Despite the underlying threat of contracting COVID-19 aka the Trump Flu, I voted in the primary today.
The process was simple – it took me longer to walk to the polling location1 than it did to actually exercise my voting franchise.
I checked in, signed my name and address, using my own pen, gave my piece of paper to one clerk of the dozen or so, all of who were keeping several feet from each other, got my ballot smart card, went to the touchscreen. Again, there were enough voting machines that nobody was close to anyone else. Filled out my ballot, checked it twice, printed it out, and went to the optical scanner. Easy, peasy.
More than just the president is on the ballot, as is always the case. I am interested in my Congressman losing in the primary, as I think it is time for fresh blood. I’ve had a Google alert for my Congressman for years, and he seemingly does nothing newsworthy most months. In fact, sometimes it will be years before I read any tidbit of news with his name. Sad, really. What does he do all day? I assume he does some work, and he seems like a pleasant enough man on a personal level, but I would be pleased if he was no longer my Congressman.
[Danny] Davis faces a similar push for new blood in the 7th Congressional District, which spans from west-central suburban Hillside all the way to Lake Michigan, making it one of the most economically diverse in Illinois. He was elected to his seat in 1996, after having served for nearly two decades on Chicago’s City Council and then the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
Davis’ opponents criticize him for missing a lot of votes, saying he’s no longer effective. One of his young challengers, Clark, a veteran and teacher from Oak Park, identifies as a Democratic Socialist and has been pushing a heavily issues-oriented campaign. Clark snagged the endorsement of the Sun-Times. Kina Collins, a community organizer for health care policy, has aligned with the newly elected alderman of Woodlawn, who’s been pressuring the Obama Presidential Center for a community benefits agreement. Another Davis challenger, Schanbacher, is a human rights lawyer from Streeterville. She already has the endorsement of three downtown and lakefront aldermen in Chicago and the west suburbs.
Many of the people and entities have already told the Judiciary Committee that they will cooperate, meaning that the panel could soon begin reaping reams of evidence already in the hands of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and federal prosecutors in New York. Others will most likely do so under subpoena in time.
A closer look at Mr. Nadler’s initial 81 targets — a mix of household names and bit players — reveals a web of lines of inquiry and overlapping interests. Here are some of the most noteworthy patterns.
President Trump on Tuesday retreated from his demand for $5 billion to build a border wall, as congressional Republicans maneuvered to avoid a partial government shutdown before funding expires at the end of Friday.
But Democrats immediately rejected Republicans’ follow-up offer, leaving the two sides still at impasse as hundreds of thousands of federal workers await word on whether they will be sent home without pay just before Christmas.
Sen. Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told McConnell Tuesday that Democrats would not accept the deal, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized the plan to reprogram the funds.
“Leader Schumer and I have said that we cannot support the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies,” Pelosi said. “So that won’t happen.”
World’s worst negotiator. Like much (all?) of Trump’s bluster, the truth is the exact opposite of his claim. “The best people” translates into the worst people, “so much winning” equals consistently losing, “Best negotiator” means “nobody has ever encountered such a poor negotiator”…
Just days before a deadline to avert a partial government shutdown, President Trump, Democratic leaders and the Republican-controlled Congress are at a stalemate over the president’s treasured border wall. But House Republican leaders are also confronting a more mundane and awkward problem: Their vanquished and retiring members are sick and tired of Washington and don’t want to show up anymore to vote.
Call it the revenge of the lame ducks. Many lawmakers, relegated to cubicles as incoming members take their offices, have been skipping votes in the weeks since House Republicans were swept from power in the midterm elections, and Republican leaders are unsure whether they will ever return.
It is perhaps a fitting end to a Congress that has showcased the untidy politics of the Trump era: Even if the president ultimately embraces a solution that avoids a shutdown, House Republican leaders do not know whether they will have the votes to pass it.
The uncertainty does not end there. With funding for parts of the government like the Department of Homeland Security set to lapse at midnight on Friday, Mr. Trump and top Republicans appear to have no definite plan to keep the doors open. It is clear that as Democrats uniformly oppose the president’s demand for $5 billion for his border wall, any bill that includes that funding cannot pass the Senate, and might face defeat in the House, too.
