough.

This is nonsense, of course. In fact, the controversy over Planned Parenthood that probably triggered the Boehner exit — shut down the government in response to obviously doctored videos? — might have been custom-designed to illustrate just how crazy the G.O.P.’s extremists have become, how unrealistic they are about what confrontational politics can accomplish.

But Republican leaders who have encouraged the base to believe all kinds of untrue things are in no position to start preaching political rationality.

Mr. Boehner is quitting because he found himself caught between the limits of the politically possible and a base that lives in its own reality. But don’t cry for (or with) Mr. Boehner; cry for America, which must find a way to live with a G.O.P. gone mad.

Comment from Scott: When I look at the current version of the Tea Party faction of the GOP, the parallels to ISIL are simply astounding: The absolute unwillingness to compromise, the subjugation of women, the willingness to watch innocents suffer, the desire to destroy the system and rebuild under a theocratic regime that they, alone, will decide.

Comment from John Townsend: The GOP’s presidential candidate in the 2012 election (Romney) won 24 states:

– 9 of the 11 Confederate states

– 8 of the 10 states with the lowest population density

– 0 of the 10 best educated states (based on percent of population with a college degree, median household income and percent of population below the federal poverty line)

– 9 of the 10 least educated states

– 1 of the 10 healthiest states

– 9 of the 10 least healthy states

– 10 of the 10 weakest gun control states

– 0 of the 10 strongest gun control states

– 9 of the 10 largest net recipients (“takers”) of federal money states.

In a piece for The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin addresses Boehner’s cowardice while Speaker. Despite the knowledge that Hispanic voters are vital to the success of the GOP, “dedicated party man” Boehner appeased extremists in the House to keep his position and therefore refused to take the Senate immigration reform bill to the House floor for a vote. Allowing himself to be bullied, he suffered more bullying and kept the popular infrastructure bill off the floor. His adoption of the mis-named Hastert rule, named for the Speaker who is under indictment for blackmail payments and requiring a majority of GOP voters for a bill to reach the floor, made more problems for Boehner because he allowed 50 Tea Party members to control the House.

The only bills reaching the floor under Boehner’s rule were instant failures, such as repealing the Affordable Care Act or defunding Planned Parenthood, because the president would veto them. In his departure speech, Boehner could only brag that he kept the government open (despite the 16-day closure in 2013), a very low bar for success. Boehner caved in to the Tea Party on everything and still lost his job. That is his legacy.

September 27, 2015

GOP in More Trouble

Less than a year ago, the conservatives were crowing about being in the catbird seat after taking over Congress: the GOP majority was the largest in 84 years. They planned to wipe out all advances during President Obama’s six years and take the country back a century ago before human rights in the United States.

The first 100 days of the 114th Congress, however, did not go well. John Boehner (R-OH) was re-elected speaker but only after the biggest revolt in 150 years. The House argued about deporting children and threatened to close the Department of Homeland Security. They couldn’t even pass an anti-abortion bill and almost failed to pass a bill against human trafficking. Their priorities were passing an oil pipeline that created 35 permanent jobs, again trying to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, and pushing the usual tax breaks only for multi-millionaires and billionaires. Most of the few successful bills were supported by Democrats, and the chamber refused to discuss taking action against ISIS while it address—again—the Benghazi deaths. Within the first 100 days, two newly elected representatives resigned in disgrace.

A prime embarrassment for the GOP-led Senate was its delay in confirming Loretta Lynch as Attorney General in the longest wait for any recent AG nominee. They all agreed that she was eminently qualified, and the GOP was eager to get rid of Eric Holder in that position. Yet the GOP-led Senate stalled for 165 days, including the entire first 100 days of the 114th Congress.

The Senate decided to take over the job of determining foreign policy from the president by sending a letter to Iran, declaring that the U.S. wouldn’t live up to its agreements. Boehner invited Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress in an effort to override President Obama’s Iran negotiations and started another lawsuit against the president for his executive orders. By the end of the 100 days, President Obama’s approval rating rose ten points to 50, its best level since 2013.

As disastrous as those first 100 days, they could not begin to match the debacle for Republicans during the past week. Three huge, intersecting events created more problems for the rigidly conservative GOP agenda: Pope Francis’s speech to Congress; China’s decision to create a cap-and-trade policy that the U.S. GOP has rejected; and Speaker Boehner’s unexpected resignation the House of Representatives at the end of October.

As was expected, the pope’s positions made conservatives squirm. His defense of “human life at every stage of its development” was followed by advocating “for abolition of the death penalty,” a blow to conservatives who love the idea of killing people. GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz didn’t go quietly in his response to the pope: he called the use of capital punishment a “recognition of the preciousness of human life.”

