Nel's New Day

April 6, 2017

GOP Senators ‘Break’ an Institution

The Republicans loved the filibuster. They used it to create an unprecedented blockade of President Obama’s nominees for judge and executive branch positions, leaving key positions unfilled. But that was four years ago with a Democratic president. Today, GOP Senators voted to get rid of the filibuster for the Supreme Court so that lying plagiarist 49-year-old Neil Gorsuch could be confirmed as a life-time justice. No longer does a permanent member of the Supreme Court need at least 60 bona fide votes to make law for the United States. Fifty-one votes are just fine, according to Republicans.

The decision to erase the filibuster for the Supreme Court was made less than a year since the Republicans, the majority of the 115th Congress, refused to even give a hearing to President Obama’s justice nominee, Merrick Garland. [The above cartoon is thanks to Robert Hulshof-Schmidt, husband of blogger Michael Hulshof-Schmidt.] In the past, Republicans maintained that a rule change, such as doing away with the filibuster for judges, requires a two-thirds super-majority, and that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to “break the rules to change the rules.” Over 60 percent of these senators who made these protests are still in the 115th Congress. The comments below from their opposition four years ago show that rules are in the eye of the beholder—in this case Republicans.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) used an example of a football game to whine that the Democratic majority just changes the rules if they don’t allow the result that they want.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) claimed that ditching the filibuster would be “irreparably damaging the Senate.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) called the change four years ago a “power grab” that allows Democrats “to make decisions all on their own about every federal judge.” [Change Democrats to Republicans to show that the GOP senators did today.]

Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) described the “Senate Majority” change as “an act of desperation.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) cited the removal of the filibuster as “unchecked power by the Executive Branch” and accused the removal of the filibuster as a “way to pack the courts with judges who agree with them” with “lasting damage to bipartisanship, the Senate, and the nation.”

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) complained about “embarking on a path that would circumvent the rights of the minority to exercise its advice and consent responsibilities provided in the Constitution.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) talked about her opposition to the 2005 GOP plan in erasing the filibuster, giving the majority part “unprecedented power to limit debate and block Senators from offering amendments” and opposed the Democrats taking the same action with a Democratic majority.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) described the change four years ago as “brute, raw force.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) referred to the change four years ago as “breaking the rules of the Senate in a raw exercise of partisan political power.”

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) said that the change would “break the rules to change the rules and force through a number of executive nominations” and demanded 67 votes to change the rule

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) talked about how losing the filibuster “damaged the Senate” with “President Obama’s lawless disregard of our statutes and Constitution.”

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) claimed that weakening the filibuster will “weaken the Senate itself,” making it “more susceptible to the demands of a smaller majority.” He also called the action “incredibly short-sighted,” which could be very true in 2017.

Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) said that destroying the filibuster would “destroy the very character of the [Senate] by citing a story from Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to design the Senate  “as a deliberative body to produce thoughtful policy. The solution to Senate gridlock is not changing the rules.”

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) called the earlier change “a sad day in the Senate when Democrats are willing to ignore 225 years of precedent.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reiterated the term “raw power grab” that “washed away” the “advise and consent clause” for executive and judicial branch nominations. [Actually, Republicans buried that clause last year by refusing to consider Garland.]

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) also repeated the “naked power grab” and asked why this moment was chosen “to hand the keys to the kingdom over to the President, a President with less check on his authority.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) lamented the “pre-scripted parliamentary hit-and-run, over in a flash and leaving Senate tradition and practice behind like so much confirmation roadkill.”

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) asked whether this decision would “apply to future legislation.” [McConnell claims it won’t, but he is unreliable in the truth sector.] Heller expressed his concern about protecting his state from a majority decision to move nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. He should remain concerned.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) wanted to take a measured approach because “to break the rules means you have no rules.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) commented that overturning the filibuster “made the Senate’s constitutional role to advise and consent on nominations merely ceremonial.”

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) declared that the result would be “a runaway Senate” much like “a runaway House” and “that’s not good for the country.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) decried that “the rules are being changed in the middle of the game” in “a partisan political grab.” Republicans are specialists in doing this.

Mike Lee (R-UT) said that changing the filibuster “serves no other purpose than to stymie the rights of the American people to have their voices heard.”

Sen John McCain (R-AZ) declaimed:

“I feel this is a dark day for the Senate. I don’t know how we can get out of it. It is the biggest rules change — certainly since I have been in the Senate, maybe my lifetime, and maybe in the history of the Senate — where it has changed by a simple majority by overruling the Chair…. Senator Reid says: I appeal the ruling of the Chair. I ask my colleagues in the Senate to overrule the rules of the Senate, by a simple majority vote, to overrule the Parliamentarian and the Presiding Officer of the Senate. This is what happened. When our rules say to change the rules of the Senate, it takes a two-thirds vote.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that without the filibuster that “advice and consent” means “nothing.”

Jerry Moran (R-KS) complained about breaking Senate rules.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was “saddened” more than angered because the “change will fundamentally alter our operations and lead us to being a less tempered body.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called the action bullying and breaking the rules and hundreds of years of precedent, “causing ore discord and disharmony.”

Jim Risch (R-ID) predicted that “the rule changes will have far ranging implications for the United States Senate and our democracy. “

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) claimed that “our rules have always ensured a voice for the minority in this body” and “cannot be changed without their consent — unless, of course, the majority decides it wants to break the rules to change the rules.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said that the change will “carry implications.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said, “If Democrats think that they deserve more power, they should earn it from voters at the polls in 2014, not swipe it with a drastic rule change in the Senate today.”

Sen.  John Thune (R-SD) also complained about breaking the rules of the Senate.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) described the change as “raw abuse of power” and “purely partisan efforts” that tarnished the integrity of the institution by ignoring 225 years of precedent and trampling the rights of the minority party and the millions of Americans we represent.”

In addition, a former senator called the change a “sad day” when the majority caused “the greatest alteration of the rules without proper procedure that we have probably seen in the history of the Republic.” That former senator is now Donald Trump’s Attorney General.

By removing the filibuster for Supreme Court justices, the Senate has encouraged presidents to pick ideologically extreme nominees, further politicizing the highest court in the nation. For many people, the Senate decision may be a blip on the disastrous media coming from the new rule of Dictator Donald Trump, including possible war with North Korea and Syria, but 55 Senators have voted to allow an unethical judge to make decisions for everyone in the United States for a possible up-coming 40 years. According to their own words, the Republicans have “broken” the Senate.

February 13, 2015

How Conservative Legislators Think

A circuit of the media shows these gems from state and federal GOP legislators.

Tom Corbin, a state senator from South Carolina, gets his sexist attitude from his reading of the Bible. In front of several witnesses, he told the only woman in the state senate:

“Well, you know God created man first. Then he took the rib out of man to make woman.  And you know, a rib is a lesser cut of meat.”

It’s not his first offensive comment to her. He also claimed that women don’t belong in the Senate because they should be “at home baking cookies” or “barefoot and pregnant.” Corbin told the woman that “I see it only took me two years to get you wearing shoes.” Among his other issues, Corbin has fought legislation to keep domestic abusers from having guns.

South Carolina is an “interesting” place. According to an investigation, almost 400 inmates in South Carolina have been put into solitary confinement for using social media websites because the state Department of Corrections equates this action to murdering or raping a fellow inmate. With access to Facebook a Level 1 violation, prisoners can get more of these offenses than if the “inmate caused a riot, took three hostages, murdered them, stole their clothes, and then escaped,” according to the report. The SCDC has so many inmates in solitary confinement that the prisons run out of space. Tyheem Henry is an example of this policy: last October he was assigned to solitary confinement for 37.5 years and had his telephone, visitation, and canteen privileges removed for 74 years for 38 posts on Facebook. And he’s not alone.

