Monday, February 8, 2010

Last Call

The Shelby Shakedown shook apart.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has released his controversial "holds" on more than 70 pending presidential nominations, his office said Monday night.

Senators, usually from the minority party, often use the legislative tactic on one or a few presidential nominees, usually to protest parochial concerns. Shelby's maneuver, aimed at nearly all appointments awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor, agitated Democrats because it would effectively limit confirmation votes to a handful per month. It also marked a low point in a partisan standoff in the Senate that has forced Democrats to find 60 votes to pass almost everything. 
The GOP blinked first.  The White House withdrew none of its nominations.  On the other hand, the Democrats still have Democrats who are blocking nominees.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced Monday evening that he will support a Republican-led filibuster over President Barack Obama's nominee to serve on the National Labor Relations Board.

The move is likely to infuriate labor groups who have fought hard for Craig Becker's nomination to serve on the five-member NLRB - and will likely give Republicans enough support to sustain a filibuster Tuesday.

“Mr. Becker’s previous statements strongly indicate that he would take an aggressive personal agenda to the NLRB, and that he would pursue a personal agenda there, rather than that of the administration,” Nelson said in a statement. “This is of great concern, considering that the board’s main responsibility is to resolve labor disputes with an even and impartial hand." 
Because of course big business has had such little representation as of late.  Same as it ever was.  The Senate is still broken.

About To Make A Huge Mistake

Republicans are about to be in a lot of trouble.
Two major obstacles now stand between Democrats and the jobs package they'd like to pass before next week's President's Day recess: A ton of snow, and equally substantial GOP obstructionism. The question is: which will thaw first?

The snow has pushed the Senate floor schedule back at least a day--a significant amount of time given the crowded nature of the calendar. But Democrats still don't have enough votes to overcome a filibuster, and unless they can win over at least one Republican, they may adjourn this coming weekend empty-handed.

What's the hang up? Republicans are working with Democrats on one key aspect of the legislation: tax breaks for employers who hire new employees. But beyond such a measure, Republicans are balking at supporting a full package. And with Democrats now one vote shy of a 60-vote supermajority, they will need one GOPer to break ranks if they want the package to overcome a filibuster.
Here's the problem:   There's not a Republican who can sign on to the bill.  The Teabaggers will see to that.  On the other hand, there's little danger in not signing onto the bill unless you're an incumbent Republican Senator up for relection:  Richard Burr and David Vitter are about the only two people who have to worry.

What will they do?  Only one has to cross that line...and neither one can afford to look like they blocked a jobs bill in an election year with 9.7% unemployment.  I'm betting one jumps.

Greek Fire, Part 2

I've been warning about the next big correction in the stock market, and it finally seems to be here.  January was a miserable month, and February's not looking much better.
Stocks tumbled Monday as financials and commodities sold off amid jitters about the global recovery.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 103.84, or 1 percent, to close at 9,908.39, the first time its closed below 10,000 since November. The S&P 500 shed 0.9 percent and the Nasdaq lost 0.7 percent.

Worries about debt problems in Greece, Portugal and Spain have dragged on markets across the globe for the past week as many worry that these are the next shoes to drop. European finance ministers tried to reassure Group of Seven leaders that the debt situation there is under control but it hasn't been as easy convincing investors, who are backing away from riskier bets.

In addition to battling debt, Greece is faced with an assault on another front: Organized labor. Unions are threatening more strikes if the Socialist government goes through with a tough cost-cutting plan. 
The Greek Fire is spreading.  The EU refuses to throw dirt on it.  Everyone's looking at each other, waiting for somebody else to make the move to bail out Greece.  But nobody's going to pull the trigger.  Least of all, Germany.

(More after the jump...)

Tweet O' The Day

Oliver Willis:
firedoglake is a conservative blog
Hard to argue at this point. 

