Nel's New Day

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!

February 11, 2015

GOP Alienates Latino Voters, Fails to Govern

The House passed the Senate version of the Keystone pipeline bill today, meaning that the measure now goes to the president, hopefully for his veto. With all except three GOP members voting in favor of the bill, it would have passed without the 29 Democrats, but it’s hard for me to accept that the representative for my district in Oregon was one of these 29 Democrats. His vote was predictable, however, because he had already voted in favor of the earlier bill and published an op-ed piece in Portland’s The Oregonian explaining his reason for the votes. He begins by explaining his need to write the piece because of the “ ‘fan’ mail” that he recently received from “very liberal groups chastising me from voting in a bipartisan manner in Congress.”

As an author of some of that “fan” mail, I want to tell him that I don’t mind his being bipartisan; I mind his voting for a measure with the sole purpose of benefiting one company by moving Canadian tar sands oil across the United States so that the wealthy will become wealthier. I mind his endangering the land and water of the states between Canada and Texas so that he can “work with Republicans.”

Fortunately Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) voted against the House bill that connects the elimination of President Obama’s immigration reform actions to the funding of the Department of Homeland Security. In a snit last year following years of inaction, the House decided that it would force a vote for this funding before February 28, 2015 after passing the other funding last December for almost a year.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has decided to get tough because the Senate hasn’t taken action on his DHS appropriations bill that tucks anti-immigrant proposals into a funding bill. The amendments subjecting all undocumented immigrants to more enforcement scrutiny will receive separate votes, but conservatives backing the amendments threaten to vote against the funding if their provisions don’t pass. The proposals would:

  • Eliminate funding for President Obama’s executive action to allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country and obtain work permits.
  • Stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), which lifts deportation for some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
  • Prioritize deportation for illegal immigrants convicted of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
  • Promote the hiring of U.S. citizens above those who are in the country illegally.
  • Express the sense of Congress the administration should “stop putting the interest of immigrants who worked within the legal framework to come to the US behind those who came here illegally” by not granting deferred action or work permits to undocumented immigrants.

Other parts of the amendments would stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from prioritizing the deportation of criminals over undocumented immigrants who haven’t committed serious crimes and ignore a person’s ties to the United States over citizens.

During a news conference, Boehner demanded, “Now why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they’re gonna get off their ass and do something other than to vote no!” This from the man who refused to allow immigration reform to go to the House for almost two years after the Senate passed its immigration reform. Four times he repeated, “The House did its job.” Boehner had no problem with the GOP in the Senate causing gridlock for the past four years by doing nothing but voting no.

For years, conservatives have complained because the Democrats did nothing with their “majority” in the Senate. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell admits that the House bill is “clearly stuck in the Senate” and Republican control in the Senate has resulted in another impasse. The Senate can’t pass the House bill, and Boehner says that the House won’t shift from its position.

An increasing number of Republicans in the House are refusing to vote for extremist positions or indicate opposition to these. Rep. Jeff Dunham (R-CA) said the language of the amendments, authored by right-wing Marcia Blackburn (R-TN), is an “overreach,” and another House GOP member called it “mean-spirited.” Other GOP members of Congress, however, are indifferent to any problems that they cause. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said that not meeting the deadline is “not the end of the world.”

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson disagrees with Diaz-Balart about the seriousness of not funding the agency:

“Right now, the Department of Homeland Security is operating on a continuing resolution, which means that we are allowed to spend money until February 27th – at the same rate we spent money last year. That means that as long as we are on a C.R., we cannot engage in new starts, new spending, new initiatives, new grants to state and local law enforcement to fund homeland security missions. We can’t put in place the independent panel that recommended changes to the secret service has suggested we do. We can’t do a lot of things for border security. Our counterterrorism efforts are limited.”

With all their waffling about the Homeland Security funding, Congress has only six “working” days to pass the appropriation before February 27 because they go on recess during the last week of the month. If they fail to fund the Department of Home Security, only the Citizenship and Immigration Services would still be able to pay its employees because it is funded through fees and not Congressional appropriations.

Less than one month into the 114th Congress, Republicans have not only failed to show that they can govern responsibly and cooperatively but also managed to offend Hispanic voters which they lost two to one in the last presidential election. Meanwhile terrorists are cheering on the GOP in their blocking funding to keep the United States safe.

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