The GOP is still struggling with issues surrounding rape. In explaining why raped women should not be able to get abortions, West Virginia Del. Brian Kurcaba said, “What is beautiful is the child that could come from this.” In Utah, State Rep. Brian Greene claimed that having sex with an unconscious partner shouldn’t be illegal, at least if it’s with a wife or long-time girlfriend.

“We can’t be for the rule of law at our own convenience,” according to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Now, however, the senator is asking Republicans for help to avoid a “costly and time-consuming legal challenge.” He wants them the Kentucky GOP to create a presidential caucus in 2016 before the May primary so that he can personally get around a state law that keeps him from simultaneously running for two federal offices. To run for both the senate and the president’s office, Paul needs the law changed, and the state legislature has refused. The 54 members of the state GOP executive committee meets on March 7. That’s when Paul will find out if they will make the law more “convenient” for him.

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/gop-opposition-net-neutrality-takes-farcical-turn?cid=eml_mra_20150210    The departure of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) as Oversight Committee Chairman was supposed to bring back sanity, but the new chair of the committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), claims that the White House unduly influenced Tom Wheeler, director of the Federal Communications Commission, by bringing in outside groups. According to Chaffetz, the White House is not allowed to lobby FCC commissioners.

Even more bizarre is a video from the new organization Protect Internet Freedom. The porn parody falsely claims that net neutrality will monitor online activities and slow downloads. Behind the organization—and video—is Jordan Gehrke, senior adviser to freshman Tea Partier Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), which makes the organization and video directly connected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

All the GOP members of Congress are in crisis this week. After Republicans passed an appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security with five amendments overturning the president’s immigration executive actions, they thought that Senate Democrats would give up and vote for their measure. It hasn’t worked that way. Tables have turned in that chamber, and Democrats are now demanding 60 votes for passage of bills that they don’t like.

The only solution for the Republicans is the so-called “nuclear option,” changing the rules of the Senate to do away with the 60-vote filibuster. Last year when Democrats declared that presidential nominations, except for Supreme Court justices, were exempt from the filibuster, Republicans were outraged. This year conservatives in the House want it done.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) reminded everyone that the filibuster “is not in the Constitution.” That’s true, but it’s in the Senate because the Republicans wanted it. After loving the filibuster in the past, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has criticized them as “undemocratic” and “senseless.”

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said:

“Senator McConnell has engaged in a half-hearted effort to date. McConnell has engaged in a policy of surrender without fighting. I’m not going to vote to fund unconstitutional conduct by Barack Obama. Period. End of subject.”

Rep. Raúl R. Labrador (R-ID) is demanding a change to the rules because he thinks the nation is facing a “constitutional crisis.” The so-called “crisis” has been the same for almost half a decade while Republicans blocked almost every bill that the Democrats tried to put on the Senate floor. During that time, Republicans loved the filibuster because it guaranteed gridlock and stopped much of President Obama’s agenda.

Nobody in the Senate is making noises about changing the filibuster rules. In fact, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a former representative, said the change could backfire for the GOP. “The Senate should have a protection for the minority. Both parties will be in the minority at different points. We need to be able to protect the rights of the minority,” he said.

With the House refusing to send a “clean” bill without amendments to the president for extending Homeland Security funding, Senate Republicans are worried about a government shutdown—again. Because they’ll be blamed–again. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said:

“It’s not livable. It’s not acceptable. When you’re in the majority, you have to govern. You have to govern responsibly. And shutdowns are not responsible.”

One possibility is a short-term funding, but Senate Republicans know that this action shows that they can’t govern. The deadline for this funding is February 27, followed at the end of March with the deadline to stop steep cuts for Medicare providers. Transportation expires in May, and parts of the Patriot Act disappear in June without further legislation. Then there’s the budget this spring and appropriation bills for each arm of the government. All this capped off by the debt ceiling debates in late summer or fall.

Even Rupert Murdoch’s conservative Wall Street Journal criticized House GOP members and wrote that they are in a “box canyon” of their own making. The editorial continues:

“Restrictionists like Sens. Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions are offering their familiar advice to fight harder and hold firm against ‘executive amnesty,’ but as usual their strategy for victory is nowhere to be found. So Republicans are now heading toward the same cul de sac that they did on the ObamaCare government shutdown…”

“It’s not too soon to say that the fate of the GOP majority is on the line.  Precious weeks are wasting, and the combination of weak House leadership and a rump minority unwilling to compromise is playing into Democratic hands. This is no way to run a Congressional majority, and the only winners of GOP dysfunction will be Mr. Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich advised the Republicans to use the upcoming recess to get approval for their actions from people back home. That will be difficult because they’ll have to justify the deportation of law-abiding children and young people who came to the United States through no volition of their own. Even some Republican legislators oppose this action.

All this after one month of GOP leadership in the Congress, and they’re leaving town next week for the first of many recesses.

June 27, 2014

SCOTUS Rewrites Constitution

“The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session–U.S. Constitution, Art. II, sec 2, cl. 3

On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court justices handed down its decision that violent anti-choice protesters can block women from entering women’s clinics, they also ruled—again unanimously—in NLRB v. Noel Canning that the U.S. president’s constitutional rights to make recess appointments should be limited. The case came from President Obama’s recess appointments in 2012 to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after the GOP members of the senate stopped the board from functioning because they didn’t want to accept any of the president’s nominees.

The question of legal appointments arose after a NLRB ruling against Noel Canning because of its unfair labor practices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the NLRB that Noel Canning was wrong but agreed with Noel Canning that the NLRB lacked a quorum because three of the five Board members had been invalidly appointed. Both the court of appeals and the Supreme Court ruled that a three-day recess is not long enough for the president to make appointments.

The ruling may require the NLRB to reconsider as many as 800 cases that were made with appointees that the Supreme Court has now determined to be invalid.

When the president made the appointments to the NLRB, the filibuster of 60 votes for approval of nominees, now eliminated, was still in effect. In addition, the senate has approved two of the three appointments that the president made at that time; the other one no longer sits on the board. The question of the appointments’ appropriateness came when the GOP refused to recess while they were out of town. Despite a 30-day recess, a senator conducted a “pro forma session” every three days by strolling into the chamber, pounding the gavel, and then closing the session within a few minutes. The only purpose was to block presidential appointments: there was no business conducted: presidential messages could not be placed before the senate, the chamber was almost empty, and attendance was not required.

GOP senators never objected to the specific nominees. They just wanted to stop the NLRB from functioning, and it couldn’t function without members. After the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the appointments were illegal, President Obama re-nominated his appointees. The GOP senators filibustered again, and the Democratic senators changed senate rules to require only 50 votes to invoke cloture on executive and judicial nominations. Along with other delayed nominees, the NLRB appointees moved forward.

The SCOTUS decision is the first time in the 225 years of the constitution that the Court has considered recess appointments. Its ruling read, “The Recess Appointments Clause empowers the President to fill any existing vacancy during any recess—intra-session or intersession—of sufficient length.” It defines “intra-session” recess as “breaks in the midst of a formal session” and “intersession” as “breaks between formal sessions of the Senate.” The majority of justices determined that the president can make recess appointments if the senate takes a break between sessions or takes time off during a session, but the recess must be at least ten days.

So the president, according to the majority opinion, still holds the power to make recess appointments to vacancies when the Senate is either taking a break between sessions or taking time off during a session–if it’s at least ten days. The president is not prone to making recess appointments. He’s made only 29, far fewer than George W. Bush’s 171 and Ronald Reagan’s 243.