The pope spoke against “deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society” and added that the money gained from these sales were “drenched in blood, often innocent blood.” By far the largest arms supplier in the world, U.S. domestic manufacturers sold more than $23.7 billion in weapons to almost 100 countries during just 2014—weapons that included cluster bombs and other munitions used to destroy densely populated areas, schools, and even a Yemen camp for displaced people.  U.S. taxpayers subsidized a large piece of these sales, especially to Israel and Egypt. Members of Congress make $150 million a year from the arms industry.

The pope pushed for the support of immigration by saying that we are all immigrants:

“Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”

Environmentalism has been high on the pope’s list, so much so that far-right pundit George Will wrote that “Americans cannot simultaneously honor [the pope] and celebrate their nation’s premises.” Pope Francis urged Congress and corporations to “redirect our steps” to address “environmental degradation caused by human activity.” Jeb Bush accused the pope, who has a degree in chemistry, of being wrong about climate change because “he’s not a scientist.” [Jeb Bush is definitely not a scientist.]

In rejecting unfettered capitalism, the pope chose Dorothy Day as one of his four examples because of “her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed.” Her Catholic Worker Movement was a model of community organization that helped lift thousands out of poverty. Basically, Day was known as a radical social activist, a pacifist, feminist, socialist, and union supporter—all hated by Republicans.

Throughout his speech, Pope Francis expressed his concern for the poor and his dismay at growing income inequality. Like Day, he supports a just distribution of income and a “modern, inclusive and sustainable” economy. His message for lawmakers urged them to pay attention especially to “those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.” According to Francis, “the fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts.”

Last February, conservatives were livid about President Obama’s statement at the National Prayer Breakfast that while many faith communities around the world are “inspiring people to lift up one another,” we also see “faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge – or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.” The same listeners heard the same message from the pope when he said, “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism.”

Conservatives, who claim to support religious freedom, failed to support a House resolution honoring the Pope “for his inspirational statements and actions” as well as his goals to ameliorate inequality and promote solidarity. Only 19 of the 221 co-sponsors are Republicans.

The announcement from Chinese President Xi Jinping about his country adopting a program to curtail emissions erases the argument that the GOP uses against the a cap-and-trade program in the U.S. Whenever the program has been suggested, conservatives say that it will do no good because China doesn’t have the program. Xi also pledged aid for low-income nations, a request that President Obama made to Congress for the international Green Climate Fund. During the first 100 days of the new Congress, 81 of the 144 Senate bills proposed increasing pollution.

The biggest shocker to the nation last week, however, was Boehner’s resignation.  He claimed that it was to meliorate the turmoil, but there is no doubt that his action will heat up the firestorm between Tea Party and more establishment Republicans. A bill to pass the budget may avert a government shutdown on October 1—just four days away—but the issue will arise in late November because the bill is good for only two months. A new speaker may actually support a government shutdown at that time.

The question now is who will be selected to be two heartbeats from being President of the United States. Josh Israel has named four likely suspects:

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): The House Republican Majority Leader would be the obvious choice in saner times despite his lack of political ability. Although he seemed more moderate toward immigration, his opposition to fight climate change gives him some cred among Tea Party members. McCarthy is notable for being the least experienced person of all time for the position that he holds. During the almost decade he’s spent in Congress, McCarthy has managed to pass only two bills that he sponsored, both of them renaming places in his district.

Steve Scalise (R-LA): The third-ranking Republican in the House spoke at a white supremacist rally in 2002 and was one of a few legislators to oppose making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a Louisiana holiday in 2004. He claims that immigration reform would “actually force” non-citizens who did not want to become citizens “onto an amnesty track.” This fan of debt-ceiling crises has refused to deny he wants to impeach President Obama.

Jim Jordan (R-OH): A major supporter of defunding the Department of Homeland Security also pushed to overturn DC’s same-gender marriage law and stated that the country’s founders wanted to prohibit abortion. Jordan is fully committed to defunding Planned Parenthood even if it shuts down the government.

Jeb Hensarling (R-TX): The defender of recessions as “a part of freedom” also denounces Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as “cruel Ponzi schemes.” In the House since 2003, he has the longest tenure of these four representatives. His opposition to raising the debt ceiling could also lead to more government shutdowns. As co-chair of the failed 2011 “supercommittee,” he promised to oppose “any penny of increased static revenue.”

