Nel's New Day

November 28, 2012

Congress Gets More Dysfunctional

Yesterday’s blog included the bravery of Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in crossing the conservative activist Grover Norquist when Chambliss said about the anti-tax pledge that he signed 20 years ago, “If we do it [Norquist’s]  way then we’ll continue in debt, and I just have a disagreement with him about that.” Since then, Norquist seems to have gotten to Chambliss as shown by this tweet: “ I’m not in favor of tax increases. I’m in favor of significant tax reform 2 lower tax rates & generate additional revenue through job growth.” He must have gotten protests from his campaign funders.  

Each day—in fact each hour—the bipartisan budget agreement from August 2011 takes another twist. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who walked off the Simpson-Bowles debt commission before it could come up with a way to solve the deficit, has been named as negotiator for the fiscal cliff. Is House Speaker John Boehner trying to scuttle all Ryan’s chances of being a 2016 presidential candidate with this appointment?

My personal theory, and hope, is that with the intransigent Ryan—and the other Republicans pushed by Norquist—all negotiations will fail before the end of the year. The higher taxes will then go into effect on the first of January when Democrats will propose a bill to reduce taxes for everyone under $250,000. The question then is whether Republicans will vote against lowering taxes for the American people.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), appointed by President Obama to lead the commission with Erskine Bowles, has promised to protect Congressmen who separate themselves from Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge through donations from his Campaign to Fix the Debt. Simpson predicted that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) would come under attack for backing entitlement. He didn’t promise, however, to protect the Democrat. Durbin is up for re-election in 2014.

Not that the GOP ever listens to the populace, but their political leaders should check out this chart showing what people in the United States want from the solution to the “fiscal cliff.” In short, voters want higher tax rates for the wealthy and no increase in the age to receive Social Security. Although more evenly split on limiting tax deductions, they still don’t want to do this. Even fewer self-identified Republicans and conservatives want the age for Social security to be raised (29 percent) than self-identified liberals (30 percent).

At the same time the Susan Rice debacle has worsened now that supposedly moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-MA) entered the fray against her to force the appointment of John Kerry for Secretary of State. Quelle surprise! She, too, has always been supportive of Scott Brown, going so far as to campaign for him this fall. Like other Republicans, she likely believes that taking Kerry out of the Senate will leave the space wide open for Scott Brown whose term for Massachusetts senator ends in 33 days.

The problem with all the GOP kerfuffle is that the Democrats are getting irritated. In the last election, people may have voted because they were told they couldn’t; the same thing may happen with the selection for Secretary of State if Rice gets votes because the GOP is providing all this unwarranted opposition toward her.

The only way that the Republicans can keep a Democratic choice from becoming Secretary of State is by filibustering. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) stated that he has enough Democratic votes to change the filibuster guidelines on the first day of the 113th Congressional session. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is threatening to delay fiscal cliff decisions if the Democrats suggest the filibuster changes, but the minority leader has a very bad record for keeping his promises. After McConnell persuaded Reid to not support filibuster changes two years ago, Republicans filibustered 70 times. McConnell has promised to “shut down” the Senate if the Democrats carry through with their filibuster reform, but it appears that the GOP has consistently done with during the last six years with 386 filibusters.

There would have been more filibusters, but Democrats didn’t even try to take action because of the GOP threats. The lack of bills passed during the past two years in the U.S. Senate demonstrates the high level of dysfunction there: in the 112th Congress, the Senate passed a record low of 2.8 percent of bills introduced, 66 percent fewer than in 2005-2006 and a 90-percent decrease from the high during 1955-1956.

One Republican, Johnny Isakson (R-GA) disagrees with McCain when he called Rice “not very bright” and with other Republicans when they called her “incompetent.” During a CNN interview with Soledad O’Brien this morning, Isakson said, “What you don’t want to do is shoot the messenger. [Rice] is a very smart, very intelligent woman. I know this Ms. Rice, I think she’s done a good job as Ambassador to the U.N.”

http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2012/11/28/15510226-mccain-descends-further-into-incoherence  While Collins is out simply lobbying against Rice, John McCain has gone over the edge in yesterday’s interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News.

“[W]ho changed the talking points that was used by Ambassador Rice? And why? And on what circumstances? Why was reference to Al Qaeda left out? There are so many things that have happened. And the interesting thing is, finally, Neil, we knew within hours of all the details when we got bin Laden in the raid there, every bitty one of them. They are making a movie out of it.”

As Times’ Joe Klein wrote,

“[McCain is] now a political caricature, severely debilitated by anger and envy. His trigger-happy foreign policy beliefs have always been questionable, but this Benghazi crusade has put in the weird circle inhabited by nutcases and conspiracy theorists like Michele Bachmann and Allen West. He should honor the memory of those who lost their lives that terrible night by putting a cork in his disgraceful behavior immediately.”

The linchpin during the next three weeks is President Obama. The question is whether he will nominate Rice, Kerry, or someone else. And what will happen between the president and Paul Ryan? Will Ryan just walk out on the negotiations the way that he did on the Simpson-Bowles debt commission? Will Ryan pull a Sarah Palin?

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