About 1,200 executive-branch positions require senate approval. The chamber could spend all its time on the constitution’s  “advise and consent” mandate. In the 21st century, the process is more a method for senators to vent their ire on a president of the opposing party. Even worse than voting down nominees, the GOP senators during President Obama’s terms have followed a passive-aggressive approach of refusing to vote. Their refusal for not taking a vote for the NLRB was not unique. They were so intent on killing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that they didn’t approve a director for 18 months. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives went without a director for seven years after the position was mandated to have senate approval. Only after the NRA lifted its objections was the president able to get a director for this agency.

By 5-4, a minority of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia failed to overturn the lower court ruling that the president could not make any recess appointments except at the end of each year. They also failed to deny all recess appointments except when the vacancies were created while the senate was in full recess between sessions.

The constitution empowers the senate to “determine the rules of its proceedings, but SCOTUS has removed that right. If the minority position ha succeeded, as Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out, “Justice Scalia would render illegitimate thousands of recess appointments reaching all the way back to the founding era. More than that: Calling the Clause an ‘anachronism,’ he would basically read it out of the Constitution.”

SCOTUS’ ruling in Noel Canning also mandated that recesses of fewer than 10 days between sessions are “presumptively” too short to count in the constitutional reappointment right. Yet the Court stated that it must defer heavily to the Senate’s authority to determine “how and when to conduct its business.” Thus the justices said that they won’t tell the senate what to do, but they decided a minimum of recess of ten days for appointments. They have removed the right of the senate to set rules and rewritten the constitution.

There’s a definite irony here: the four justices who want to totally rewrite the constitution by eliminating any recess appointments are the originalists—meaning that they believe rulings should be based on what the authors actually meant. In many cases, they must be channeling the writers’ thoughts because the document doesn’t deal with much of 21st century life.

At this time, the Democratic senate can bring up a vote for nominees because they are the same party as the president. If the GOP takes over the senate in this year’s election, the Senate will probably refuse to hold any votes for appointments. In the future, a House of Representatives can demand adjournment for the senate if it is the same party as the president. If the two chambers disagree, the president can then exercise constitutional authority to unilaterally adjourn Congress for a recess, as the Supreme Court ruled. Unless other justices decide to re-write the constitution in this issue too. The Vacancies Act allows the president to fill vacancies—except in multimember agencies which the NLRB and other important agencies are.

As in yesterday’s ruling that erased buffer zones around Massachusetts’ women’s clinics, the justices showed themselves ignorant of reality. GOP members have been so intent on politicizing the appointment process that they are willing to destroy the United States. Yet, the ruling stated, “Most appointments are not controversial and do not produce friction between the branches.” That’s what this case was about. The justices showed no awareness of the recent senate obstruction of the confirmation process, so much so that routine appointments have been mired in controversy.

Reforms to the filibuster process were necessary because almost half of all cloture motions even considered on nominations in the history of the country were made after Barack Obama became president. Last month 110 executive branch nominees were pending, compared to 32 at the same point in George W. Bush’s second term.

As one senator blatantly said, his reason for opposing appointments to the NLRB was to make the agency “inoperable.” Without the recess appointments for a quorum, the senate could have stopped the NLRB for 2,885 days since 1988—almost eight years. Forty-four senators signed a letter to the president admitting that they opposed Richard Cordray to head the CFPB because of their opposition to the agency.

This is another roadblock that conservatives put in the way of the president carrying out his duties. The only hope with this ruling is that it puts the blame squarely on the senate for the failure to fill federal positions. That chamber is now responsible for failures in the confirmation process.

December 2, 2013

GOP Strategy: Block and Blank

Imagine your life if you were paid full time for working a little over one day a week. That’s life if you’re a member of Congress this next five weeks. The House is scheduled to “work” six days during that time, making a total of 113 work days in 2013. With their $174,000 salary, GOP House members made about $1,380 a day this year. In a little over ten days, members of the House make the same amount of money that a fulltime worker paid minimum wage makes in an entire year. At least the House members worked 19 days more than last year, but this year’s calendar is 13 days less than that scheduled next year.

Perhaps House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) can’t find anything for the GOP to do in the next five weeks. It appears that the House has stopped repealing the Affordable Care Act because they’re afraid to take insurance away from people. Right now conservative lawmakers seem happy to just tell lies about people who are losing their insurance and having to pay more for other plans. The Senate doesn’t seem to be working any harder than the House as GOP senators sulk about the change in the filibuster rules.

What else is left for federal lawmakers to do this year?

  • Relief from sequester caps
  • Budget plans to keep the United States from shutting down or defaulting on the debt
  • Funding authority, which expires January 15
  • Pentagon policy bill blocked because of dissension over ways to stop sexual-assault cases and increased sanctions against Iran after the White House reached a tentative nuclear pact with that nation
  • Unemployment benefits, funding to help workers displaced by global trade, and business-friendly tax break including research and development
  • Fees paid to Medicare providers to keep doctors and hospitals from dropping patients from the program
  • Confirmation of the new Federal Reserve chair, head of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia—not to mention all the other nominees waiting in the wings
  • The farm policy that also includes the funding level for food stamps
  • Immigration reform? Ha!

My favorite problem is the expiration of laws banning plastic guns on December 9. The 25-year-old law that stops weapons manufacturers from making guns undetectable by security systems expires without Congressional renewal. If Congress doesn’t act, anyone can easily take a gun anywhere, including onto airplanes, because plastic weapons can’t be detected.

Over 18 months ago, political scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norma J. Ornstein published an article in The Washington Post entitled “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.” One conservative and the other progressive, they agreed:

“The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

Searching for reasons behind the dysfunction, they listed “the mobilization of social conservatives after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the anti-tax movement launched in 1978 by California’s Proposition 13, the rise of conservative talk radio after a congressional pay raise in 1989, and the emergence of Fox News and right-wing blogs.”

According to the couple, however, the two people behind the move to the far right are Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist. From his entrance into Congress in 1979, Gingrich worked to persuade voters that this branch of government was “so corrupt that anyone would be better than the incumbents, especially those in the Democratic majority.” He spent 16 years bringing ethics charges against Democratic leaders and provoking them into overreactions that united GOP voters into opposing Democratic initiatives. Then he exploited scandals to raise public disgust with politicians and recruited conservatives to run against the government.

When Gingrich became speaker, the self-serving leader compromised with President Bill Clinton to build up the House’s reputation, but it was too late. The hatred toward Washington, similar to that from the Tea Party, drove out moderate GOP House members. Some of the radical conservatives moved into the Senate and similarly polarized its culture.

At the same time that Gingrich was poisoning the House, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform and passed out the Taxpayer Protection Pledge in 1986. Signers were bound to never vote for a tax increase, including closing tax loopholes. As of last year, 238 of the 242 House Republicans and 41 of the 47 GOP senators had given their souls to Norquist. Extremists liked the pledge so much that they created offshoots on issues such as climate change.

More recently, Ornstein wrote about the change in the Senate during the past decade. After 14 Senators, seven from each side of the aisle, compromised in confirming extremist judges Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen, Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander (TN) promised that they would never filibuster a judicial nominee.

Barack Obama’s move into the White House, however, turned “the filibuster into a routine weapon of mass obstruction.” No longer were filibusters based on qualifications. GOP senators abandoned their 2005-2006 commitments to not filibuster as  well as more recent ones in January 2013 to block everyone nominated for the bench.

In addition to filibusters, senators can block nominations for federal district court vacancies in their states, a practice known as “blue slips.” GOP senators, including Marco Rubio (FL) who actually recommended the nominee, are using this practice.

As the conservative Ornstein wrote:

“If the norms are blown up, which is what Senate Republicans under Mitch McConnell have done over the past five years—using the rules not to build bridges but to construct dams—it becomes almost inevitable that the rules will change to adapt.”