But the odd lull with a shutdown looming was disturbing to some senators. “I don’t understand why people don’t come to work and work all the way through December when the taxpayers are paying them,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who is a former House member. “I mean, finish your job.”
Wow, way to spend taxpayer money wisely – don’t even bother showing up to work. They should not be paid if they don’t work, right? Like the work requirements the GOP insist upon including in eligibility for social service programs like SNAP…
But then the lazy mofo in the White House sets such a strong example:
Mr. Trump himself is scheduled to leave on Friday for a 16-day vacation at his Florida estate.
Paul Ryan has always been a flim-flam man and a ridiculous Randian. But the Koch brothers loved him, and certain influential people swooned over Ryan’s blue eyes and P90X work-outs, so he kept falling upward.
Paul Krugman writes:
I do have some insight into how Ryan — who has always been an obvious con man, to anyone willing to see — came to become speaker of the House. And that’s a story that reflects badly not just on Ryan himself, not just on his party, but also on self-proclaimed centrists and the news media, who boosted his career through their malfeasance. Furthermore, the forces that brought Ryan to a position of power are the same forces that have brought America to the edge of a constitutional crisis.
About Ryan: Incredibly, I’m seeing some news reports about his exit that portray him as a serious policy wonk and fiscal hawk who, sadly, found himself unable to fulfill his mission in the Trump era. Unbelievable.
Look, the single animating principle of everything Ryan did and proposed was to comfort the comfortable while afflicting the afflicted. Can anyone name a single instance in which his supposed concern about the deficit made him willing to impose any burden on the wealthy, in which his supposed compassion made him willing to improve the lives of the poor? Remember, he voted against the Simpson-Bowles debt commission proposal not because of its real flaws, but because it would raise taxes and fail to repeal Obamacare.
And his “deficit reduction” proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so the pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from “magic asterisks”: extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs.
I guess someone else will have to eliminate Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and other social safety net programs now that Ryan is leaving. Unless he figures out a way before the new Congress comes in.
Trump probably would have been even more upset [with signing a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending plan] had he read the provision that could sharply curtail his plan to reorganize the government.
Section 740 of the 2,232-page document (PDF) makes it clear, as Bloomberg Law previously reported, that Congress, not Trump, is in charge. “None of the funds made available in this or any other appropriations Act may be used to increase, eliminate, or reduce funding for a program, project, or activity as proposed in the President’s budget request for a fiscal year” unless Congress approves, according to the omnibus legislation.
That could make it more difficult for Trump to impose the cuts he wants. His March 2017 “Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch” seeks “to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs.” Among other cuts, his proposed budget for this fiscal year called for the elimination of 19 small agencies, from the African Development Fund to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Members of Congress, including Republicans, are not eager to be Trump’s hatchet men. The omnibus spending plan provides a clear declaration that he cannot act alone. It is Congress that creates and eliminates.
The Defense Department got more money than it needs, but on the other hand, many Democratic priorities were strengthened. Some like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities got even more money than requested1
Sarah Binder writes:
One of the reasons GOP leaders were keen to rush the bill to a vote is that they didn’t want their partisan base to notice that it both funds innumerable Democratic priorities and blocks the Trump administration from doing such things as expanding detention of immigrants, defunding sanctuary cities, and ending federal funding for the arts, to name a few. The Trump White House and many conservatives wanted deep cuts to domestic programs. Party leaders ignored that. The more quickly the two chambers vote, the less time potential opponents have to unearth details that could outrage the GOP base, who might pressure their representatives to vote against the deal.
Trump is so lazy that I don’t see this process changing much in the future, even if a resurgent Democratic Party takes over the House and Senate in November, 2018. Trump isn’t going to waste his precious Executive Time reading 2,232 page documents and fighting about what it contained therein, he will only react if Trump TV spoon feeds him any of it. Let’s be honest, neither are we2, but I’d like to think if we were in the White House we’d at least make the attempt to understand a bill before signing it.
Dan Lipinski is a horrible Democrat, and deserves to lose in the primary.
