Wow, when even the notoriously extreme right-wingers who run the Wall Street editorial pages are annoyed with John Boehner’s Tea Party led revolt against the Republican members in the Senate, the GOP must really be in trouble. Pass me the popcorn!1
GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the President before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest.
The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.
Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he’s spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.
A mostly irrelevant side note to the Wall Street Journal op-ed everyone’s talking about is that they don’t seem to know what policy they’re talking about.
“House Republicans yesterday voted down the Senate’s two-month extension of the two-percentage-point payroll tax holiday to 4.2% from 6.2%,” the editors wrote. “They say the short extension makes no economic sense, but then neither does a one-year extension. No employer is going to hire a worker based on such a small and temporary decrease in employment costs, as this year’s tax holiday has demonstrated.”
They seem to have their payroll tax cuts mixed up. The two percent holiday that’s been in effect for the past year, and the extension Congress is fighting about right now, are both to employees’ share of the Social Security FICA tax. The theory behind the policy is that by increasing worker take-home pay, the cut provides suffering consumers with additional purchasing power, and thus stimulates demand, which is exactly what this sluggish economy needs.
Earlier in the year, President Obama proposed broadening this tax cut to include the employer share of the Social Security FICA tax. That policy operates on the theory that reducing cost-per-employee will create the incentive for job creation. It’s a weaker theory — a lot of big employers are already sitting on a bunch of cash, but aren’t hiring because they don’t have enough customers (see above about demand). But this is what the Wall Street Journal’s editors seem to think has been going on all year — and they’re completely wrong.
When they proposed just last month to overhaul Medicare, House Republicans were confident that the wind of budget politics was at their backs and that the country’s looming fiscal problems provided justification to begin reshaping the increasingly costly social welfare system. Blogs
But the last six weeks have left Republicans pointed into a stiff headwind. With polls and angry town hall meetings suggesting that many voters were wary if not opposed to the Medicare overhaul, party unity and optimism gave way to a slow-motion backtracking in the House and, in the Senate and on the presidential campaign trail, a bit of a Republican-on-Republican rumpus.
Even before the Republican loss Tuesday night in the race for a vacant House seat from New York — a contest fought in large part over the Medicare proposal — Democrats were clinging to the developments like koalas to eucalyptus trees, hoping that the plan’s toxicity among many voters would give them a shot at retaining control of the Senate and, in their most vivid dreams, taking back the House majority.
Eager to press their advantage, Senate Democrats will stage a vote on the Medicare plan as soon as Wednesday, forcing Senate Republicans into a yes-or-no choice that both sides know will become the basis of countless campaign commercials over the next year and a half.
Republicans have asked to have alternatives budgets also come up for an initial vote. Those alternatives include a plan crafted by Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania that contains many of the same cuts as Mr. Ryan’s plans but leaves Medicare out of the picture, and another by Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, which includes a vast elimination of government services.
The Republicans would also like to write a bill reflecting Mr. Obama’s initial 2012 budget, which became an albatross for his party because it did not cut spending. However, because the Ryan plan already passed the House, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, could send the Ryan plan for votes alone, without bringing up other budget bills.
According to TPM, the long planned vote is scheduled for this afternoon. Soon the GOP will be crying their crocodile tears on all the Sunday morning talk shows…
But we’re hearing that Sen. Reid will likely call a vote this afternoon on the Ryan Medicare Phase Out plan. In a press briefing a short time ago, Sen. Reid (D) said that the vote could come as early as 5 PM. And his office tells our Brian Beutler that the vote is “very likely” to happen as scheduled.
Late Update: And it’s confirmed. Vote will be held at 5 PM along with votes on Obama, Toomey and Paul budgets.
Wow, seems as if Senator Harry Reid might be doing something smart, for once.
Sam Stein has it from the horse’s mouth:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Wednesday that he would host a vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget as a means of forcing moderate GOP senators to weigh in on the legislation’s controversial proposals. He did not provide a specific date for when that vote will take place. “There will be an opportunity in the Senate to vote on the Ryan budget to see if Republican senators like the Ryan budget as much as the House did,” Reid said on a conference call with reporters. “Without going into the Ryan budget we will see how much the Republicans like it here in the Senate.”