After the recent change in the filibuster rules, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) threatened more judges like Scalia and Alito, but these judges, as well as Thomas, came with the filibuster rules. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), with others, expressed concern that the Senate would get worse in effecting the legislative process. It can’t.

House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will prevent any legislature not in his political interest and support any legislation that will benefit him. Even with the majority of Democrats in the Senate passing a bill, the House will most certainly block it. The immigration reform passed the Senate with supermajorities, and Boehner won’t touch it.

The Party of No recently revealed its plan for the coming year to finish up the 113th Congress as the worst in history. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) met with a group of House GOP members and handed out a blank piece of paper labeled Agenda 2014, proving that they had no “governing vision or even a legislative agenda.” As an aide described the GOP leadership: “We don’t know where we are headed, and we don’t know what we can sell to our members.”

That’s the strategy of the GOP: blank.

November 23, 2013

Moving Forward without the Filibusters

People are still trying to get over the shock that Democrats would actually take action against the obstructionist GOP and vote for a simple majority vote to confirm the president’s nominees.  After promising earlier this year, not to filibuster all the nominees, the GOP backed down on their agreement, stopping judicial nominees and threatening others. The Democrats had enough and voted 52-48 to remove the possibility of filibuster for all nominees except for the U.S. Supreme Court. Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor (AK), Joe Manchin (WV), and Carl Levin (MI) voted with GOP senators against the rule change.

Out of 168 filibusters on nominations throughout history, 82 of them—49 percent—were during President Obama’s terms. Overall, 189 Obama executive nominees are awaiting confirmation in the Senate, including 85 for Cabinet-level agencies, and their nominations have been pending an average of 140 days, according to White House statistics.

filibuster There are 53 Obama judicial nominations currently moving through the Senate, 17 of which are awaiting votes on the floor. On average, Obama’s nominees waited almost 100 days longer to be confirmed than President George W. Bush’s judicial picks, according to Congressional Research Service data distributed by Senate Democrats.

executive nominees reid

The filibustered candidates were typically more conservative than progressive and therefore acceptable to the GOP. Republican Senators just tried to block all government activity from keeping a shortage of judges on federal courts to nullifying federal agencies by preventing them from having any leaders.

GOP senators have been very open about using the filibuster to block the president’s nominees. In an op-ed published by Fox, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) admitted that he supports the filibusters because he does not want Democrats to “switch the majority” on the D.C. Circuit. The conservatives went too far: they lost their power to stop any nominees from being confirmed.

The GOP had been increasingly using the filibuster rule to keep courts stacked with conservative judges who would then repeal laws. Two court decisions from the D.C. Circuit Court threatened to shut down the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that enforces much of federal labor law. Without the NLRB, employers can use intimidation to keep workers from joining unions, stop bargaining with unions, employ abusive work conditions, and, in fact, fire pro-union workers.

The GOP Senators had other reasons for retaining a majority of conservative judges on the D.C. Circuit Court. The judges struck down environmental regulations that could save tens of thousands of lives, restricted women’s access to birth control, and ruled that employers can legally keep workers ignorant of their rights.

Conservatives throughout the country are going to rant about the Democrats violated the wishes of the founding fathers. They’re wrong. Originally, both the House and the Senate used a simple majority to cut off debate, but the Senate dropped that rule in 1806 when Aaron Burr wanted it done. Yet there was still no filibuster rule in the Senate until until 1917 when President Wilson demanded the rule to overcome “a little group of willful men” opposing his proposal to arm merchant ships. The Senate voted 76-3 for a supermajority (two-thirds vote) for overcoming a filibuster. In 1975, the rule changed to allow just 60 votes to stop a nomination.

These are a few of the changes with a majority rule for confirming nominees:  

  • Regulating Wall Street: Conservative judges typically undermine financial regulation, and the GOP filibusters have been keeping any other judges from getting on the bench.
  • Labor market regulation: The conservative judges on the D.C. Circuit Board struck down President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. Removing the filibuster will most likely put three of President Obama’s nominees on this court as an addition to the eight judges, half of them appointed by Republican presidents. Although this sounds balanced, six judges in partial retirement hear a fairly substantial load of cases. Only one of these judges was appointed by a Democrat president.
  • Climate change: The D.C. Circuit also controls decisions for pricing gas emissions externalities under the Clean Air Act regulated by the EPA.
  •  Filibustering Legislation: With this first step, the Senate may curb the consistent filibustering of legislation as well as nominees, opening up votes for legislative reform from privatizing Social Security to adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act.

There has been much hand-wringing  about how much worse the Senate is since the filibuster rule was changed. The comments would be funny if the gridlock had not been so tragic. Since the extremist Republicans took over the House through the election of 2010, Congress has had no major legislative accomplishments. The last three years will be known in history only for one government shutdown and two debt-ceiling crises. The Congressional record can’t drop below the zero number of bills legislated into law.

In a fit of petty pique, the GOP immediately refused to use unanimous consent to confirm a group of low-profile nominees before their next long recess. Observers can expect other GOP delaying tactics such as blocking committees from holding meetings and refusing to attend committee meetings to deny the necessary quorum for moving nominations to the floor. If the GOP chooses, they can demand the possible 30 hours of Senate debate on each appeals court and Cabinet-level nominee. Those below Cabinet level get eight hours, and district court nominees get two hours. That’s an entire day—with no other business—for just one nominee.

GOP senators can also hold up judicial nominations by refusing to submit a “blue slip” okaying the choice. Ten pending judicial nominees have not had a Senate hearing because their home-state Republican senators have not returned their blue slips. In the case of Florida, Marco Rubio urged a nominee who he is now rejecting.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)  threatened the ratification of a United Nations-backed disabilities treaty to put most of the world on a par with U.S. policy. Carrying out their revenge plans, the GOP, supposedly public employees, will waste more taxpayer money through their obstruction and inaction. Stalling, however, will show the people in the U.S. that they are deliberately not working, a greater act of sabotage than the filibuster which allowed Republicans to not work and then campaign on the idea that it is government that it not working. When politicians complain about government employees not work, they are looking in a mirror.

The most popular statement in the media is that Democrats will be sorry about their vote to eliminate the filibuster for nominees if (when?) the Republicans control both the Senate and the presidency. This complaint ignores the fact that the a GOP majority in the Senate could easily take the same action that the Democrats did last week. Going to a simple majority now gives the Democrats at least one year, perhaps another two, and hopefully more than that to put reasonable, constitutional judges on the federal bench and keep federal agencies functioning.

November 1, 2013

Confirmations Have Consequences

Last Monday I cheered when the state Supreme Court overturned just part of the draconian Texas law keeping women without money from abortions. The good feeling was short-lived: yesterday a higher court reinstated the law that forces 12 of the state’s clinics that perform abortions to close their doors, to no longer help women with any health issues. Because of a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas’ abortion restrictions have now gone into effect, and all appointments have been canceled.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states cannot impose “undue burdens” on women who intend to terminate pregnancies. But the three-judge panel of the court considered the requirement of traveling several hundred miles each way to a health clinic is not really an “undue burden.” They agreed that the new Texas law would increase the cost of an abortion because of fewer providers in the state, but “the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough” to strike it down.

Who are the three judges who made the decision against the women of Texas? The author of the ruling is Priscilla Owens, confirmed by the GOP Senate in 2005 to a seat that the GOP had refused to fill while Bill Clinton was president. She is so radical that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales—no liberal—accused her as being guilty of “an unconscionable act of judicial activism” in a reproductive-rights case during their tenure together on the Texas Supreme Court.

The editorial board of the Houston Chronicle described Owen as “less interested in impartially interpreting the law than in pushing an agenda.” Owen’s hometown Austin American-Statesman described her as “so conservative that she places herself out of the broad mainstream of jurisprudence,” adding that she “seems all too willing to bend the law to fit her views, rather than the reverse.”