Congressman John Murtha Dead At 77

Admire him or not, the guy got things done.
Murtha represented Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District since 1974, making him the chamber's eighth most senior member. According to his biography on the House of Representatives Web site, Murtha was the first Vietnam War combat veteran elected to Congress.
He was considered one of "the kings of pork" on Capitol Hill by taxpayer watchdog groups for requesting tens of millions of dollars in earmarks.
On his House Web site, Murtha strongly defended earmarks, saying, "I believe that elected representatives of the people understand their constituents and districts best." 
But you had to respect his anti-war position.
Murtha, a former Marine, also earned a reputation as one of Congress's loudest anti-war voices. He initially supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but he stunned much of Washington when he called for a swift U.S. pullout in November 2005, saying, "U.S. and coalition troops have done all they can. ... It's time for a change in direction."
He will be missed.

Pushing The Boundaries

Since the President's budget proposal was released last week, the GOP response has been interesting to say the least.  More and more of them seem to think that after eight years of proving how incompetent Republicans are at running government and dumbing down the discourse to a series or 24 hour news cycles and permanent falsehoods, the public is ready for jettisoning our safety net completely as the sacred entitlement cow is ready to be led to the slaughter.  The latest cheerleader for getting rid of Medicare and Social Security?  Bachmanniac.
BACHMANN: Is the country too big to fail? No, the country can fail. We can, we’re not invincible. And we’re so close now to being at that point because the thing is, as Glenn Beck said last night, it is true. The $107 trillion that he put on the board. We’re $14 trillion in debt, but that doesn’t include the unfunded massive liabilities. That’s $107 trillion, and that’s for Social Security and Medicare and all the rest. You add up all those unfunded net liabilities, and all the traps that could go wrong we’re on the hook for, and what it means is what we have to do is a reorganization of all of that, Social Security and all. We have to do it simply because we can’t let the contract remain as they are because the older people are going to lose. So, what you have to do, is keep faith with the people that are already in the system, that don’t have any other options, we have to keep faith with them. But basically what we have to do is wean everybody else off. And wean everybody off because we have to take those unfunded net liabilities off our bank sheet, we can’t do it. So we just have to be straight with people. So basically, whoever our nominee is, is going to have to have a Glenn Beck chalkboard and explain to everybody this is the way it is.  
Republicans have heard you America! They too agree we should get that mean old Federal Government out of Medicare and Social Security for good.  The $107 trillion unfunded liability claim from Glennsanity?  Not true.

But she wants to get rid of it.  When Republicans say "balance the budget" they mean "destroy the government's ability to do anything but wage war."

In Which Zandar Answers Your Burning Questions

Chris Cillizza.  Nice guy.  Not paying attention to his own blog. Still, he asks:
Few issues animate loyal Democrats like the idea that major pieces of legislation on things like health care and climate change -- among others -- can't be passed through a Senate where their party controls 18 more seats than do Republicans. (Comedy Central's Jon Stewart dedicated an entire segment to the 59-seat problem.)

By making the filibuster a political issue, the White House may be hoping to turn the base's anger at the way things are being done in Washington away from an inward focus on the party's unwillingness to change the rules and toward Republicans for their legislative blocking.

Midterm elections tend to be a battle of base turnout. And, poll after poll shows a significant intensity gap between the Republican base, which is as passionate as it has been since at least 2000, and the Democratic base, which is far less energized at the moment.

The filibuster focus is an interesting gambit from a White House that made its name during the 2008 campaign for being one step ahead of the rest of the political world. Could they have outsmarted all of us again? Or is a focus on parliamentary maneuvering far too small bore to move the needle?
So who wants to tell Cillizza he answered his own question three paragraphs above?  Considering 70%+ of Americans don't know how a filibuster works ANYWAY, getting rid of it will allow the Dems to do just what they need to be able to do.

Pass legislation with a majority.  Really is that simple.

Shelby Shakedown Shakeout Shows Squat

As Steve Benen notes, of the 5 Sunday shows, 3 ignored the Shelby Shakedown, Candy Crowley gave it a passing mention, but Jake Tapper at least pointed out there was a problem in the This Week roundtable.  But that's as far as it got with Dancing Jake, Al Hunt, George Will, and Peggy Noonan (emphasis mine):
TAPPER: So, Al, that speech came one day after the White House attacked Senator Shelby for the very thing John was just talking about. He had put blanket holds on all nominees because he was concerned, he says, about some national security issues. What's going on here?