Tea Partiers don’t want any of these possibilities, but they haven’t found anyone with enough votes to overcome the above “less radical” candidates above. Many of the crazies want the position; time will tell. While the House is in chaos, GOP presidential candidate Bobby Jindal, supported by other ultra-conservatives, called for Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to step down as Senate Majority Leader. The congressional Republicans are in for a rocky fall season.

March 31, 2015

Stop the TPP

Fast Track in Congress means that the legislative branch gives the executive branch the power to make agreements without any debate or filibuster to provide transparency about any of the issues of the agreement. The highly conservative members of Congress, who want to sue President Obama for taking too much authority in perfectly legal executive orders, wants to let him adopt disastrous trade agreements, at this time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track gave the U.S. the job-killing wage-flattening North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through offshoring U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. It also takes away the nation’s non-trade policies for safe food, a clean environment, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill “very quickly after we come back” from the Easter recess on April 13. A key player is usually progressive Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, for reasons unknown, strongly supports passing the Fast Track authority. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the Fast Track passed before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint session of Congress in late April.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met with House Democrats to talk about the damage TPP would do to the people of this country after Wikileaks further revealed the expansion of corporate power to supercede U.S. laws that now protect the environment, consumers, and public health. WikiLeaks explained that TPP lets firms “sue” governments to get taxpayer compensation for loss of “expected future profits.” The New York Times reported that the TPP “giv[es] greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.”

According to Warren, the seemingly benign title Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. For example, a foreign company that makes a banned toxic chemical added to gasoline could pass by the U.S. courts and move on to an international panel. The ruling could not be challenged in U.S. courts even if the panel demands U.S. taxpayers to pay billions of dollars in damages. Panels would not be required to have independent judges; they can be corporate lawyers. In 2012, one panel ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

These courts were set up after World War II when investors worried about putting their money into small developing countries with undependable legal systems. The TPP, however, is with many well-developed countries such as Australia and Japan, whose courts would also be pre-empted. Companies can also purchase political-risk insurance.

History shows the increasing problem of ISDS cases: fewer than 100 claims were made worldwide between 1959 to 2002, but 2012 saw 58 cases in just that year. A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, and a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations. With TPP, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States could bring cases against governments, and more than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed, “It’s a bad deal for American workers.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either.”

The TPP also allows corporations to fight limitations and exceptions to intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents. Included are the provisions that allowed Eli Lilly to sue for $500 million because of Canada’s termination of patent extensions for medicines developed in the 1970s. Beyond that, it states that private companies can challenge “the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,” as well as “exceptions to such rights.”

Although a theory is that workers in all nations will benefit from bigger markets and more trade, a large portion of trade is done by multinational companies that have different interests from national corporations. Multinationals profit even if U.S. workers suffer, which is why these companies report their profits in or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards. The corporate movement of jobs overseas drives down wages in the U.S.; workers here will be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who have no rights to organize in protest of wages that are under 60 cents an hour.

Corporate-defined trade rules have resulted in huge trade deficits, more than $8 trillion since 2000, and trade deficits cost jobs. Low trade tariffs allow current trade treaties to focus less on tariffs and more on “harmonizing regulations” for investors, “an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom” according to Katrina vanden Heuvel. Trade agreements support corporate interests while trampling on the U.S. people. Drug companies are protected from introducing generic drugs, agribusiness is protected for its GMO food, and Wall Street is protected from regulations against secret derivatives.

Another provision among the 29 chapters of the TPP is that the U.S. government must treat bids from any TPP country in the same way as they treat U.S. companies. Tax dollars will no longer support U.S. communities, and taxpayers will be forced to send them money overseas, negating a 1934 law to give preference to U.S. corporations. With TPP, Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and be awarded government contracts. Schools will no longer be allowed to “Buy Local” if a multinational company has a lower bid.

Republican members of Congress have fought everything that President Obama has supported—except the TPP Fast Track. That should raise a huge red flag for anyone who supports the rights of 90 percent of the U.S. people. For the past decade of TPP negotiations, the members of Congress, along with everyone else in the United States, have been refused access to TPP meetings and drafts of the agreement. The only information about TPP comes from leaks such as those revealed by Wikileaks. Yet 566 advisory group members, 480 of them representing industry groups or trade associations, are welcome to see and comment on the proposals. The few other participants are from 20 labor unions, three or four environmental groups, one consumer group, and two family farm groups.

U.S. workers are not the only people suffering from past trade agreements providing the prototype for TPP. Sister Simone Campbell, famous for her “nuns on the bus” movement to reverse income inequality, has written about the havoc wreaked by NAFTA, leading to a 60-percent increase in undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States. This influx was followed by more undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. border from Central America after growing drug violence. In the United States, the 63 percent of workers without a college degree lost 12.2 percent of their wages since NATA took effect. According to the Government Accountability Office, labor provisions like the ones in TPP have failed to stop even the most severe labor abuses.