Twenty years ago, Enron’s political action committee gave Owen $8,600 for her successful Supreme Court bid. Two years later, Owen wrote the majority opinion that reversed a lower court order and reduced Enron’s school taxes by $15 million. Between 1993 and 2001, Enron contributed $134,058—more than any other corporation—to Owen and other members of the Texas Supreme Court. In 2001, Enron filed bankruptcy and became an example of willful corporate fraud and corruption. A study by Texans for Public Justice found that the court ruled in Enron’s favor in five out of six cases involving the company since 1993.

Owens has also been a strong supporter of Halliburton, declining to hear a case overturning a $2.6 million jury verdict for a field worker who had been framed to test positive for cocaine. Halliburton provided thousands of dollars to Owens’ campaign.

In 2003, the Austin-American Statesman declared that Owen could “usually be counted upon in any important case that pitted an individual or group of individuals against business interests to side with business.” Furthermore, she had a questionably ethical tendency to take “campaign contributions from law firms and corporations … and then, without recusing herself, [rule] in their favor when their cases came before her.”

Owen’s rulings are considered so business-friendly and tainted that a member of the National Employment Lawyers Association once quipped:

“In my more cynical moments, I suggest that, just as sports stadiums are now named after corporations, judicial seats are soon to follow. In that vein, I believe that Justice Owen could well fill the Exxon/Mobil or Wal-Mart seat on the Fifth Circuit.”

She has no trail of articles or speeches, but her pro-business approach can be traced through her rulings.

The day after the decision to deny Texas women their constitutional rights, Justice Janice Rogers Brown ruled that employers can ignore the federal birth control rules on the flimsiest of religious excuses. She started her written opinion by labeling the Affordable Care Act a “behemoth.” Nine years ago, she was the only judge on the California Supreme Court to rule as she did in her most recent decision, a position that led George W. Bush to appoint her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The federal court panel made its decision by a 2-1 vote. The dissenting judge, Harry Edwards, wrote:

“There are three reasons why the Mandate [to provide free contraception] does not substantially burden the Gilardis’ ‘exercise of religion.’ First, the Mandate does not require the Gilardis to use or purchase contraception themselves. Second, the Mandate does not require the Gilardis to encourage Freshway’s employees to use contraceptives any more directly than they do by authorizing Freshway to pay wages. Finally, the Gilardis remain free to express publicly their disapproval of contraceptive products.”

Brown has strong opinions: FDR’s New Deal is a “socialist revolution,” and through Social Security, “senior citizens blithely cannibalize their grandchildren because they have a right to get as much ‘free’ stuff as the political system will permit them to extract.” Her opinions from the bench suggest that all labor, business or Wall Street regulation is constitutionally suspect, an adversarial position on a court that makes decisions on most federal administration and regulation cases such as those involving regulations set by agencies like the Social Security Administration, Federal Elections Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Federal Communications Commission, and those dealing with federal environmental and labor laws.

Also confirmed in 2005 to her current position on a federal court, Brown was earlier the first California Supreme Court Justice to receive an unqualified rating from the state bar and still be nominated by a governor, in this case GOP Pete Wilson, and put on the state court.

In 2000, she upheld an initiative that banned affirmative action for women and minorities in public contracts, hiring, and college admissions. Although she ruled that the First Amendment should protect racial slurs and discriminatory speech in the workplace, she thought that it should not protect the right to freely assemble. To Brown, ageism is not a form of discrimination, and that it’s too easy to prosecute against discrimination based on disability.

At the same time as these anti-women decisions from two different federal courts of appeal, GOP senators are filibustering the first of President Obama’s nominees to the DC Court of Appeals. Because the court is short three of eleven justices, the GOP appointees dominate the court. (The elevation of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court has left a vacancy for eight years.) Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) wrote that the GOP senators should prevent all of Obama’s nominees from being confirmed to this court to keep Democrats from gaining a majority. At this time, three of the judges were appointed by Bush 43 and one by Bush 41.

When Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster Brown’s nomination, they caved because the GOP senators were going to invoke the “nuclear option” to eliminate filibusters of judicial nominees. The same thing happened to get Owens confirmed. GOP threats resulted in two of the conservative and activist judges in the country gaining seats on a federal circuit court of appeals.

The most frightening part of these two anti-women decisions is that they come from the highest courts in the land except for the highly conservative U.S. Supreme Court. Appeals will go to the full court but may move on to the U.S. Supreme Court. These appeals could lead to a reversal in which women lack the rights to contraception and abortions as they did a half-century ago. Even worse, some people consider Janice Rogers Brown as a candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.

September 26, 2013

Dumb & Dumber – The Gop Party Can’t Quit

After Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) got to make his long speech, ending yesterday, about defunding Obamacare, the Senate was supposed to vote on the Continuing Resolution. That didn’t happen, but lots of other things did.

The media had a field day comparing Cruz and the real Texas filibusterer Wendy Davis, who fought draconian anti-women state laws. Cruz is “aimless and self-destructive” (New York Times editorial board), elitist (GQ),  and likely guided more by presidential aspirations than principles (CNN). Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, called Cruz, his former Princeton colleague, an “arrogant jerk” — and worse.

Davis, Texas state senator, was the subject of a glowing Vogue profile and became a superstar on almost every major network.  She was the “Sunday Spotlight” for ABC’s This Week and was interviewed by Jeff Zeleny in the dinner theater where she once waited tables. Even conservative columnist Peggy Noonan described Davis as “so spirited, she has such energy and she seems to have such commitment.” As Dylan Byers wrote on Politico, “When a Democrat like Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis filibusters against abortion restrictions, she is elevated to hero status, her tennis shoes become totems. When Cruz grandstands against Obamacare, he is a laughingstock in the eyes of many journalists on Twitter, an “embarrassment” in the eyes of The New York Times editorial board.”

Since Cruz’s speech, Huffington Post has discovered that he doesn’t accept government health insurance because his wife’s employment as a regional head of a Goldman Sachs division gives him top-notch health insurance. According to a 2009 New York Times report, top executive officers and managing directors at the bank participate in a health care program that costs Goldman more than $40,000 in annual premiums for each participant’s family.

what a tea partier looks likeAfter yesterday’s vote to move ahead on the Continuing Resolution to keep the government functioning past this coming Monday, GOP greed bogged down the process into inaction by demanding a bizarre set of conditions. Without these, they plan to shut down the government and send the economy into a tailspin. Originally conservatives (aka Tea Partiers to right)  just wanted to defund Obamacare, but their list has vastly expanded just five days before the U.S. shuts down:

  • Approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline: After 3,900 temporary jobs, the pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast would support 35 permanent and 15 temporary jobs. Annual emissions would be “the equivalent of 6 million cars on the road,” according to the EPA.
  • Weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:  The GOP has had a strong yen to promote predatory lending practices from banks and financial institutions.
  • Cut $120 billion from federal health programs over the next decade:. In addition to repealing other benefits for health reform, this would increase Medicare costs.
  • Increase offshore oil drilling and energy production on federal lands: The GOP wants to have new drilling on the entire U.S. Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast off Southern California, and much of Alaska’s offshore space despite the fact that Congress refuses to make drilling safer after the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
  • Block federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions: In 2007 the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA can regulate carbon dioxide under the 1973 Clean Air Act. With the discovery that exposure to air pollution kills about 200,000 people a year, the GOP wants to reverse the EPA control. Up to 3 million premature deaths could be avoided each year globally by 2100 if aggressive emissions cuts are made.
  • Restrict most forms of federal industry regulation: The GOP wants all major regulations to need Congressional votes and nullify any not approved within 70 days. Such a law would require federal agencies to have Congressional approval for changes  in vehicle safety standards, reductions in greenhouse emissions, or streamlining the FDA’s process for approving new drugs.
  • Pass a tax-reform blueprint that the GOP finds acceptable.
  • Block any ways to combat climate crisis. 
  • Eliminate Net Neutrality for a free and open Internet.
  • Extend destructive sequestration spending cuts.
  • Execute pro-corporatre tort reforms, including limits on medical malpractice lawsuits. 
  • Ban abortions after 20 weeks.