HUNT: Well, first of all, Senator Shelby is totally fraudulent on this to begin with. He was concerned about pork for his home state of Alabama. This is as bad as the Nebraska carve-out. It's outrageous what he did. It's, I think, an abuse of senatorial prerogative.

But I also, Jake, think that it's nice to give speeches. We have to have a more civil dialogue in this town. We have to have more bipartisanship. For a whole lot of reasons, it's not going to happen. It might selectively be able to -- you might have a few areas. You'll have some jobs bills where Orrin Hatch and Chuck Schumer might agree.

But in a -- in a broader sense, this is -- these are divisive political times, and that's not going to change, at least until after the November election.

TAPPER: George, the administration and the president has said specifically that he was hoping for some bipartisanship support for some of the small-business tax cuts and credits he's pushing. There's an elimination of a capital gains tax for investments in small businesses, a tax credit for hiring, hoping for Republican support. I have yet to hear one Republican voice, one level of support for any of that.

If there's not bipartisan support for tax cuts, is there support -- is there possibility for any support for anything bipartisan? 

WILL: Well, I'll volunteer. I subscribe to Milton Friedman's view that any tax cut of any shape at any time for any reason is to be supported. So I think probably they'll get some support on this.

But he has a very aggressive agenda from which he has retreated not one bit. I think you'd agree with that.

And so when he extends his hand, he says, "I ask only one thing of Republicans, and that is that you quit being Republicans," and they respectfully decline.

If you have an aggressive agenda, you're going to have to push it aggressively in a partisan manner. 

NOONAN: I'd add, sometimes timing is everything. If the president had spoken like that or acted in a manner reflective of his comments last year, when he first became president, instead of presenting some bills that want to actually know Republican support, he might be in better shape now. It's very convenient for him to be saying, "We're all in this together," when his numbers are going down. 
TAPPER: You wrote recently rather approvingly of the election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts. He has -- is that unfair?

NOONAN: Sure. No, no, good.

TAPPER: OK. OK. And -- and he came here talking a lot about wanting to work in a bipartisan fashion. One of the first things he did, as you saw in the interview with Geithner, we ran a clip of Brown, was say that the stimulus bill has not created one job. Now, you can criticize with the stimulus bill, but it is -- you can -- you can disagree with whether or not it's created 2 million jobs, but certainly it has created one job.

HUNT: Scott Brown's.
And everyone has a good laugh after that.

In other words, Shelby's hold isn't as big of a problem as Obama's aggressive agenda being all mean to Republicans who should be allowed to control Washington.  The Village sees Shelby's play a a bad one, but a necessary one to disabuse the President of the notion that 59 Senate votes constitutes a majority in any way.  You see, Shelby's crime was simply as being as bad as that arch-liberal Democrat, Ben Nelson. Shame on them both.  Net foul?  None.  And the Shelby Shakedown is swept under the rug.  Obama's hubris however is eternal for thinking he has a mandate.

This will be corrected after the November elections, Hunt points out.  Once again bipartisanship is code for "doing what the Republicans want because it's what we think is best for America."  And Shelby gets all but a free pass as a result.

Scott Brown, whose idea of bipartisanship is being from a blue state while opposing the entire Obama agenda, is held up as the shining example for Obama to follow.

What mandate?  41 is more than 59.

Strongarm Tactics

Sure the GOP will come to Obama's Feb 25th health care summit...if they scrap the bills in Congress now and go with a 100% GOP plan. Greg Sargent:
Eric Cantor’s office responds to Obama’s announcement of a bipartisan summit on health care with the most explicit and direct assertion I’ve seen yet that the only way Dems can win bipartisan cooperation is to fully embrace the GOP health care plan and nothing more:
After going it alone on health care reform for nearly a year, President Obama has decided he wants to bring Republicans into the conversation. Here’s the problem: unless the President and Speaker Pelosi are willing to scrap their government take over and hit the reset button, there’s not much to talk about.
Republicans believe the status quo is unacceptable, but so is any health reform package that spends money we don’t have or raises taxes on small businesses and working families in a recession. To that point, House Republicans have offered the only plan , that will lower health care costs, which is what the President said was the goal at the start of this debate.
I’m not sure if it could be made any more explicit than that.
Gotta love that bipartisan cooperation:  100% Republican health care plan or nothing.  Eric Cantor fully expects that Obama will throw the last year away and simply go with the House GOP "plan" which will give insurance companies free reign to continue screwing over Americans and will do nothing to lower rates one penny, and won't do a damn thing to cover the 50 million folks who don't have health insurance.