While appearing to be a great deal for huge corporations that are already taking money from the country in subsidies and unpaid taxes, the benefit for individuals, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics, would be one quarter—that’s $.25—a day. The pro-TPP study projects a 0.13-percent increase to the GDP by 2025, half of what Apple’s iPhone 5 did by itself.

If the TPP is so wonderful for the country, why is everything about it cloaked in secrecy? It’s so secret that people voting to approve it aren’t allowed access to information about it, yet they’re pushing for it sight unseen. The same people who think that the UN will destroy the United States are fighting to have international control by corporations.

My other question is why Wyden supports it. His constituents are so upset about his push to pass the TPP that they are floating the possibility of opposition to the extremely popular senator in the upcoming election. He owes Oregon and the people of the United States an explanation.

Moveon.org has a petition for people who oppose the TPP.

March 18, 2015

Congressional Budgets Separate GOP Legislators

The House budget blue-print for next year was unveiled yesterday, waiting to go through the sorry “sausage” process of legislating. Its usefulness lies in demonstrating the GOP disregard for most of the people in the United States. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is no longer chair of the House Budget Committee, but his replacement, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) mouths the same unbelievable excuses for trashing the safety net of people in the United States. In Washington-speak, Price said, “When Washington forgets the limits of its own understanding and power … social and safety net programs stop being a bridge to a more secure future and rather become a barrier to success.” The translation is that the GOP excuses its stripping benefits for people by saying that it’s all for everyone’s own good, perhaps similar telling children they will be more independent if they are hungry.

The budget plans to move Medicaid and food stamps (SNAP) into “block grants” for states. In that way, states can use the money that they get for the poor and then transfer the funding into the general fund that has been depleted by giving huge tax subsidies to corporations and huge tax cuts for the wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that block grants for Medicaid would increase the uninsured numbers to between 14.3 million and 20.5 million by 2022. The same block grant process was used during the 1990s for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), leaving spending for that program flat after far more people fell into poverty and should have been eligible for benefits. The Price budget also made a ten-year $165 billion cut in mandatory outside health and retirement programs; SNP is the biggest program in that area. Ryan’s budget cut of $137 billion last year was an 18-percent reduction.

Yesterday’s House budget plan also proposed repealing the Affordable Care Act. At this time, the number of uninsured people in the United States has dropped by 16 million people to 34 million because of expanded Medicaid in many states, cheaper insurance, and young adults’ ability to stay on their parents’ plan. Keeping the law would drop the number of uninsured to about 26 million. The GOP wants the number of uninsured to increase to 50 million people, as would happen without the ACA according to the CBO. This is 50 million uninsured people plus the 20 million who have lost Medicaid for a total of 70 million uninsured people by 2022. The GOP is talking about an Obamacare “replacement,” but legislators have no plans for one. Although the budget proposal included the ACA repeal, it kept the savings that the ACA brings to the federal government.

Without itemizing cuts, the budget cuts $400 billion from Ryan’s budget by cutting mandatory spending, consolidating programs, streamlining regulations, and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, according to Price’s report. The $1.017 trillion ceiling on spending in the fiscal year beginning on October 1 would be divided between $493 billion for domestic discretionary programs and $523 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget with $90 billion added to the base in the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund.

Today’s Senate release of their budget also repealed the ACA, created block grants for Medicaid and food stamps, and cut domestic programs. As Jonathan Weisman wrote in the NYT, “the first Senate Republican budget since 2006 is long on ambition but short on details. It foresees cutting $4.3 trillion from mandatory programs like Medicare, food stamps and Medicaid, but unlike the House budget, it does not make specific policy prescriptions, such as converting Medicare into a voucherlike program that would allow recipients to buy subsidized insurance on the private health care market.” The Senate also proposed gaining billions of dollars by reducing education programs, freezing Pell Grants, and stopping regulatory actions under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street law.

The budget has caused a war, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), within the GOP congressional members between the fiscal hawks and defense hawks. Congress cannot overturn the Budget Control Act of 2011—better known as the sequester—which established ten years of spending caps and across-the-board spending cuts without another act of Congress. The war is even more embarrassing because the GOP bitterly criticized the Democrats for their failure to pass budgets while they controlled Congress. President Obama has proposed raising spending caps for the next fiscal year by $80 billion with half going to domestic programs, but the GOP wants defense to get everything. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) called the caps “a disaster” which “thematically” must go. This is his first year for the process.