…This is really great news. First off, it’s simply great politics—it utterly puts the screws to the GOP. …
By forcing a roll call, this will put the GOP on record for years to come about their views on Medicare. And many Republican senators are caught between a rock and a hard place: Vote for it, and you invite a permanent barrage of ready-made attack ads; vote against it, and you risk getting teabagged to death. Olympia Snowe, for instance, already faces that conundrum, but this vote has the power to affect many more senators well past 2012.
And if Reid really wants emphasize the “hard” in hardball, he’ll schedule the vote after Nevada Rep. Dean Heller get elevated to the Senate by Gov. Brian Sandoval in a week or so. That would force Heller to be the one guy to vote for Ryan’s Republican budget twice—or wind up voting for it before he voted against it. Somehow I feel that neither of these is a winning move… which means that for us, putting this to a vote most certainly is.
This vote is smart for the Dems – especially because in 2008/2010 election cycles, many Republicans ran a fear mongering campaign directed at seniors, with the message being that Medicaid/Medicare was in danger, and only by voting Republican would it be saved from the meddling Dems. Ooopsie…
The spokesman for a three-star general accused of instructing troops to carry out “psychological operations” to sway visiting members of Congress said Saturday that the general was innocent of any wrongdoing.
Lt. Col. Shawn Stroud, communications director for NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, sent out a personal e-mail to friends and colleagues to “categorically deny the assertion” that the commander, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, or his officers “used an Information Operations cell to influence distinguished visitors.”
Rolling Stone magazine reported Thursday that General Caldwell or his senior aides improperly ordered a team of specialists to gather information about Congressional delegations to persuade them to endorse the allocation of more money and troops for the training effort.
“The evidence provided in the Rolling Stone article is misleading at best and outright false in many places,” Colonel Stroud wrote in the e-mail, which was labeled as a personal note and not an official news release. A copy of the e-mail was provided to The New York Times.
Summary of New Offsets for 9-11 Health Care Act (HR 847) In the substitute amendment planned for HR 847, three offsets will replace the House-passed bill’s “treaty swapping” provision. The offsets, described below, contain no new taxes or fees on the American taxpayers or American businesses. Furthermore, the substitute amendment is estimated to reduce the deficit by $57 million over 10 years.
1. Savings Generated by Reducing Future U.S. Government Procurement Payments by 2 Percent to Companies Located in non-GPA countries ($4.59 billion over 10 years) Every year, the United States spends between $35 billion to $40 billion per year on procurement of goods and services from foreign manufacturers and companies located abroad in countries that are not members of the Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) instead of from American companies.
The 9/11 rescue worker bill would impose a 2 percent excise fee on foreign manufacturers/companies located in non-GPA countries receiving government disbursements made pursuant to future procurement agreements. This proposal would both legally and practically operate to prohibit companies from raising their prices to offset the new fee. Imposing this new fee will create short-term and long-term savings. In the short term, savings will materialize from competitive foreign contracts as companies offering substitute products and substitute processes will agree to digest all or some portion of the 2 percent fee decrease to attract/maintain lucrative U.S. procurement business. In the long term, foreign countries will be incentivized to sign the GPA and the U.S. will be incentivized to look to domestic sources to fill procurement needs.
Even though the cost of procurement to the U.S. Government might initially increase when we purchase U.S. goods and services, net revenues to the government will increase when U.S. employees and U.S. companies pay taxes on the procurement contracts they receive (as opposed to foreign companies and employees receiving these contracts who pay less/no taxes).
2. Continuation of H-1B and L-1 Visa Fee for Outsourcing Companies ($800 million over 10 years) As part of the Emergency Border Security Appropriations Act of 2010, which passed the Senate unanimously in August 2010, fees were raised on H-1B and L-1 visas for companies who have more than 50 percent of their employees on these visas (this affects outsourcing companies such as: Wipro, Tata, Infosys, Satyam—but does not affect American companies such as: Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, Apple, etc). This fee was set to expire on September 30, 2014. This bill will extend this fee until September 30, 2021 to continue leveling the playing field between companies that follow the Congressional intent behind these visa programs and companies that use these visas to outsource American jobs.
3. Continuation of Travel Promotion Fee ($1 billion over 10 years) The Travel Promotion Act, which passed the Senate 78-18 in 2010, placed a small travel promotion act fee on certain travelers to the United States that was set to expire in 2015. This fee will simply be extended until 2021 and sunsets at that point.
Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn will not allow a proposal that would cover health-care costs for Ground Zero workers to go through the Senate before Christmas, a Coburn aide told Washington Wire this morning.
Mr. Coburn wants the package to be funded through spending cuts, the aide said. He and others in his party have questioned whether the money would overlap with workers’ compensation and other aid provided to Sept. 11 first responders. Mr. Coburn told Politico he wants the measure to work its way through committee rather than being fast-tracked, which would make it tough for senators to finish their work in the next few days.
Civil liberties advocates lost a Senate stalwart Tuesday night when Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) was defeated by Ron Johnson, a little-known plastics manufacturer whose shibboleths against health care reform and government spending tapped into populist anger.
For years, Feingold was one of the few — and sometimes the only — voice in the Senate skeptical of the government’s increasing demands for domestic surveillance power and control of the internet. He was one of 16 Senators who voted against the Communications Decency Act of 1996, an internet censorship bill later struck down by the Supreme Court, was the only Senator in 2001 to vote against the USA Patriot Act, and he introduced a measure to censure President Bush for his illegal warrantless wiretapping program.
“Senator Feingold was a true champion of civil liberties,” said Marc Rotenberg, the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, based in Washington, D.C. “He spoke out against the Patriot Act and the dramatic growth of government surveillance programs when many other Senators stood by silently. His voice and his commitment to the Constitutional rights of all Americans will be missed.”
In 1997, before many Americans were online, Feingold set out to repeal the CDA, which criminalized sending “indecent materials” to minors on the net, even before the Supreme Court heard the case.
“One can be a speaker, a publisher and a listener using the internet,” Feingold said, years before the term Web 2.0 became trendy. “The threat of the Communications Decency Act is its undeniable ability to stifle this free-flowing speech on the Net.”
Feingold was a maverick in his own party, strongly opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and voting against the TARP bank bailouts. Unlike many Democrats, however, he embraced his vote on health care reform, saying there was nothing wrong with helping to get the uninsured health care.
CHICAGO — A leader of the church in upstate New York where Representative Mark S. Kirk of Illinois claimed he worked as a nursery school teacher said on Friday that he had overstated his role there.
The leader, Sally Grubb, a member of the administrative council at Forest Home Chapel, said Mr. Kirk, a Republican candidate for the United States Senate, had a limited role as a student while working part-time in a work-study program at Cornell University.
“He was never, ever considered a teacher,” Ms. Grubb said in a phone interview after spending two days researching the history of Mr. Kirk’s association with the nursery school. “He was just an additional pair of hands to help a primary teaching person.”
The Methodist church in Ithaca, N.Y., has been trying to determine whether Mr. Kirk worked there after The New York Times reported on Thursday about the brevity of Mr. Kirk’s teaching experience. Eight longtime members of the church, including two former pastors, said in interviews this week that they did not recall having a male nursery school teacher in 1981, when Mr. Kirk said he had worked there.
“I don’t remember any men who worked there,” said Thomas V. Wolfe, a former pastor at the church, who is now the dean of student affairs at Syracuse University. “It was a team of women. I used to go over every morning and have coffee with them. I don’t remember him.”
Why would Mark Kirk lie about something so minor like whether he taught in a nursery school or not? There is something very wrong with his brain, which means he’ll probably become fast friends with Joe Barton and his ilk.
Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of “deem and pass.” That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?
Amazing really, and if you have the stomach, see how often the Republican talking point is repeated in the next few weeks. I’d wager it will be repeated numerous times, even by the so-called “straight” media organizations1.
You would think the fact checkers of The New York Times would stop liars like David Brooks from publishing factually erroneous columns that embarrass the NYT brand. Apparently not. Differing opinions is one thing, but out and out lies?
Ezra Klein writes:
The factual statements Brooks uses in his argument are wrong. Not arguable, or questionable, or suspicious. Wrong. And since everything else flows from those wrong facts, the rest of the column can’t be taken seriously.
“Reconciliation has been used with increasing frequency,” writes Brooks. “That was bad enough. But at least for the Bush tax cuts or the prescription drug bill, there was significant bipartisan support.” The outcome of letting reconciliation go from rare and bipartisan to common and partisan is that we will go from a Senate where “people are usually pretty decent to one another” to a Senate that “bleaches out normal behavior and the normal instincts of human sympathy.”