As the midterm election season gets underway with races in Texas on Tuesday and Illinois on March 20, contests like this one illustrate the turmoil of the Trump-era Democratic Party. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats to take back control of the House and are hoping a surge of grass-roots energy, activism and fund-raising at levels unseen since the rise of Barack Obama can help play a crucial role.
Yet the backlash to President Trump’s divisive politics has also fueled a demand by the party’s progressive wing for ideological purity and more diverse representation, a tension that could reshape what it means to be a Democrat.
“This is part of the reason Donald Trump won,” Mr. Lipinski said in an interview, adding, “Democrats have chased people out of the party.”
I would strongly disagree with this spin. First, Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million votes1. He won the Electoral College because of gerrymandered districts, and via the stripping of many’s people right to vote using tools like Cross Check, and maybe with the aid of Russian hackers penetrating our electronic voting systems.
Second, fake Democrats like Dan Lipinski are also why Trump won. If the perception is that there is little to no difference between Democrats and Republicans, voters don’t come out to vote, because their vote doesn’t matter in terms of policy. The truth is there is more of a difference between Maxine Waters and Dan Lipinski than there is between Lipinski and his soul brother, Paul Ryan. If the Democratic party had less Lipinski types and more Jan Schakowsky types, voters would have a clear choice and would be more enthusiastic. For all the talk about the Democratic Party and its lack of clear ideas, the Dems do have a platform: $15/hour minimum wage, universal access to quality healthcare, reducing income inequality by taxing the 1% and corporations more, marriage equality, reproductive rights, cannabis law reform as part of a larger justice reform, participation in the Kyoto Accord, and a general belief that facts matter, science is not faith-based, etc. etc.
Dan Lipiniski voted against the Affordable Care Act, against the Equality Act, against the Dream Act, and is a staunch anti-abortionist. The only issue I know of where the Democratic Party and Lipinski overlap is with labor unions, and I strongly suspect Lipinski’s support for collective bargaining rights is more about the money he reliably collects from union bosses rather than ideological support.
But it is Mr. Lipinski who is testing just how much today’s voters in the Democratic primary contest are willing to accept in a safe seat. In addition to his deviation from orthodoxy on abortion and gay rights, he also opposed the Affordable Care Act and until recently did not support a $15 minimum wage or offering legal status to children brought to the country illegally.
“I am running with the district. I’m not voting against the district,” Ms. Newman said.
Mr. Lipinski, who makes no apology for opposing the health law, has embraced donations from anti-abortion Republicans helping fund a “super PAC” in his favor and says it is Ms. Newman’s ardent support for abortion rights that is “extreme” for the district.
The GOP donor class is about to take their balls home, and allow not the GOP play with them any more. Hmmm.
From reliably Republican-leaning POLITICO, but still…
Republicans are confronting a growing revolt from their top donors, who are cutting off the party in protest over its inability to get anything done.
The backlash is threatening to deprive Republicans of resources just as they’re gearing up for the 2018 midterms. Party officials are so alarmed that North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who oversees fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told his colleagues at a recent conference meeting that donations had fallen off a cliff after the Obamacare flop. The committee’s haul plummeted to just $2 million in July and August, less than half of what it raised in June.
“When you’re in a business and you tell your stakeholders you’re going to build a building or something, you have to follow through,” said Houston-based energy executive Dan Eberhart. “I can’t borrow money to build a building and then not follow through, which is what these guys are doing.” He said he’s spoken to four Republican senators over the past month to express his displeasure, mostly over the party’s failure to repeal Obamacare.
Behind the scenes, the GOP has begun to try to smooth things over with its most important givers. On Monday, Trump met with the party’s most prominent donor, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who has privately expressed frustration that the president hasn’t moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And in the wake of an establishment-backed candidate’s loss in Alabama, a top McConnell political lieutenant, Steven Law, held a series of frank discussions with key benefactors.
Some of the donors are giving lawmakers an earful. Bruce Rastetter, an Iowa agribusiness mogul who has funded a long list of Republican elected officials, said he had informed his state’s two GOP senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, that he would not donate to Republican senators “unless they pass new legislation or get new leadership.”
One seasoned GOP fundraiser forwarded along a curt email from a sought-after donor. “The GOP leaders should know, no movement on remaining agenda: tax reform, infrastructure, deregulation, etc. means no funding from supporters like me,” it read. “No meetings, calls, contributions until we see progress.”