Like the House,  GOP Senate defense hawks demand that the budget include the “deficit-neutral reserve fund,” allowing the Pentagon to break budget ceilings set by law almost four years ago. A deal in 2013 between then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and then-Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) gave two years of escape from the spending caps, but that deal has now disappeared for future budgets.

The fanatical GOP cry for more austerity will drive the economy back into the hole as it fails to create jobs and put money into workers’ pockets. Long-term economic growth could come from a strong surface transportation reauthorization bill, one which the GOP refuses to address. The $11 billion transportation funding expires on May 31, and lawmakers are making noises about a short-term extension blocking contractors from any long-term projects. Construction typically begins in the spring, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) said, “States have already notified the federal government that they will be delaying or postponing or canceling projects.”

At the same time, GOP policy is to lower taxes and raise subsidies for the wealthy and corporation, putting more stress and probably higher taxes on the middle class and poor—again shrinking the economy.

In analyzing tax subsidies for different economic levels, the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that the top 1 percent received $95 billion in tax subsidies for housing, education, retirement and savings in 2013, $5 billion more than the $90 billion received by the bottom 80 percent. The top 0.1 percent, with an average annual income of $7.6 million, received an average of $33,391 in federal tax payouts in these areas compared with the $1,000 for the bottom 60 percent, who earn less than $65,000. President Obama met a firestorm when he proposed doing away with tax benefits for 529 college savings plans in which families can contribute up to $14,000 a year. Households with incomes above $150,000 received 80 percent of that program’s tax benefit. Seventy percent of deductions for mortgage interest payments and property taxes, a total of $98.5 billion cost to the government in 2014, went to the top 20 percent of earners; the average gain for a household in the bottom 20 percent, earning less than $21,000 a year, was $3.

Meanwhile the nation reached its statutory debt limit last Monday. The Treasury Department is hunting for money to keep paying bills with a catastrophic default about the same time this fall that the GOP needs to stop—or start—another government shutdown. The GOP has the majority in both chambers, but neither leader has shown much ability in managing their caucuses. Some GOP senators such as Jeff Flake (AZ) and Orrin Hatch (UT) have expressed no enthusiasm for using the debt limit as leverage for immigration. Hatch even understands that blocking the limit doesn’t stop spending already authorized. On the other hand, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) wants the debt ceiling as leverage for “further reforms,” and Price wants the “Boehner Rule,” demanding one dollar in spending cuts for every dollar in extra borrowing.

Both budgets rely on the GOP’s euphemistic term “economic feedback.” The term used by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office of “dynamic scoring” isn’t any better. That means that increased revenue in the budget is based on a guess of increase in such areas as tax cuts that the GOP think will occur—no substance, just assumption. In other words, Congress claims that tax cuts for corporations will provide more revenue so it put their guess into their budgets.

Dana Milbank described the House budget—rolled out on St. Patrick’s Day—as a “gimmick” in which the creators “employed lucky charms and mystical pots of gold to make them appear more sober about balancing the budget than they actually are.” His analysis of the budget:

  • It pretends to keep strict limits on defense spending — so-called “sequestration”–but then pumps tens of billions of extra dollars into a slush fund called “Overseas Contingency Operations.”
  • It assumes that current tax cuts will be allowed to expire as scheduled — which would amount to a $900 billion tax increase that nobody believes would be allowed to go into effect.
  • It proposes to repeal Obamacare but then counts revenues and savings from Obamacare as if the law remained in effect.
  • It claims to save $5.5 trillion over 10 years, but in the fine print—the budget plan’s instructions to committees—it asks them to identify only about $5 billion in savings over that time.
  • It assumes more than $1 trillion in cuts to a category known as “other mandatory” programs—but doesn’t specify what those cuts would be.
  • It relies on $147 billion in additional revenue from “dynamic scoring,” a more generous accounting method.
  • It doesn’t account for the $200 billion plan now being negotiated to increase doctor payments under Medicare and to extend a children’s health care program.

As Milbanks concluded, “[The budget] was the latest instance of the Republicans discovering how difficult it is to govern now that they have unified control of Congress.” When asked about specifics at the press conference rolling out the budget, Price answered questions with this statement: “Because we believe in the American people, and we believe in growth.” replied Price, predicting that higher-than-expected economic growth would boost tax revenues.

Again, the GOP has shown that they aren’t ready for prime time; they just show that their priorities aren’t most of the people in the United States.