Chilling stuff, huh?
But none of Brooks’s evidence is true. Literally none of it. The budget reconciliation process was used six times between 1980 and 1989. It was used four times between 1990 and 1999. It was used five times between 2000 and 2009. And it has been used zero times since 2010. Peak reconciliation use, in other words, was in the ’80s, not the Aughts. The data aren’t hard to find. They were published on Brooks’s own op-ed page.
Nor has reconciliation been limited to bills with “significant bipartisan support.” To use Brooks’s example of the tax cuts, the 2003 tax cuts passed the Senate 50-50, with Dick Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. Two Democrats joined with the Republicans in that effort. Georgia’s Zell Miller, who would endorse George W. Bush in 2004 and effectively leave the Democratic Party, and Nebraska’s Ben Nelson. So I’d say that’s one Democrat. One Democrat alongside 49 Republicans. That’s not significant bipartisan support.
Mr. Klein continues on this vein, with examples and proof and EVERYTHING. You should click the link.
I’m quite curious as to how the editors of the NYT will handle this gaffe. Will there be a correction in tomorrow’s paper? An appended comment to the Op-Ed? or will they just ignore the egg on their faces?
Jonathan Chait adds at The New Republic:
Oh, the humanity!
So using a majority vote procedure to pass legislation that the minority party has used strict partisan discipline into whipping its members into opposing is fundamentally about denying the humanity of the Other. It is a sad thing, and both parties sadly share some blame, but on the matter before us, the Republicans are in fact correct.
In reality, Brooks’ conclusion is absurd. Does he really think that passing changes to the health care bill through reconciliation will materially effect how parties act in the future? He believes that the next Republican administration with more than 50 but fewer than 60 Senators would decline to pass a tax cut through reconciliation, but will now do so because the Democrats did it? I doubt even Karl Rove could say this with a straight face.
In any case, we don’t have to guess about the future. We can look to precedent. Bill Clinton passed the signature domestic achievement of his presidency, the 1993 deficit reduction bill, through reconciliation with zero Republican votes. Sadly, Brooks was not there to explain how this denied the Republicans’ humanity. In 2001, George W. Bush did get some Democrats to support his tax cut, most of them after it was a fait accompli. Why did he go through reconciliation, rather than regular order? It certainly had costs — he had to sunset the whole thing after ten years. He did it because he didn’t want to make the compromises he would have needed to get 60 votes. And if you think he would have given up the tax cut if a handful of Democrats hadn’t jumped aboard, you’re delusional.
Obvious to most observers, the current Senate rule is obstructing the business of the people1 and needs to be changed.
Barry Friedman and Andrew Martin have a suggestion:
During the 1960s, the Senate was frozen by lengthy filibusters over civil rights legislation. When, in the mid-’70s, that tactic once again threatened to bring the Senate to a standstill, Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who was the majority whip, invented a dual-track system. This change in practice allowed the majority leader — with the unanimous consent of the Senate or the approval of the minority leader — to set aside whatever was being debated on the Senate floor and move immediately to another item on the agenda.
The result of tracking? No more marathon debate sessions that shut down the Senate. While one bill is being “filibustered,” business can continue on others.
Today a “filibuster” consists of merely telling the leadership that 41 senators won’t vote for a bill. Worse, any single senator can put a “hold” on anything, indefinitely, for any reason. Not only has it become easier to “filibuster,” but tracking means there are far fewer consequences when the minority party or even one willful member of Congress does so, because the Senate can carry on with other things.
Harry Reid could end this ridiculous practice this afternoon if he wanted to.
Because dual-tracking is a Senate practice, not a formal rule, the majority leader, Harry Reid, could end tracking at any time. By doing so, the Democrats would transform the filibuster and recover their opportunity to govern effectively.
And the reason the Democratic Senators have not taken this step already is? I have no idea why not, what’s the downside? If changing the rules makes Harry Reid quake in his boots, perhaps he can try it out for a few months, with the option to bring back the dual-track rules…
The new-school filibuster would preserve minority rights in the Senate, while imposing significant costs on obstructionist members, changing the calculus that causes today’s logjam. Stuck on the Senate floor, filibustering senators couldn’t meet with lobbyists or attend campaign fund-raising events; they couldn’t do much of anything, really, until their filibuster ended.
or whoever the Senators purport to being representatives for. Lobbyists? Chamber of Commerce? Special interest groups? Whatever [↩]
As Ezra Klein points out, the sausage making of legislation is not that interesting nor memorable to most of the country. Results are much more important than process.