Too bad.  The GOP refuses to allow any other plans to be passed.  The tyranny of the minority rolls on unabated.  They won't even talk to the President unless they get everything they want and then more.

So we'll waste another couple of weeks and nothing will get done, and meantime the GOP will continue to assault the President for not solving the problem.  Check.

Four Politicos Of The Obamapocalypse

Today's must-read is Steve Clemons's analysis of this weekend's FT piece pinning Obama's problems on his core Chicago team:  the bad cop/good cop team of  Rahmbo and Obama's political face Valerie Jarrett, budget guru David "Axeman" Axelrod and WH spokesman Robert Gibbs:
It's a vital article -- a brave one -- that interviews "dozens of interviews with his closest allies and friends in Washington".

Most are unnamed because the consequences of retribution from this powerful foursome can be severe in an access-dependent town. John Podesta, President of the powerful, adminstration-tilting Center for American Progress, had the temerity and self-confidence to put his thoughts publicly on the record. But most others could not.

Mark Schmitt, executive editor of the liberal magazine American Prospect, wrote that "Luce has written what seems to me the best and most succinct rundown of what's gone wrong in the White House, with particular attention to the role of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel." But some of the big aggregators out there -- Mike Allen at Politico and ABC's The Note among others -- didn't give Luce's juicy and lengthy essay any love.

Why not? Allen is a good friend of mine and tries to keep a good balance between tough-hitting political stuff but also goes out of his way to give strokes to those in the White House he can -- particularly "Axe" -- who is a regular in Mike's daily Playbook. I try to do the same to be honest and have a particular thing for Bill Burton's wit and was pleased to see Rahm Emanuel giving David Geffen rather than Rick Warren lots of hugs during the Inauguration eve fests.

But this Luce piece is unavoidably, accurately hard-hitting, and while many of the nation's top news anchors and editors are sending emails back and forth (I have been sent three such emails in confidence) on what a spot-on piece Luce wrought on the administration, they fear that the "four horsepersons of the Obama White House" will shut down and cut off access to those who give the essay 'legs.'

But in the too regularly vapid chatter about DC's political scene, serious critiques of the internal game around Obama not only deserve review on their own merits but have to be read -- because Obama is not winning. He is failing and people need to consider "why".

Any serious survey of the Obama administration's accomplishments and setbacks over the last year has to conclude that the administration is deeply in the red.

If current trends continue, this once mesmerizing Camelot-ish operation will be be seen in the history books as the presidential administration that -- to distort slightly and inversely paraphrase Churchill -- never have so many talented people managed to achieve so little with so much.
He's got a point.  I have my own problem with Rahmbo, but Axelrod, Jarrett and Gibbs are part of the problem too, along with economic point man Larry Summers.  All of them are pushing Obama to be the great Reagan style dealmaker with this GOP caucus that simply believes it can outwait him in order to destroy him.  The rest of the universe knows the GOP will rather watch the country burn to the ground just so they can blame Obama.

Obama does appear to be taking some steps, like bringing in Paul Volcker and David Plouffe, but he's still keeping his Chicago crew around.  That's a mistake. Going along to get along doesn't work when the other side is negotiating in 100% bad faith.

I dunno when Obama will figure this out.

[UPDATE 1:28 PM] Both BooMan's response to this and Digby's response to this are worth reading as well, but it's worth nothing that like myself, they both say Rahm's blown it and that he's part of the problem.  Both however take umbrage with the solution that Obama needs different insiders.  That's correct.

Obama needs to get out of the bubble and get past his own gatekeepers.