The resentment over the state of the party has infiltrated Republican fundraising capitals like Dallas.
“I think major donors are tired of writing checks to a do-nothing Congress,” said Roy Bailey, an influential, Dallas-based GOP bundler.
To others, though, the disappointment over having so little to show for their investments is profound.
Michael Salzhauer, a New York real estate investor, said he had begun informing lawmakers that he’s done giving until they address health care and taxes.
As a political outsider who follows politics like some people follow sports, I do agree the ROI on political donation is horrible, especially recently. You donate millions, and what do you get? Paul Ryan’s undying love, but unless you are the NRA, you can’t be happy with the Do Nothing Congress. And just because someone is wealthy, does not mean they are automatically smart – I bet many of the GOP donor class are reading Breitbart and watching Fox News just as much as the Orange Dotard. Hence they want to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, or repeal the ACA, Medicaid, and Medicare or whatever it is that conservatives really want to accomplish, other than destroying the country.
But the GOP donor class isn’t going to donate to the other party, and come election time, I’d hazard a guess the checks will start flowing again…
And so it begins – the very first vote the newly installed House Republicans take is a vote to encourage the next generation of Jack Abramoffs. Amazingly brazen, why else conduct this vote in secret, on a national holiday no less? Symbolic, and telegraphing where the GOP wants to focus their energy – on looting the public trough, without consequence…
House Republicans have gutted an independent ethics watchdog, putting it under their own control, in a secret ballot hours before the new Congress convened for the first time.
The unheralded vote severely weakens the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which was set up after a lobbying scandal in 2008 to investigate corruption allegations against members of Congress. The move, led by the head of the House judiciary committee, defied the Republican congressional leadership and was reportedly supported by several legislators currently under OCE scrutiny.
Republicans’ plan to erase Obama legacy starts with chipping away at Obamacare Read more The amendment was voted through by the House Republican conference over the New Year’s holiday with no prior notice or debate and inserted in a broad rules package the House will vote for on Tuesday. It turns the formerly independent OCE into the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, a subordinate body to the House Ethics Committee, which is currently run by the Republican majority and has a long history of overlooking charges of malfeasance by lawmakers.
The new body will not be able to receive anonymous tips from members of Congress or make its findings public.
The vote comes at a time when the Republicans control all three branches of government and are seeking to remove some of the residual constraints on their powers.
What reason do they have to hide their actions? Draining the swamp in the dark I guess
But the House Ethics Committee, even if it dismisses the potential ethics violation as unfounded, is required to release the Office of Congressional Ethics report detailing the alleged wrongdoing, creating a deterrent to such questionable behavior by lawmakers.
Under the new arrangement, the Office of Congressional Complaint Review could not take anonymous complaints, and all of its investigations would be overseen by the House Ethics Committee itself, which is made up of lawmakers who answer to their own party.
The Office of Congressional Complaint Review would also have special rules to “better safeguard the exercise of due process rights of both subject and witness,” Mr. Goodlatte said. The provision most likely reflects complaints by certain lawmakers that the ethics office’s staff investigations were at times too aggressive, an allegation that watchdog groups dismissed as evidence that lawmakers were just trying to protect themselves.
“O.C.E. is one of the outstanding ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives, and it has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug,” said a statement from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an ethics watchdog group that has filed many complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics
Talking Points Memo is trying to figure out how the little creeps actually voted:
As I noted last night, the House GOP caucus just voted to kill the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (it loses its independence and now needs Congress’s permission to investigate anyone or report anything it finds). But the vote is secret. But you can find out! Yes, you can! If you live in a district represented by a Republican member of Congress you can call their office and ask how they voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Here are the details of what happened. And here’s an example of how we did this back the last time something like this happened back in 2004.
Call your Republican Rep. and ask how the member voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Remember, always be polite and courtesy. You’re not speaking to the member. You’re more than likely speaking to a junior staffer who is just their to do their job. Being polite but firm is not only more effective it’s just the right thing to do.