And there may be more! Meanwhile Democrats are asking for nothing except to keep the country functioning.

More Republicans are angry about the behavior of the ultra-conservative legislators. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) lambasted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) after they refused to agree to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) request to move up a cloture vote on a continuing resolution funding the government from Friday to Thursday evening. Corker argued that the Senate should act as soon as possible in order to give their House colleagues more time to avert a government shutdown, criticizing Cruz for putting on a “show” meant to attract attention instead. Corker said:

“It’s my understanding again, relative to this vote tonight happening tomorrow instead, is that my two colleagues, who I respect, have sent out e-mails around the world and turned this into a show possibly, and, therefore, they want people around the world to watch maybe them and others on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is also having a worse week than usual. Because U.S. senators present names to the president for appeals court potential nominees, Rubio and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-FL) are responsible for suggesting qualified professionals to serve on federal district courts in their state. They selected Judge William Thomas after subjecting him to a background check. President Obama’s team agreed, and Thomas was headed to be the first openly gay black man to serve as a federal judge. Rubio has now announced his opposition to the judicial nominee he selected for the position. Without the approval of both senators, Thomas has lost the nomination. Rubio must still want to be the 2016 GOP presidential candidate.

The GOP also had a bad day yesterday after  the Inspector’ General’s Office issued a report that there was no bias in the independent audit of the attack in Benghazi, contrary to the claims from Republican legislators. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has spent much of his political capital for the last year to prove that the State Department was trying to protect then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The report was overseen by  Acting Inspector General Harold Geisel, assigned to his role by Condoleezza Rice in 2008, and calls for GOP attacks on the Benghazi audit to stop.

ramboldToday is also the day that admitted rapist and former high school teacher Stacey “Sandy” Rambold, 54, walked out of the Montana State Prison after his 31-day sentence for raping 14-year-old Cherice Moralez. That was in 2007, three years after the school district that employed him had told him not to touch or be alone with female students.

BaughAfter the legal process of convicting him, District Judge G. Todd Baugh, said, “He’d suffered enough.” At the same sentencing, he said the victim, Cherice Moralez, was “older than her chronological age.” In response to public outcry, Baugh added, “Obviously a 14-year-old can’t consent.” But he continued that this wasn’t “some violent, forcible, horrible rape.” It wasn’t, said the judge, “this forcible beat-up rape.” He also stated that the 14-year-old was “as much in control of the situation” as the 49-year-old teacher.

In an almost incoherent defense of his actions, Baugh told the Billings Gazette:

“I think what people are seeing is a sentence for rape of 30 days. Obviously on the face of it, if you look at it in that way, it’s crazy. No wonder people are upset. I’d be upset, too, if that happened.”

Judge Baugh made it happen.

Just before her 17th birthday, Moralez, tormented by classmates, killed herself with a gun. After her suicide, the prosecution made a “deferred prosecution agreement” with Rambold. All charges, including the one to which Rambold admitted, would be dismissed if he completed a sex-offender treatment program and met other requirements including no contact with children. When the rapist failed to meet the conditions of the agreement, prosecutors asked the judge for a 20-year sentence. Baugh ruled that Rambold’s violations “were more technical and not the kind you would send someone to prison for.”

Hanlon said the pain of her daughter’s death hasn’t faded. Rambold made unauthorized visits with relatives’ children and failed to disclose he was in a sexual relationship with a Washington woman.

State prosecutors are appealing the sentence, claiming that Montana’s state law requires a minimum sentence of two years for Rambold. With no new offenses, however, he will stay out of prison pending the appeal which could take 12 to 18 months. Unless the original sentence if overruled, Rambold must register as a sex offender and stay on probation until 2028.

A formal complaint to remove Baugh from the bench for alleged bias is pending before the state Judicial Standards Commission.

If Baugh’s reaction were unique, it would be horrifying. But even worse, this is a common event. Defense lawyers used the same defense for a juvenile detention guard in Louisiana when he raped a 14-year-old girl in his care. The case won’t be heard again until March 24, 2014, because of a crowded court docket. In 2000, a South Caroline Circuit judge cut a 27-year-old youth minister’s sentence in half to six years because the  14-year-old girl’s body “was [at] an unusual stage of maturity.”

hw. bush witnessLast weekend, former President George H.W. Bush was the official witness at the wedding between Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, long-time friends of the Bushes. It was reported that the Bushes gave the newly-weds Target bake-ware as a gift.

 

bush four

September 25, 2013

Cruz Pretends to Filibuster, Alienates His Own Party

Yesterday, Sen.Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) announcement that he would filibuster Obamacare took media attention across the country. It was as if nothing else was happening. But he doesn’t understand what a filibuster actually is. His colleague in the Texas state senate, Wendy Davis, understands the filibuster as she stood for over 11 hours, not touching any furniture, not eating or drinking, not using the restroom, and speaking alone on one specific subject. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) allowed Cruz to give a really long speech in which he read a children’s book and stopped speaking while other senators took up his time. He didn’t block or stop anything, the way that Davis did; he just wasted time.

cruz daughtersDuring his 21-hour speech, Cruz compared fellow Republicans to Nazi appeasers, said that most people in Washington wear “cheap suits with bad haircuts,” and took time out to read a book to his adoring daughters as tweeted by Jason Johnson. The daughters are very fortunate in having health care; Cruz represents a state in which 33% of adults and 17% of children have no health insurance.

The selection of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham might have seemed a good choice for anyone who didn’t read the entire book–like a Fox network host. Cruz said that the complaints about eating green eggs and ham were exactly like Obamacare—people didn’t want it. The book, however, makes a point about being open to experiences because at the end the character gives in, eats the food—and likes it. The character even says, “Thank you!”

On Slate, Matthew Yglesias points out the similarity of the book to Obamacare: “The Democrats’ bet on the Affordable Care Act is that it’s like green eggs and ham—they’re convinced the public will like it when they try it.” Yglesias continues with the explanation that’s going through the media like a virus, that the GOP is desperate to repeal Obamacare before it takes effect because people will find that they love it.

There’s a story circulating about a man who looked at Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare, and said, “That’s better than Obamacare.”

Although Cruz might think that the Republican party is ready for an anti-establishment candidate like himself, it hasn’t happened for 50 years when Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) ran for president—and lost. “When the Wall Street Journal starts to belittle you… That’s what these people read every day,” said one senior GOP aide, explaining why Cruz won’t be getting the donors with deep pockets.

For a supposedly bright man, Cruz has a lot of negative baggage. He threatened to support the Second Amendment by bringing his own gun into a committee meeting and encouraging others to do the same thing. After Cruz and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) sent a memo to that effect, federal law enforcement officials made sure that the senators left their weapons at home.

Cruz wanted to impeach Obama for no good reason, and he questioned Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s patriotism. If the United Nations didn’t stop China’s policy of one child per couple, Cruz threatened to pull U.S. funding from the U.N. meant for peace-keeping missions and assistance to refugees. Cruz has never liked the U.N. because he thinks that the organization is trying to get rid of golf courses in the United States.

While Cruz advocates Christian churches be allowed to endorse political candidates, he declared that Islamic law in the United States is “an enormous problem.” Trying now to look as if he’s not part of the elite, Cruz refused to study with anyone at Harvard Law School who hadn’t been an undergraduate at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale.