Mustard And Mustard, LLC

Col. Mustard's law classes must be real cakewalks on sourcing for writing papers if he considers Twitter and TMZ as enough to "expose the anti-Palin misogyny of the entire Democratic base."  He's going to town on the Palin crib notes being referred to as a "hand job" by some.

That's funny.  I was unaware that only women had hands.  So of course it has to be misogyny.

Look, the hand job thing is lewd and crude.  But honestly Bill, do your law students scribble notes on their palms when taking tests or giving oral arguments?  I'd expect more out of a lawyer.  We should certainly expect more out of politicians.

(Oh, and teabagger.)

[UPDATE 12:35 PM] And by MustardLogic(tm) Eric Erickson proves the entire conservative movement is misogynist. QED.

Meeting Of The Minds

I'm still not too thrilled with Obama's health care meeting on Feb. 25, I think he's wasting time he should be using to convince the Dems in Congress to pass the damn bill already.  But BooMan does have a point that the meeting being televised will allow a fair discussion of the plan, something the GOP has been lying about since day one.
The bottom line? The Republicans thought they had this health care bill whipped when they won the Massachusetts election and now they're getting nervous that the president is going to pull some kind of stunt at the last minute and save the day for the Democrats. Well, I hope so, too, but I don't write confusing posts about Little Big Horn and inviting the Republicans to join in the slaughter.

Now, as far as I am concerned, the virtue of this plan is that it will do a lot to expose the Republicans for what they are. But it won't convince any of them to vote for any health care bill of any kind. As far as I'm concerned, Rep. Joseph Cao and Sen. Olympia Snowe were the only Republican members of Congress who ever considered voting for a health bill, and Snowe's probably out of reach now. The problem is still Democrats who are looking at bleak re-elect numbers. They're spineless and stupid, and some are just corporate shills. So, this meeting has to address that problem more than it has to do anything else. I like the idea, even if the Republicans thinks discussing health care on teevee is a way to bore us to death
Maybe some public shaming will get the Dems moving. Lord knows appealing to their hearts, souls, and minds hasn't worked.  Maybe appealing to their egos will.  And again, just the idea of Obama actually using transparency in government is clearly making the Wingers really, real.y scared.  But they did this to themselves:  they complained the meetings weren't being televised openly, too many "back room Chicago style deals" (whatever that means) and that Obama wasn't giving them a forum for their "health care solutions."  Well now they have to put up or shut up.  And you can see they are clearly running for cover rather than having an open discussion where Democratic solutions and Republican ones are compared in front of the American people by the light of day.

If anyone can pull this off, it's Obama.  Still not thrilled, but it's a step forward.  My complaint is we need much more than just steps forward right now, but to finish the bill.  We'll see.

The Kroog Versus The Shelby Shakedown

Paul Krugman bemoans Senate rules that allow Republicans to keep government from basically doing much of anything these days...anything except hold the government hostage.
And with the national G.O.P. having abdicated any responsibility for making things work, it’s only natural that individual senators should feel free to take the nation hostage until they get their pet projects funded.

The truth is that given the state of American politics, the way the Senate works is no longer consistent with a functioning government. Senators themselves should recognize this fact and push through changes in those rules, including eliminating or at least limiting the filibuster. This is something they could and should do, by majority vote, on the first day of the next Senate session.

Don’t hold your breath. As it is, Democrats don’t even seem able to score political points by highlighting their opponents’ obstructionism.

It should be a simple message (and it should have been the central message in Massachusetts): a vote for a Republican, no matter what you think of him as a person, is a vote for paralysis. But by now, we know how the Obama administration deals with those who would destroy it: it goes straight for the capillaries. Sure enough, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, accused Mr. Shelby of “silliness.” Yep, that will really resonate with voters.
He's got a point.  Republicans are quite content to let the country burn in order to get back into the majority.  Obama's response?  Inviting the GOP to air their grievances, when the grievance they wish to air is "If you refuse to pass our 100% Republican legislation, then nothing will get done." 

At some point Obama has to give up the idiocy of bipartisanship.  If he doesn't, the GOP will simply continue to fiddle while the country goes to hell.


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