Remember Trump’s on-board with Ryan on this (even though Ryan nominally warned against the decision). Kellyanne Conway said this morning on GMA that ditching oversight was necessary because “There’s been an overzealousness in some of the processes over the years.”
As I wrote last night, the last time the GOP achieved unified Republican control in Washington, their first move was to loosen ethics oversight. First they pushed through the “DeLay Rule”, which allowed House leaders to stay1 in their leadership roles while under indictment. A couple months later, when putting through the rules for the new Congress (the same step that happened last night), they created another new rule which held that any question that deadlocked the Ethics Committee was automatically dismissed. In other words, unless a member of the party of the person being investigated was willing to support the investigation, it was automatically dismissed.
I think we should start referring to our nation as America-stan…
It Pays to Play
and a bit of history from Josh Marshall:
Before we get to what happened this evening, a bit more background. When the Democrats took back control of the House in the 2006 wave election, they did so with the rampant corruption of the congressional GOP as one of their major campaign themes. So in the Spring of 2008 they created Office of Congressional Ethics, a congressional oversight office which was independent of the members themselves. The House Ethics Committee is supposed to handle ethics questions. But it’s run by members and was generally as good at sweeping ethics issues under the rug as addressing them. More generously, in an era of intense partisanship, it was often simply un-runnable. In any case, the OCE was able to do a lot of things the Ethics Committee could not. It could look into anything it wanted to. It could issue recommendations to the Ethics Committee.
This may all seem a bit like inside baseball. But in the world of oversight, it was actually a pretty big step in having someone with some actual power keeping an eye on members.
…in a sort of kick off to the Trump Era, the House GOP Caucus voted to put the OCE back under the authority of the Ethics Committee, which of course has a GOP Chair. Basically that means abolishing the OCE since the whole point of the OCE is that it’s independent of the Committee. One of the sales’ points for this new set up is that it “provide[s] protection [for Members of Congress] against disclosures to the public or other government entities” of the results of any investigations. In other words, if wrongdoing is found the newly-neutered OCE can’t tell anyone. Awesome. They can’t have a press person, issue reports, do anything without the say of the Ethics Committee. In other words, the whole thing is a joke, both the new version of the OCE (now the ““Office of Congressional Complaint Review”) and this whole move. But it’s the Trump Era. Members want to get down to business, get their piece of the action and not have anyone giving them any crap. Just like the big cheese down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s the Trump Era.
Now, here’s the good part, as it was with the DeLay Rule, the vote is secret. Why? Because this is a caucus vote, i.e., not an actual congressional vote. Let me digress for a moment and explain just one more bit of detail. With each new Congress the majority puts together a bundle of rules that will govern how the House works during that Congress. Mostly this just puts the old rules back in place. But there are always a few changes. All those rules get bundled into one bill and it’s the first thing or one of the first to get voted on. That bill gets approved on a party line vote, just like the Speaker gets elected. If the caucus votes for it, it’s a sure thing. So even though this was just a secret caucus vote, in effect it is binding as law since all Republicans will vote for it in the official vote.
Modernization of technology is not always the most urgent task: sometimes the newest innovations are more trouble than they are worth. But as time passes, older technologies become harder to maintain and find parts for. I speak from experience, as my office has an older computer kept around just to run legacy software that has been defunct for about ten years. Not ideal, but I realize eventually, I won’t be able to rebuild the old computer without learning how to solder and program.
The US government has a much greater budget than my humble office, yet doesn’t seem concerned that the nuclear arsenal is controlled by floppy-disk era computers, and even more ancient COBOL routines.
The government is squandering its technology budget maintaining museum-ready computer systems in critical areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. They’re still using floppy disks at the Pentagon. In a report released Wednesday, nonpartisan congressional investigators found that about three-fourths of the $80 billion budget goes to keep aging technology running, and the increasing cost is shortchanging modernization.
GAO says its estimate of at least $80 billion spent on information technology in 2015 is probably low. Not counted were certain Pentagon systems, as well as those run by independent agencies, among them the CIA. Major systems are known as “IT investments” in government jargon.
The White House has been pushing to replace workhorse systems that date back more than 50 years in some cases. But the government is expected to spend $7 billion less on modernization in 2017 than in 2010, said the Government Accountability Office.