The greatest irony is that Cruz’s speech was directed at a bill that the House had passed. In essence, he was delaying the vote on a bill that 217 GOP House members had approved. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said,”We’d be hard-pressed to explain why we were opposed to a bill we’re in favor of.” After Cruz spoke for 21 hours, the Senate voted 100-0—including Cruz’s vote—to vote on the bill.

Last March Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called Cruz a wacko so Cruz is now declaring that McCain lost the 2008 presidential election because conservatives wouldn’t vote for him. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said that Cruz didn’t understand how much damage would be caused to the GOP if they shut the government down as they did in 1995-96. Other GOP legislators are unhappy with Cruz although not as openly.

As an ambitious politician, Cruz seems to be all about getting donations to his potential presidential campaign. Most of the money coming into Defund, Inc. is directed toward Cruz, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and the Senate Conservatives Fund. The month of August, typically slow for fundraisers, saw $1.5 million go into SCF’s account along with the names of 1.5 million people who signed the defund petition on the Don’tFundObamaCare website.

The SCF, presumably a Republican PAC, has run ads attacking seven GOP senators, including Mitch McConnell, Jeff Flake, and Lindsey Graham, for not opposing Obamacare enough, even though they all voted against the bill and said they would vote to defund it. Last week, the SCF announced it would also run ads against House Republicans if they fail to embrace the right defund strategy. Haley Barbour, former Mississippi governor and RNC chairman, said:

“The House of Representatives has voted to repeal Obamacare in one form or another something like 40 times since it went into effect, yet some of these groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund or the Club for Growth attack the same Republicans who voted against OC, but they attack them over tactics. There is just no excuse.”

A lesser known reason that the GOP is bitterly fighting against the implementation of Obamacare is that it registers voters. When uninsured people, primarily low-income and minority applicants, sign up for health care exchanges, they will be asked if they want to register to vote. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), aka the Motor Voter law, directs DMVs and other public assistance state agencies to provide voter registration services. Both state-run exchanges and the federally-run exchanges in states where GOP governors refuse to set them up will be required to comply with the Motor Voter law.

Rush Limbaugh declared in June that Obamacare is “about building a permanent, undefeatable, always-funded Democrat majority.” Last spring Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) wrote to HHS, charging that the health care law “does not give your Department an interest in whether individual Americans choose to vote” and asking HHS to provide justification for including voter registration questions in health insurance applications.

Some conservative legal scholars argue that exchanges don’t fall under the Motor Voter law’s definition of social service providers because they operate as a marketplace for private insurance. The exchanges, however, also provide government subsidies, and HHS made it clear that all health care exchanges would need to provide voter registration services. The 24 million mostly low-income and minority uninsured folks who are expected to purchase insurance through the exchanges are particularly likely to be unregistered to vote. Not having health insurance is one of the strongest indicators that someone will not vote, according to Lake Research, a political strategy research firm.

Only 65 percent of eligible voters in the US are registered to vote, and scores of new voting laws from GOP legislatures are putting barriers between many people and the voting booths.

At least 140 million people registered in the two decades wince the Motor Voter law took effect. If Obamacare is responsible for increased voter registration, it could change democracy in the United States. Following the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, senior voter turnout rates rose while turnout for other age groups dropped. Midterm turnout for seniors rose from 66 percent to 73 percent between 1958 and 1998 alone, and now seniors vote at an historically high rate. As Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota and author of Health Care Reform and American Politics, explained, “The passage of Social Security gave seniors resources and motivation and identity as beneficiaries that got them to the polls.”

The same scenario will likely play out among poor and minority voters who often feel disconnected from politics and government, Jacobs added. They will soon receive “tangible benefits” through the Affordable Care Act and will be motivated to hold onto those benefits by voting. “Obamacare will define a new constituency,” Jacobs concluded.

In the New York Times Frank Bruni called Cruz’s speech “grandstanding”:

“This week [Cruz] is blithely putting the lawmakers in his party between a rock and a hard place. If they fail to match the anti-Obamacare passion that he flexed anew in a Senate speech Monday, they’ll land on the far right’s watch list. But if they match it and the government shuts down, there’s a good chance that the Republican Party takes the blame and a hit it can ill afford.”

An informal U.S. News & World Report survey shows that over 81 percent of respondents believe that the GOP threats to shut down the government to defund Obamacare will hurt the party.

The Obamacare health exchanges open in six days. Be afraid, GOP—be very afraid.

For some educational entertainment, check out Jon Stewart’s take on Ted Cruz.

August 1, 2013

GOP: ‘Stop Government’

Yesterday was a landmark day: the Senate approved, for the first time, a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Until seven years ago, the agency had a real director—not just an acting one—but the NRA persuaded Congress to put an amendment into the PATRIOT Act requiring Senate confirmation for that position. Since that time—seven years—the Senate has refused to confirm any nominees.

Seven months ago, President Obama nominated B. Todd Jones, the most recent person proposed for the position, but Senate GOP members held up the confirmation through filibustering until Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Harry Reid (D-NV) made a deal to stop the filibuster for seven other presidential nominees. The 60-40 vote to end the filibuster was not effortless: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) had to fly back from North Dakota after being ill, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) had to be persuaded to vote with the Democrats and the other GOP senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and John McCain (R-AZ).

George W. Bush nominated U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan for director, but the NRA accused Sullivan of “overly restrictive legal interpretations” and “overly zealous enforcement activities.” Sens. David Vitter (R-LA), Larry Craig (R-ID) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) threatened to filibuster Sullivan, and he was never confirmed. President Obama’s nominee in 2010, Andrew Traver, lost to the NRA because he supported a ban on .50 caliber rifles.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the man who called Edward Snowden a criminal, refused to support Jones who he accused of “retaliating against a whistle-blower.” One case has been closed because of a technical review of the complaint document, and the other has been moved to mediation.

This will be the last action before Congress heads home to campaign for five weeks, supposedly listening to what their constituents say. They declared this week “Stop Government Abuse,” which would be better described “Stop Government.” Instead of using this last week to clean up bills languishing in the House for months, that chamber considered ways to control government workers and give people the right to record their conversations. The new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, just nine days of House meetings away. They have eight out of 12 appropriation bills left to determine, including the farm bill. For weeks, conservative GOP representatives have been threatening to close down the government if Obamacare is not overturned. And we know how well that worked two years ago!

Conservative scholar Norm Ornstein calls the GOP behavior “irresponsible.” He asserted that the GOP has five different parties: a House party, a Senate party, a presidential party with Southern and a non-Southern one. According to Ornstein, the dominant parties are the House and the Southern one, and they are wreaking disaster on the nation:

“You could say it’s a do-nothing Congress but that doesn’t do justice to it. These guys are doing something, which is to destroy the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) warned his House colleagues that aiming toward the shutdown of the government would be a “suicidal political tactic.” He compared their position to that the Pickett’s unsuccessful attack during the Battle of Gettysburg leading to Confederate retreat.

The polls agree with Cole and Ornstein. Republican pollster Whit Ayers, president of North Star Opinion Research, found that respondents opposed the shutdown strategy by a 64-29 percent margin.

But the GOP plods along with its “stop government” tactics. With Mitch McConnell (R-KY)’s leadership, 43 GOP senators blocked the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill. Although 19 GOP senators wanted to bring the bill to the floor in June, McConnell managed to whip his caucus into a “stop government” position. House Republican leaders also pulled their THUD bill from the floor because there weren’t enough Republicans to vote in favor of the bill.