March 6, 2015

Prosecute Boehner for Netanyahu Speech

The rapture could have arrived with the GOP reception to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arrival before a joint meeting of Congress on March 3 because of a secret invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). During the speech, 23 standing ovations greeted his message that President Obama was failing the world in his diplomacy with Iran and that the victims of the Holocaust were weaklings. During Netanyahu’s 40-minute speech trying to destroy the emerging nuclear deal between the United States, Iran, and the major world powers, the prime minister was interrupted by applause approximately 50 times. Although he gave no alternatives to keep Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, he did indicate that Israel would protest a negotiated agreement by taking military action “alone.”

The United States, Iran, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are close to an agreement guaranteeing strict inspections and controls on Iran’s uranium enrichment over several years in exchange for lifting sanctions against the country during the last five years. The strategy is to control Iran for a decade or longer until democratically-elected leaders can take power. Netanyahu insisted, however, that there be no negotiation until Iran stops “threatening to annihilate my country, Israel, the one and only Jewish state.” With no specific ideas he wants the U.S. to strike “a much better deal” that wipes out Iran’s entire nuclear infrastructure and maintains sanctions against the country “until Iran’s aggression ends.”

President George W. Bush’s similar policy of zero-enrichment allowed Iran’s centrifuges to grow from 164 in 2003 to approximately 19,000 centrifuges today, with Bush officials conceding during his presidency that “there was no way to reach a deal without Iran retaining at least a face-saving amount of enrichment capability.” The current negotiations started after an interim agreement with Iran that has frozen Iran’s nuclear program and rolled back its stockpiles of enriched uranium. Inspectors confirm that Iran is holding up the bargain. March 24 is the deadline for broad principles with technical details by June 30. Increasing sanctions has not stopped Iran, and losing the negotiation would allow Iran to accelerate its nuclear program with no oversight.

The five prominent newspapers from the LA Times to the New York Times failed to include some information about Netanyahu and his speech. Jim Naureckas of FAIR filled in pieces:

Israel owns nuclear weapons, an important piece of information when a foreign leader demands that the United States stop a rival state from getting nuclear weapons.

Iran consistently states that it has no interest in building a nuclear weapon, and the intelligence agencies of the United States doubt that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program.

Israel hasn’t signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty although both the United States and Iran have. This guarantees “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Netanyahu has a decades-long record of making false nuclear predictions about Israel’s enemies and crying wolf. Almost two decades ago, he gave another speech to a joint session of Congress and warned:

“If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind…. The deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”

That was almost 20 years ago, and Netanyahu has returned with more dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. In 1992, 23 years ago, Netanyahu said that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.” Netanyahu’s 1995 book, Fighting Terrorism, asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years.” In 2009, Netanyahu told a Congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from nuclear weapons capability. A year later he said, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. That’s what is happening in Iran.” By 2012, Iran was just “a few months away” from nuclear capabilities, according to Netanyahu.

In the 1990s, he temporarily transferred his focus to Iraq’s nuclear threat, claiming that there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Again he spoke to Congress in 2002 to say that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was so advanced that the country had “centrifuges the size of washing machines.” He was part of the reason that the U.S. made a preemptive strike against Iraq, and the U.S. is spending trillions to recover from those claims.

Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan disagreed with Netanyahu in 2011 and said that an Iranian nuclear weapon was not imminent. He added that any military action against the country could end up spurring the development of such a weapon. He called Netanyahu’s idea of an Israeli attack on Iran the “stupidest thing I have ever heard.” A year later, the Israeli intelligence agreed.

Netanyahu spoke to Congress because he wants the following:

The United States to declare war on Iran because Israel doesn’t have the military to do so.

An embarrassing experience for the U.S. president who won’t take orders from Netanyahu.

Recognition that his false perspectives of Iran’s capabilities is superior to U.S. intelligence and diplomatic capabilities.

American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) support to ensure a veto-proof majority in Congress for a bill to stop negotiations with Iran.

A re-election in Israel by taking on the U.S. president.

A firm alliance with the GOP and a threat of repercussions toward Democrats who oppose him.

A distraction with Iran from President Obama’s goal of a Palestinian state in the disputed territories and Gaza.

The United States has provided billions of dollars every year—an average of $8.6 million every day—to help Israel destroy Gaza and wipe out the Palestinians. Netanyahu expects this nation to provide even more funding to carry out his other wars.

Mark Karlin, editor of BuzzFlash, described Netanyahu as “the Dick Cheney of Israel.” Karlin wrote:

“If this unprecedented effort of a foreign leader to publicly destroy the delicate foreign policy negotiations of a sitting US president succeeds, it will be US soldiers who die and are injured. This particular war, with a military as advanced as Iran’s–which possesses long range missiles–could also ignite a Middle Eastern conflict of horrific proportions.”