Here are some things that happened on the night the GOP pushed the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit through the House of Representatives:
A 15-minute vote was scheduled, and at the end of 15 minutes, the Democrats had won. The Republican leadership froze the clock for three hours while they desperately whipped defectors. This had never been done before. The closest was a 15-minute extension in 1987 that then-congressman Dick Cheney called “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.”
Tom DeLay bribed Rep. Nick Smith to vote for the legislation, using the political future of Smith’s son for leverage. DeLay was later reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee.
The leadership told Rep. Jim DeMint that they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina if he didn’t vote for the bill.
The chief actuary of Medicare, Rick Foster, had scored the legislation as costing more than $500 billion. The Bush administration suppressed his report, in a move the Government Accounting Office later judged “illegal.”
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a “no” vote, spent the night “hiding on the Democratic side of the floor, crouching down to avoid eye contact with the Republican search team.”
Rep. Butch Otter, who provided one of the final votes after hours of arm-twisting from the Republican leadership, said, “I thought there was a chance I would get sick on the floor.”
Remember all this? Probably not. There wasn’t much reporting on it at the time. It wasn’t a major controversy, despite resulting in multiple official investigations.
Bottom line, Democrats currently have a majority in both House and Senate, so they should use this majority to pass health care reform. By 2012, hardly anyone will care how the bill got passed, just that it became law1.
or it didn’t. The Democratic leadership has shown, time and time again, they lack the ruthlessness of the Republican leaders [↩]
Ezra Klein has written a more detailed description (see here, for instance), but the short answer is handy to have access to.
The very short version is that the budget reconciliation process — which limits debate and thus defuses the filibuster — was created in the Balanced Budget Act of 1974. It was later modified by the Byrd rule, which confined it to provisions that directly affect federal spending. That constraint is what makes reconciliation complicated: Insurance regulations, for instance, have only an indirect effect on federal spending, which means they’re not eligible for reconciliation. Subsidies, however, have a direct effect, so they are eligible. Policies falling into the gray area are decided by the Senate parliamentarian, who listens to arguments from both sides and then makes a ruling.
Reconciliation has, in general, been a Republican endeavor. Political scientist Joshua Tucker looked at the 19 times reconciliation was used between 1981 and 2005, and found that 14 of them were Republican initiatives. If you extend that analysis out to 2008, then 16 of 21 reconciliation bills were Republican.
And the Republicans, and their allies in the media and elsewhere want you to ignore the history, or better yet, pretend it doesn’t even exist.
Republicans are arguing that reconciliation has never been used for major legislation, and so any attempts to use the process to modify the health-care reform bill would be a sharp break with precedent. That’s wrong on two counts.
First, reconciliation has been used for major legislation almost constantly, particularly on health-care reform. An NPR analysis concluded that “over the past three decades, the number of major health financing measures that were not passed via budget reconciliation can be counted on one hand.”
In fact, if you named a recent legislative accomplishment at random, you’d probably find it went through reconciliation. Both Bush tax cuts, at a total cost of $1.8 trillion, used the reconciliation process. So did welfare reform, and the Balanced Budget Acta of 1995 and 1997. The Children’s Health Insurance Program was created in reconciliation, and so too was COBRA. The law stating that hospitals who take Medicare and Medicaid money have to see all patients who walk into their emergency room was also passed in reconciliation, as was the 1983 tax increase that reversed many of the Kemp-Roth tax cuts.
Aside from being a politician of eccentric views, and not highly popular among Republicans, Bunning is best known as a skilled major league baseball pitcher of the 1950s and 1960s. He may not have been one of the great pitchers – measured by the standards of Warren Spahn or Bob Gibson, say – but he has the distinction of being one of the few players to ever pitch a perfect game in the majors. (A perfect game being one where no opposing batter reaches first base.)
There are more details of Bunning’s baseball career here – including Bunning’s appearance in the best book about baseball ever written, Ball Four, by Jim Bouton:
Ted Williams, when he was still playing, would psyche himself up for a game during batting practice, usually early practice before the fans or reporters got there.