The House “stop government” focus this week was on bills with such titles as “Keep the IRS Off Your Health Care Act” and “Stop Playing on Citizen’s Cash Act.” The STOP IRS Act, STOP standing for “Stop Targeting Our Politics,” would let the IRS to fire employees “who take official actions for political purposes.” As some of the people in Congress are already leaving for their nice five-week vacation, House GOP leaders plan the 40th vote against Obamacare, its efforts to bar the IRS from implementing or enforcing any piece of the 2010 health-care law.

When lawmakers come back in September, however, playtime is over, especially if constituents tell GOP legislators that they shouldn’t close down the country. By now, the effects of the sequester is far more evident, and people without jobs are angry.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) showed his piece of “stop government” when he was asked about is the mis-named “Hastert Rule” that supposedly requires a majority of Republicans to approve a House bill before the House votes on the bill. He tried to dispel the myth in this way: “It is not, ‘they don’t come to the floor unless we have a majority of the majority,’ because we don’t know if we have a majority until we vote on it.”

At face value, this statement seems to give the impression that Ryan thinks the Hastert Rule should be ignored. That’s a good idea because, as McCain frequently claims these days, bills deserve to see the light of day and receive an honest debate. A spokesman clarified Ryan’s language when he told Ryan’s constituent, “The House will consider only those immigration reforms that garner a majority of House Republicans.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is already practicing the lies that he will tell his constituents. Yesterday morning, when asked about the president’s recent series about the economy and the middle class, Boehner said, “If I had poll numbers as low as his, I’d probably be out doing the same thing, if I were him.” Poll numbers are something that Boehner really shouldn’t touch.

The latest NBC/WSJ poll showed Obama with a 48% favorability rating; the same poll showed Boehner with an 18% favorability rating. The president’s approval rating, depending on which poll you like, is somewhere between 45% and 50%, while Boehner’s Congress’ approval rating is between 11% and 19%.

popularity

In other polls:

  • 55 percent of people think that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower, not a traitor, in contrast to Congressional opposition toward Snowden’s actions.
  • 78 percent of the people want a path to citizenship for undocumented people in the U.S.; the House refuses to even consider the possibility.
  • only 21 percent of the people think that abortion should not be allowed.
  • 68 percent of the people think that Republicans are doing too little to compromise with President Obama.
  • only 33 percent of the people that the distribution of wealth in the nation is fair, and a majority of the people believe that the government should do something about this.
  • 55 percent of the people think that marriage equality should be legalized, up from 46 percent less than nine months ago.

Boehner should check out the polls. He might find them enlightening.

July 18, 2013

Today’s Good News Includes Obamacare

Good news today! Nelson Mandela’s health is improving as he celebrated his 95th birthday. The Senate cobbled together a deal to keep interest rates low on student loans until the economy improves. And federal judge Willian Conley kept abortion clinics open in Wisconsin until he has more time to consider a permanent injunction against the restrictive law rushed through in nine days and signed in private by the governor on a holiday weekend. The current legal proceedings require the state of Wisconsin to prove that it has a “legitimate governmental interest” in imposing additional regulations on abortion providers of seeking admitting privileges from local hospitals, a requirement unique to these clinics.

In the Senate, the Republicans kept at least part of its promise by confirming two more of President Obama’s nominees following yesterday’s confirmation of Richard Cordray for the Consumers Financial Protection Bureau.

Tom Perez is now the next Secretary of Labor after stiff opposition because he pushed for a minimum wage for domestic workers in Montgomery, promised to “throw the book” at employers who withheld pay from immigrant workers, saved an important piece of the federal fair housing law, and collected hundreds of millions of  dollars from major banks that charged minority homeowners more than whites seeking a mortgage. As head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division for the past four years, he enforced voting rights by  opposing the voter ID trend across the nation and sued the infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing his office of racially profiling Latinos during a crackdown on undocumented people in his county.

Gina McCarthy’s 59-40 confirmation for director of the Environmental Protection Agency was opposed by Democrat Joe Manchin (WV) because of what he called  an “over-regulatory rampage” against the coal industry. One of her positions during 25 years in the environmental policy world was leading the the EPA’s air pollution office since 2009. Although McCarthy held posts under five Republican governors, including Mitt Romney, the Senate held up her confirmation for 136 days until the Democrats threatened the GOP with removing the filibuster for executive nominees. Senators opposing McCarthy have accepted over $25 million from fossil fuel industries.

The House of Representatives will no longer use my taxpayer money to defend the unconstitutional statute DOMA, banning marriage equality. This decision may allow lesbian and gay service members and veterans to receive the same married benefits as opposite-sex couples. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Rather than trying to delay justice for particular married gay and lesbian couples and their families, Speaker Boehner should immediately file motions to end House Republicans’ involvement in the remaining cases and stop spending taxpayer dollars to defend unconstitutional discrimination.”

On the same day that President Obama delivered a speech on the benefits of his Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report showing that the average of the least expensive mid-level health plans are 18 percent lower than the CBO had estimated when the law was passed. One of the biggest arguments against Obamacare was that young people in the country would be forced to purchase expensive health insurance. Yet HHS expects that a plan for a 25-year-old in Los Angeles County would be $174 per month without a government subsidy and only $34 per month (with a tax credit) for someone making $17,235.

New York state regulators said yesterday that policies sold through the law’s insurance exchange would cost about 50 percent less than currently available policies. Ten other states also announced lower rates including Oregon, Montana, Louisiana, and California. Lower rates come from open competition, once something that the  GOP supported.

Earlier this year millions of people in the nation received insurance rebates because of the “medical loss ratio” provision requiring insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care instead of profits and overhead. An average rebate of $100 was sent to 8.5 million people this year, and consumers received another $3.4 billion savings because insurance companies lowered their premiums to comply with the law.

People may not hear the good news about Obamacare because today the media has focused on the 38th and 39th times that the U.S. House again voted on the health care law, passed by Congress and ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. One bill agreed with President Obama’s delay in the law’s employer mandate, and the other extended the delay to the individual mandate. Of the 147 media pieces including “Obamacare,” 120—almost all—mentioned the House vote whereas only 71—fewer than half—discussed lower premium rates.

The following will be classified as either good or bad news, depending on your perspective. After taking off almost the entire month of August, House leadership has penciled in just nine workdays during September. The farm bill stops on September 30, and other bills, such as immigration reform, voting rights, and student loans, are vital. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has objected to reports of shrinking productivity in his chamber, but the 112th Congress that ended in December 2012 was the least productive session since the 1940s when one considers the total number of bills passed. Thus far, the 113th has been less productive.

The GOP is providing great fodder for comedians. Last night Stephen Colbert addressed the House’s inaction, citing the immigration bill kerfuffle. Although the Senate bill would double border security, creating more border agents than FBI agents, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) complained that it overlooks “the need for border agents in the interior of our country.” Colbert responded, “When will we build the border wall with Florida?  We can’t let those maniacs in our country. It’s legal to shoot each other down there.”

Yesterday the GOP majority on the House Appropriations Committee, with the help of two Democrats, reaffirmed the legal sale of guns to people suspected of terrorism to buy guns. In six years, the people on the watch list tried to buy weapons 1,228 times and were approved 91 percent of the time. To those who say that the terrorist watch list shouldn’t be used because it’s flawed, I say, “Fix it.”

The Appropriations Committee also passed an amendment “to block the ATF from continuing to require the reporting of purchases of multiple firearms in border states.” People in the United States are responsible for part of Mexico’s bloody drug war because many of the guns used are sold in U.S. stores. If the philosophy is “first, do no damage,” it’s good news that the House meets so few days.

Maybe the best news from yesterday is that at least one GOP Senator understands the dysfunctional Senate leadership. When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he could have done better than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in negotiating the filibuster agreement, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) called out, “Bullshit.” Now somebody needs to do something about the House.

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