The Republicans want war, but they’re making the same mistake that George W. Bush made in 2003. They can’t see beyond getting into a war; they have no idea how to get out.

 

Opposing Netanyahu is no more anti-Israeli than opposition to President Obama is anti-U.S. The 200 veterans of the Israeli security services, all with the rank of general and called Commanders for Israel’s Security, call Netanyahu a “danger” to Israel. They are not anti-Israel, and neither are the six former generals who held a press conference in Tel Aviv last Sunday, urging the prime minister to cancel his speech. General Amnon Reshef, a hero for his role in the 1973 war against Egypt and Syria, said, “Nothing good for Israel can come from humiliating the US president.”

Hawkish former military chief of staff Dan Halutz has said that senior commanders know that Netanyahu’s lack of diplomacy creates an untenable situation in policing occupied territories. He said, “They recognize that there is no military solution to Israel’s predicament with the Palestinians and that borders created by force are inherently fragile and insecure.” The current Mossad head, Tamir Pardo, has declared that the “biggest threat to Israel’s security is the conflict with the Palestinians and not Iran’s nuclear program.”

 

Considerations to take away from Netanyahu’s speech:

 

  • The United States has a single foreign policy—not a Republican one and a Democratic one: A disagreement should be taken to the president and the public, rather than letting a foreign leader use the United States foreign policy for his own politics.
  • Boehner and Netanyahu’s actions weaken America’s bipartisan support for Israel: Together these two men have the sole intent of undermining the President of the United States and force people to choose between a commitment to Israel and to their own country. Netanyahu deliberately refused to meet with Democrats as they requested, which damages the U.S.-Israel relationship.
  • U.S. negotiations with Iran are the best way to proceed: Absent a negotiated, verifiable agreement, there is no way to ensure that Iran will not get nuclear weapons.
  • Almost all Israel wars since the country’s formation in 1948 have been initiated by Israel’s pre-emptive strikes: Israel has the 12th-largest military in the world with over 400 nuclear weapons.

 

A petition on MoveOn.org calls for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to be prosecuted and removed from office for conspiring with a foreign leader to interfere in U.S. foreign policy matters. Boehner’s  purpose for the Netanyahu speech was to force the United States into war with Iran. By secretly inviting Netanyahu to speak at a joint session of Congress in an effort to undermine the U.S. President, Boehner violates the 1799 Logan Act which forbids unauthorized government officials from interfering in relations between the U.S. and foreign nations, a power only the president has.

January 6, 2015

Unrepresentative 114th Congress Heads for Problems

Filed under: Congress — trp2011 @ 7:36 PM
Tags: , , , ,

The 114th Congress, with both chambers controlled by Republicans for the first time in eight years, starts today. With his usually astute perception, satirist Andy Borowitz published the following:

“Sixty-four unskilled workers will report to new jobs in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday as part of a federal jobs program that provides employment for people unable to find productive work elsewhere.

“The new hires, who have no talents or abilities that would make them employable in most workplaces, will be earning a first-year salary of $174,000. For that sum, the new employees will be expected to work a hundred and thirty-seven days a year, leaving them with two hundred and twenty-eight days of vacation.

“Some critics have blasted the federal jobs program as too expensive, noting that the workers were chosen last November in a bloated and wasteful selection process that cost the nation nearly four billion dollars.

“But Davis Logsdon, a University of Minnesota economics professor who specializes in labor issues, said that the program is necessary to provide work ‘for people who honestly cannot find employment anywhere else.’

“ ‘Expensive as this program is, it is much better to have these people in jobs than out on the street,’ he said.”

The 114th Congress swore in 13 new Senators and 58 new House members today. HuffPo listed 75, but some of these started last fall. The House has 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats with one seat vacant after Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) resigned because he pled guilty to a felony tax evasion charge. The media proclaimed that the 114th Congress is the “most diverse” ever. Yes, that’s true, but it’s a long way from representing the people in the United States:

Approximately 80 percent of each chamber is male; about 80 percent of the House and 94 percent of the Senate is white. The 114th Congress lost nine non-Christian members, leaving the Christian population at 92 percent.

Fewer than 10 percent of the Republicans in each chamber is female, 22 in the House and six in the Senate. The photo shows both new GOP female senators, Joni Ernst (IA), and Shelley Moore Capito (WV) flanking the proudly grinning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) with three of the 10 new male GOP senators.

two women senators with McConnellGOP House members will be 87 percent white, compared to 43 percent white in the Democratic Caucus. Although the GOP almost got its first gay member, Carl DeMaio (CA) lost the election after the provisional ballots were counted. Democrats have one lesbian and six openly gay or bisexual members of Congress.