“Clearly, there are billions wasted,” GAO information technology expert David Powner told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing.
Although lawmakers of both parties say they are frustrated, it’s unclear whether Congress will act.
Unclear. Right, meaning, Congress has no intention of doing anything between now and election time, other than demagogue and raise money.
Computer Repair LED
America’s nuclear arsenal depends on a surprising relic of the 1970s that few of us may recall: the humble floppy disk.
It’s hard to believe these magnetic, 8-inch data storage devices are what’s propping up the most fearsome weapons humanity has ever created. But the Department of Defense is still relying on this technology to coordinate key strategic forces such as nuclear bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to a new government report.
The floppy disks help run what’s known as the Strategic Automated Command and Control System, an important communications network that the Pentagon uses to issue launch orders to commanders and to share intelligence. And in order to use the floppy disks, the military must also maintain a collection of IBM Series/1 computers that to most people would look more at home in a museum than in a missile silo.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the military’s reliance on seemingly archaic tech: back in 2014, the U.S. Air Force showed CBS’s “60 Minutes” one of the top-secret floppy disks that helps it store and transmit sensitive information across dozens of communications sites. So to hear from the Government Accountability Office that the Pentagon has still not phased out the technology – and doesn’t plan to until the end of fiscal year 2017 – is remarkable.
For the record, here are some of the systems we are spending $80,000,000,000 a year on:
Among the vintage computing platforms highlighted in the report:
— The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” GAO said. The Pentagon told GAO it is initiating a full replacement and the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.
— Treasury’s individual and business master files, the authoritative data sources for taxpayer information. The systems are about 56 years old and use an outdated computer language that is difficult to write and maintain. Treasury plans to replace the systems but has no firm dates.
— Social Security systems that are used to determine eligibility and estimate benefits, about 31 years old. Some use a programming language called COBOL, dating to the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Most of the employees who developed these systems are ready to retire and the agency will lose their collective knowledge,” the report said. “Training new employees to maintain the older systems takes a lot of time.” Social Security has no plans to replace the entire system but is eliminating and upgrading older and costlier components. It is also rehiring retirees who know the technology.
— Medicare’s Appeals System, which is only 11 years old, faces challenges keeping up with a growing number of appeals, as well as questions from congressional offices following up on constituent concerns. The report says the agency has general plans to keep updating the system, depending on the availability of funds.
— The Transportation Department’s Hazardous Materials Information System, used to track incidents and keep information regulators rely on. The system is about 41 years old, and vendors no longer support some of its software, which can create security risks. The department plans to complete its modernization program in 2018.
I’m probably not the only one amused at the framing of the defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Deal. You see, even though Republicans have majorities in both House and Senate, the TPP failed solely because of those intransigent Democrats! How dare they vote out of lockstep with the President?
The Chicago Tribune’s headline spells it out:
The House vote Friday included two related measures, both of which had to pass in order to send the legislation — which was approved last month by the Senate — to the president’s desk.
A bill to give the president fast-track authority to negotiate future trade deals was approved by a 219-211 vote. But another measure regarding assistance funds to retrain workers — a program typically supported by Democrats — failed 126-302 largely because Democrats voted against it.
Because the Senate had previously approved both measures as a single bill, the House’s failure to pass the retraining measure prevented the overall package from advancing. Supporters plan to hold another vote on the retraining bill early next week, giving the White House and congressional Republicans another chance to drum up votes.
Obama’s push for the legislation was his biggest lobbying effort since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act. He personally pressed fellow Democrats to support the measure in a meeting Friday morning on Capitol Hill and during an unscheduled appearance Thursday night at the annual congressional ballgame at the Nationals ballpark.
He made it personal. He appealed to their loyalty. He asked them to give him what every modern president has had. He argued the facts, disputed the politics, quarreled over the history and at times lashed out at those who still refused to stand with him.
Yet in the end, after years of frustration with Republicans blocking his ideas in Congress, President Obama on Friday found the most sweeping legislative initiative left on his agenda thwarted not by the opposition but by his own party. If not for his fellow Democrats, Mr. Obama would have a landmark trade bill heading to his desk for signature.
