Nel's New Day

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.

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.

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