Although the majority of Congress is Republican, the 44 Democrats and two independents caucusing with Democrats received 20 million more votes than the 54 Republicans–67.8 million to 47.1 million votes.

One-hundred wealthy contributors gave as much in large donations to candidates and campaigns to elect them as 4.5 million small donors gave. This may be called representative democracy because the majority in Congress will now represent only those 100 people.

The election to replace Grimm will be of interest to people throughout the country because a likely candidate, Daniel M. Donovan Jr., is the district attorney who failed to get an indictment for the police officer who killed Eric Garner in a chokehold on Staten Island. A former representative for the district, Pete Fossella (R), said he would pass on the race. He lost his position after it was publicized that the conservative lawmaker had a second family, separate from a wife and children, information revealed after a DUI charge in Virginia led to some jail time. Democrat Michael McMahon, who held the seat between Fossella and Grimm, is considering a run. Former NYC mayor Rudi Giuliani (R) is backing Donovan.

Twenty of the 21 House committee chairs are white men, and Candace Miller (MI) continues as head of the Administration Committee. Almost 30 percent, six of them, hail from Texas. Nine of the committee selections are new.

In the Senate, with the GOP over 90 percent white, male, McConnell is following Boehner’s lead in avoiding minorities and women for committee chairs. As chair of the Rules Committee, Roy Blunt (R-MO) will be deciding about limiting the minority’s right to filibuster. John McCain (R-AZ), chair of the Armed Services Committee, will determine timing for floor debate on Ashton Carter, nominee for Secretary of Defense. Conservative Mike Lee (R-UT) leads the Senate Republican Steering Committee. Two of the 21 committees may be chaired by women, Lisa Murkowski (AK) on Energy and Natural Resources, and Susan Collins (ME) on the Special Committee on Aging. Committee chairs will soon be finalized in the Senate.

Despite their pride in being the majority, the GOP Congress has big problems ahead, including the aging infrastructure, government funding measures, Medicare, and the controversial debt ceiling. They can’t accomplish anything without White House cooperation, and that tends to be death for a candidate’s election possibilities.

Because of the GOP’s fury about the president’s executive order regarding immigration laws, they voted to make February 28 the deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security. This issue will be a start of the fights between establishment and Tea Party Republicans. One idea is to attach a border-security bill to the funding measure, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is leading his conservatives in a plan to defund the administration’s order to shelter millions of immigrants from deportation.

March is the deadline for dealing with reimbursement formulas for Medicare providers. Congress has kicked this can down the road for years, but this might be the year that the GOP wants to create a more permanent reform. If so, it would cost billions of dollars which always drives conservatives crazy.

In May the highway trust fund becomes insolvent as federally funded infrastructure projects throughout the nation slow to a halt without congressional action. One proposal is raising the gas tax, which has stayed the same for a long time, and conservatives hate to raise any taxes. An alternative is another funding mechanism or an equally unpopular general fund bailout to avoid a construction shutdown.

The debt ceiling has to be extended by fall, always a crisis with the new Tea Party.

Into this mix is the confirmation process for President Obama’s executive and judicial branch nominees, walking the narrow path between letting Democrats into government and looking like obstructionists. In 2013, the Senate lowered the voting threshold for nominees, except Supreme Court justices, to a simple majority. GOP leaders in the Senate were violently opposed to Democrats making this change, called the “nuclear option.” The question is whether they will hope that the public forgets every negative thing that they said about the new process so that they can keep it.

A 54-majority in the Senate still doesn’t give them the necessary number of votes to pass a 60-vote filibuster. In addition, they may have to decide whether to completely erase the filibuster, without completely erasing any credibility that they might have left. The first nominees on the ticket are Loretta Lynch for attorney general and Ashton Carter for defense Secretary, and Lynch is connected to the president’s immigration orders.

As expected, John Boeher was re-elected House Speaker, but the 19 opposing and six “present” votes were the most against a sitting speaker since 1923. Two representatives even voted for Senators, specifically Rand Paul and Jeff Sessions. Two years ago, only 12 representatives voted against Boehner. Reps. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) led the fight against Boeher, but with 12 votes, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) had the largest number of opposition votes.

These lack-of-confidence votes show another problem for Boehner getting legislation passed without crossing the aisle to the Democrats, something that conservatives always oppose. In the past four years, Boehner has had to pull key bills from the floor many times because he couldn’t muster GOP votes. Boehner was so angry about the opposition that he removed two of the dissenters from the Rules Committee.

The opening conflict between the far-right and the far-far-right points to a rocky year for the GOP in the 114th Congress.

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