The Wall Street Journal’s perspective is clear: Obama should just resign now since there are only 2 years left in his term…
House Democrats dealt President Barack Obama a major setback in his bid for expanded trade-negotiating powers, roundly rejecting on Friday a workers-aid program that was a key component of the bill and leaving the White House’s trade agenda in limbo.
While stinging, the vote was not the last word in the trade fight, as House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) said there would be a re-vote by Tuesday on extending the aid program, which is designed to help workers hurt by international trade.
But Friday’s defeat showed the degree to which Mr. Obama’s trade agenda is on shaky ground in Congress. The House voted against the workers-aid program by 126-302. To improve those numbers, House Republican leaders, the White House and pro-trade businesses will need to find ways to win over a combination of Democrats who are skeptical of the overall trade push and Republicans leery of supporting the aid package.
It also underscored the waning influence of a second-term president, particularly on an issue many Democrats see as toxic to their re-election prospects, given concerns in their districts that U.S. jobs are being sent overseas.
What about the bill being defeated because it is a boondoggle?
The political battle over the enormous, twelve-nation trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership keeps getting stranger. President Obama has made the completion of the deal the number-one legislative priority of his second term. Indeed, Republican opponents of the T.P.P., in an effort to rally the red-state troops, have begun calling it Obamatrade. And yet most of the plan’s opponents are not Republicans; they’re Democrats.
Obama’s chief allies in his vote-by-vote fight in the House of Representatives to win “fast-track authority” to negotiate this and other trade deals are Speaker John Boehner and Representative Paul Ryan—not his usual foxhole companions. The vote may come as soon as Friday. The House Republican leaders tell their dubious members that they are supporting Obama only in order to “constrain” him. Meanwhile, Obama is lobbying members of the Black Congressional Caucus, whose support he can normally count on, tirelessly and, for the most part, fruitlessly. “The president’s done everything except let me fly Air Force One,” Representative Cedric Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, told the Christian Science Monitor this week. Nonetheless, Richmond said, “I’m leaning no.”
The long, bad aftertaste of NAFTA—the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1994—explains much of the Democratic opposition to the T.P.P. Ronald Reagan originally proposed NAFTA, but Bill Clinton championed it, got it through Congress mainly on Republican votes, and signed it. In many Democratic districts, NAFTA is still widely blamed for the loss of hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs, and for long-term downward pressure on wages. When President Obama argues that the T.P.P. is not NAFTA, he is correct. It convenes Pacific Rim nations and economies of many stripes, from wealthy, democratic Japan to authoritarian, impoverished Vietnam, and it includes six countries with which the United States already has free-trade agreements. If enacted, it will encompass forty per cent of global economic activity. It is less a traditional trade deal than a comprehensive economic treaty and, at least for the United States, a strategic hedge against the vast and growing weight of Chinese regional influence. What exactly the T.P.P. will do, however, is difficult to know, because its terms are being negotiated in secret. Only “cleared advisors,” most of them representing various private industries, are permitted to work on the text. Leaked drafts of chapters have occasionally surfaced—enough to alarm, among others, environmentalists, labor groups, and advocates for affordable medicine.
It’s hard to think of a fight that has showed President Obama to worse effect than his effort to pass Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership over widespread Democratic opposition. His respect for his opponents has been at low ebb, and since many of his opponents in this fight are Democrats, that means we’ve seen him taking uncharacteristically nasty shots at people like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Now, in the aftermath of a vote in which the must-pass-to-pass-the-TPA Trade Adjustment Assistance was defeated, Obama used his weekly address to mislead about what’s going on. House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the traditionally Democrat-supported assistance program for displaced workers because, according to the rule the House had adopted, TAA was linked to the fast-track TPA bill. No TAA, no TPA. Since TPA passed in the wake of TAA’s defeat, Republican leadership is bringing TAA back for another vote in hopes of getting it, and fast track along with it, through next week. That’s the weird, confusing procedural background—background Obama pretended does not exist as he touted the benefits of Trade Adjustment Assistance in his weekly address.