He’d go into the cage, wave his bat at the pitcher and start screaming at the top of his voice, “My name is Ted fucking Williams and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball.”
He’d swing and hit a line drive.
“Jesus H Christ Himself couldn’t get me out.”
And he’d hit another.
Then he’d say, “Here comes Jim Bunning. Jim fucking Bunning and that little shit slider of his.”
“He doesn’t really think he’s gonna get me out with that shit.”
Seems like the Democrats are calling Bunning’s bluff, and forcing him to really filibuster, or shut up.
Although no final decisions have been made, Democrats confirmed it is increasingly likely that Democrats will force Bunning into an actual filibuster of unemployment insurance extension Tuesday night by repeatedly offering up unanimous consent agreements to bring the bill to a vote.
Although Members often threaten actual filibusters, they rarely materialize. Instead, lawmakers tend to rely on “Cadillac filibusters,” essentially stalling procedures that can be used to block legislation without having to actually stay put on the Senate floor.
Democrats on Tuesday signaled they have the resolve to remain in session throughout the night to force Bunning to abandon his cause. The American people “want an end to these games. And I hope that today we’ll see the end. If we don’t, we’re going to have to have a long, long night ahead of us to make the point that it’s wrong for one Senator to stop our people, our American people, from getting the help they deserve,” Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Tuesday.
Under increasing pressure from Democrats and members of his own party, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) Tuesday night abandoned his one-man filibuster of a one-month extension to unemployment benefits and other programs.
In the end Bunning agreed to a deal allowing him one vote on an amendment to pay for the bill’s $10 billion cost. That proposal was offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last Thursday at the start of his filibuster, but Bunning rejected it because he feared his amendment would not pass.
Our collective response to the emerging catastrophe verges on suicidal. World leaders have been talking about tackling climate change for nearly 20 years now — yet carbon emissions keep going up and up. “We are in a race against time,” says Rep. Jay Inslee, a Democrat from Washington who has fought for sharp reductions in planet-warming pollution. “Mother Nature isn’t sitting around waiting for us to get our political act together.” In fact, our failure to confront global warming is more than simply political incompetence. Over the past year, the corporations and special interests most responsible for climate change waged an all-out war to prevent Congress from cracking down on carbon pollution in time for Copenhagen. The oil and coal industries deployed an unprecedented army of lobbyists, spent millions on misleading studies and engaged in outright deception to derail climate legislation. “It was the most aggressive and corrupt lobbying campaign I’ve ever seen,” says Paul Begala, a veteran Democratic consultant.
[well, until the banking lobby got ramped up]
By preventing meaningful action in Copenhagen, the battle to kill the climate bill provided the world’s biggest polluters with a lucrative victory — one that comes at the rest of the world’s expense. “In the long term, the fossil-fuel industry is going to lose this war,” says Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But in the short term, they are doing everything they can to delay the revolution. For them, what this fight is really about is buying precious time to maximize profits from carbon sources. It’s really no more complicated than that.”
and by focusing more energy on healthcare reform, the climate bill didn’t get passed either. What will happen in 2010? The U.S. Senate has dozens of high profile bills sitting on its agenda, bills that passed the US House, but the Senators seem more interested in cheap showmanship and posturing. I guess that isn’t new, but it is frustrating.
The Republican Party1 is slurping up energy lobby dollars of course, and predictably are opposed to any change to the status quo.
The most credible analysis of the bill2, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, found that the measure would cost most families no more than $175 a year — the equivalent of “about a postage stamp a day,” Markey says. But the Heritage Foundation is nothing if not a big, well-greased disinformation machine. “We noticed that every time a constituent came in to talk to us about the bill, they would be quoting the same numbers,” says one congressional staffer. “We knew they were a lie, but they were everywhere.”
Energy lobbyists found a willing ally in the Republican Party, which had decided to deny any legislative victory to President Obama — even if it meant cooking the planet in the process. Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas who had been replaced by Waxman as chair of the House energy committee, pledged to launch “crafty” attacks on the climate bill, comparing the GOP’s battle plan to “guerrilla warfare.”
Gah, we need a new political party, one that believes in science, in civil liberties, and the will of the people. Not going to happen in my lifetime unfortunately, and not unless there are drastic changes to how elections are paid for.