Paul Krugman calls it a defeat of the Davos Democrats, I like that phrase:
OK, I didn’t see that coming: even though I have come out as a lukewarm opponent of TPP, I assumed that it would happen anyway — the way trade deals (or in this case, dispute settlement and intellectual property deals that pretend to be about trade) always do. But no, or not so far.
A brief aside: I don’t think it’s right to call this a case of Washington “dysfunction”. Dysfunction is when we get outcomes nobody wants, or fail to do things everyone wants done, because there doesn’t seem to be any way to package the politics. In this case, however, people who oppose TPP voted down key enabling measures — that is, they got what they wanted. Calling this “dysfunction” presumes that this deal is a good idea — and that kind of presumption is precisely what got successfully challenged yesterday.
Or to put it another way, one way to see this is as the last stand of the Davos Democrats.
Davos Democrats are known as the people who told us to trust unregulated finance and fear invisible bond vigilantes. They just don’t have the credibility to pull off arguments from authority any more. And it doesn’t say much for their perspicacity that they apparently had no idea that the world has changed. TPP’s Democratic supporters thought they could dictate to their party like it’s 1999. They can’t.
Will Obama have to resort to veto pen finally, now that Harry Reid is no longer blocking ridiculous GOP bills from getting passed? I guess we’ll soon see. And the real test will be on the non-sexy things, like regulatory reform.
Obama Has Only Vetoed 2 Bills. That’s About to Change—Thanks to Democrats | Mother Jones: “Regulatory reform: By far the least sexy of the topics that might be forced on Obama, changes to how the government writes its rules could pose the biggest trouble for the president. Unlike finance, environmental rules, or health care reform, it’s an obscure topic unlikely to garner an outpouring of public outcry. These are changes portrayed as making government more sensible and business-friendly, always a favorite image to project by moderate Democrats who still cling to Bill Clinton’s mantra of deconstructing Big Government, yet they could stymie efforts to write rules for those specific policy areas.
Changes to how the government writes rules ‘seem both kind of technical and innocent, because they talk about things like cost-benefit analysis, or increasing judicial review, or more economic requirements to help small business’ says Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch. ‘Things that don’t sound threatening and maybe even ease tensions with constituents who don’t really like the idea of red tape and have this idea that if we change it at the federal level lots would be easier at home.’ But in essence, these rules just offer cover for big business to delay the laws that they don’t want to comply with—continuing to set their own rules and skating by for years after the public thinks they’ve already been kept in check.
Last week, the House passed the Regulatory Accountability Act, a bill that would force all agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each rule. This process tends to favor business interests over consumers. The bill would also make it easier for judges to toss aside rules and force agencies to hold lengthy public hearings for each rule they consider. Past iterations of this bill have received support from Senate moderates like Florida’s Bill Nelson, Maine’s King, and West Virginia’s Manchin.
That group of 10 to 15 Democrats willing to break from the rest of the party aren’t hiding their plans. ‘If Republicans want a minimum of six or more Democrats to work with them,’ Manchin said earlier this month, ‘and they’re sincere about policy and good policy moving forward, they’re definitely going to reach out, and I’ve reached out to them.'”
Gail Collins provides a good elevator pitch description of a tax policy tool called tax extenders…
One of the very, very few things the current Congress seems determined to deal with before it vanishes into the night is the problem of “tax extenders.” Extenders are strange but much-loved little financial mutants. Sort of like hobbits or three-legged kittens.
Congress, in its wisdom, has created a raft of temporary tax breaks for everybody from teachers to banks that make money overseas. Most are really intended to be permanent. But calling them short-term measures tricks the Congressional Budget Office into underestimating how much they cost. “If you pass a new tax cut, you’ve got to find offsetting spending cuts. But these are in a sense free,” said Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center.
After the election, both parties appeared inclined to just extend all the tax cuts for two years while making principled mumbling about reform down the line.
But then the Koch brothers roared into the picture. They feel that it’s wrong for the government to give a special benefit to an industry that’s one of their competitors. Especially a government that they and their associates devoted nearly $60 million to getting into office. Politico reported that their representatives have been meeting with Speaker Boehner’s staff.
And you know, they have a point. If Congress actually wanted to do serious reform, it should get rid of special tax breaks for the wind and solar energy sectors. While, of course, also removing all the tax breaks for drilling oil.