While Big Oil and Big Coal worked to whip up public hysteria, their Republican allies moved to block the climate bill in the Senate. The most unexpected and influential voice proved to be John McCain, who had long been a champion of climate legislation. The Arizona senator was highly respected by environmental and business leaders for his grasp of both the science and economics of global warming. Even while he was busy selling his soul to the far right during the presidential campaign, he called climate change “a test of foresight, of political courage and of the unselfish concern that one generation owes to the next.” But when the opportunity to show some political courage of his own arrived, McCain executed a bizarre about-face. The industry-friendly bill passed by the House, he now declared — a measure modeled on the cap-and-trade bill he had co-sponsored with Joe Lieberman — was “the worst example of legislation I’ve seen in a long time.”
Senate veterans were stunned. “McCain is still licking his wounds from the election,” says one insider who recently met with the senator. “He may eventually do something on this, but he wants Obama to come to him and ask for help.”
As they had in the House, Republicans in the Senate decided to obstruct the climate bill at every turn. Leading the charge was Sen. James Inhofe, the former chair of the Senate environment committee, who has not let the fact that the Arctic is melting before our very eyes stop him from continuing to proclaim that global warming is a “hoax.” When Boxer, the committee’s new chair, tried to advance the climate bill, Inhofe launched a number of procedural maneuvers designed to stall the bill, such as calling for more analysis from the EPA. “We all knew it was a game,” says one Senate staffer. When Boxer finally forced a vote on the bill in November, Inhofe and his fellow Republicans on the committee didn’t even bother to show up.
Democrats from energy-producing states — including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jim Webb of Virginia and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas — also tried to put the brakes on climate legislation, siding with Republicans who demanded that the bill earn a 60-vote supermajority for passage. By last fall, the Obama administration was forced to acknowledge that the battle was lost. “Obviously, we’d like to be through the process,” Browner, the new climate czar, conceded in October. “But that’s not going to happen. We will go to Copenhagen with whatever we have.” Inhofe put it even more bluntly. “We won, you lost,” he boasted to Boxer’s face. “Get a life.”
The Senate’s failure to act helped torpedo the talks in Copenhagen, which not only failed to produce a binding treaty but postponed meaningful action until 2015. It has also left Obama with no clear strategy of how to move forward.
I sincerely hope the professional gabbers seize on Senator Dick Shelby’s unrequited, forbidden love for Northrop Grumman and mercilessly ridicule him. How is holding up the working of the Senate to demand more political pork for Alabama going to be justified to his Teabagger masters? Even more importantly, wouldn’t be nice if this was the final straw that broke the back of the filibuster?
Gail Collins writes:
Normally, a senator who’s feeling testy will just put a hold on one presidential nomination, the way Jim Bunning of Kentucky did last year when he stopped action on the confirmation of a deputy U.S. trade representative because he was upset that the Canadian Parliament was considering a bill to ban the sale of cigarettes with candy flavorings.
I am not making that up.
Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri had a hold on the nomination of Martha Johnson to be the leader of the General Services Administration since last summer because he was ticked off with the G.S.A. over construction of a new federal building in Kansas City.
The agency kept saying it had responded to Bond’s questions, although perhaps the staff was slow in getting back to him since there was nobody in charge. But Bond held firm until the Democrats forced a vote this week. That naturally involved a great many delays, postponements, overrides and a passionate if incomprehensible speech by Bond, the highlight of which was: “Please bear with me. I know this is confusing.”
Then after many, many months of waiting and several days of total gridlock, Johnson was approved, 96 to 0.
That was a normal Senate procedure. Now Shelby has upped the ante with a blanket hold on everybody. His incredibly grave reasons were the desire to see that a defense contract for a new tanker is awarded to a bidder who will do the assembly work in Alabama. Also, he feels that a new F.B.I. facility for testing explosive devices should be conveniently located in Huntsville.
“If this administration were as worried about hunting down terrorists as it is about the confirmation of low-level political nominations, America would be a safer place,” said a spokesman for the senator.
Obstructionist, Party of No, these epithets are too mild for the Republicans in the Senate; Mouth-Breathing Idiots might be accurate, but doesn’t quite have the necessary zing. Got to think of a better phrase for these idiots – what say you?