Monday, March 1, 2010

Last Call

Nate Silver has this chart:

Obama's managed to get a hell of a lot done without FDR's or LBJ's larger majorities in the House and Senate.  FDR had, at one point, 80% of the votes in the House and Senate.

That's unimaginable today.  And yet, Obama's considered a "failure".

Have You Driven A Ford (Out Of The Race) Lately?

NY Times is reporting Harold Ford, Jr. is dropping out of the primary for Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's seat.
He has told friends that, while he is convinced he could prevail against Ms. Gillibrand, he feared the winner of the primary would have little money and remain highly vulnerable to a well-financed Republican challenger at a time when the Democratic party controls the Senate by a slim majority.

“I’ve examined this race in every possible way, and I keep returning to the same fundamental conclusion: If I run, the likely result would be a brutal and highly negative Democratic primary — a primary where the winner emerges weak-ened and the Republican strengthened,” Mr. Ford wrote in an opinion article to be published in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times

I refuse to do anything that would help Republicans win a Senate seat in New York, and give the Senate majority to the Republicans.”
Ford's crazy.  He had no chance running as a moderate Republican in a NY Dem primary.  He was just being a douchebag, and you know, David Paterson kinda filled the quota already.

See ya, Harold.

Bunning Blocks The Plate, Part 2

My Senator, ladies and gents.  Republican Jim Bunning's refusal to allow the Senate to extend those jobless benefits not only ended up furloughing 4,000 DoT employees, but now he's cut federal reimbursement of Medicare fees to doctors by 21%.
Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is already infamous for blocking a temporary extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits for out of work Americans. But included in that package is legislation to prevent a mandatory pay cut for doctors--and by standing in it's way, he's triggered a 21 percent fee reduction to doctors seeing Medicare patients starting today.

Republicans say they support a temporary measure to avoid the cuts, but they have been unable to rein in Bunning, and, as such, the Senate has failed to act on a House bill that staves them off.

The American Medical Association warned of this last week: "A Medicare meltdown now seems certain, as the U.S. Senate has left early for the weekend, abandoning seniors, military families and baby boomers," reads an AMA statement from Friday. "The Senate failed to repeal the Medicare physician payment formula that will cause a drastic 21 percent payment cut to physicians who care for Medicare and TRICARE patients. On Monday, the 21 percent cut goes into effect, forcing many physicians to limit the number of Medicare and TRICARE patients they see in order to keep their practice doors open."

On a conference call with reporters this afternoon Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) put it this way: "By his actions, Bunning has prevented people from receiving Unemployment, health care access, transportation projects from going forward, and Doctors who provide Medicare services from getting paid."
And yet the Republican leadership refuses to do anything about Bunning's antics.  In fact, they're expected to keep delyaing this as long as they can in order to hurt as many people as possible and blame the Democrats for it.  The hostage taking continues, and it's my state's Senators, Jim Bunning and GOP Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell doing all the damage.

Way to go, Kentucky!

[UPDATE 7:03 PM]  Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) takes to TPM to call Bunning out
We need this to end. Debate big differences. Disagree. Use the filibuster when big matters of principle hang in the balance - and sometimes they do. But at the end of the day, Washington has to function - people are counting on it. When it comes to unemployment insurance for workers who have been laid-off through no fault of their own, stop playing games immediately, allow a vote, and then get to work trying to solve some problems, not playing tricks with the Senate rules. The framers invested the minority with rights to protect the Senate - not to destroy it.
Read the whole thing.

IRS Office Evacuated In Utah

More information coming in at this hour as an IRS office building in Ogden Utah was evacuated and hazmat teams called in to investigate a suspicious substance.
The FBI's Salt Lake City division says it responded to a possible hazardous material threat at the building in Ogden.

The FBI says parts of the building were evacuated. It says some people had medical emergencies but that they did not "appear to be related to this incident."

Video on the Web site of KSL-TV showed two people being taken out on stretchers.
Weber Fire District Deputy Chief Paul Sullivan told The Associated Press that the medical emergencies were coincidental to the discovery of the suspicious substance.
He said two people who already had medical issues happened to have episodes while authorities were on the scene and were treated. He said he couldn't release any additional information.
As of Monday afternoon, several emergency vehicles had left the scene. One hazardous materials response truck remained along with one fire engine. 
IRS building, evacuated.  How very interesting.  I wonder what the justification will be for this one.

That There Briar Patch

Republicans keep warning Dems not to pass the health care reform bill because it would give the GOP control of Congress or something.

Really?  Then why not let it pass, Republicans?
Look, everyone can read polls and see that the Democratic plan has struggled badly in the face of a massive misinformation campaign. That's not new and it's not a secret. Democratic leaders plan to proceed, hoping that getting this done will give the party a chance to sell their handiwork -- polls also show people like the proposal once they realize what's in it. The only way to turn the polls around is to succeed.

But this notion that Republicans want to give Democrats sincere advice about how to win elections is ridiculous. Since when does the GOP give honest assessment to Dems about how to win elections? Why on earth would Democrats listen to electoral suggestions from the party that wants to destroy them?

Dowd's confidence notwithstanding, Republicans almost certainly don't want to see Democrats succeed on a reform package that would help the insured, extend popular consumer protections to those with coverage, lower the deficit, and improve the economy. The GOP knows that a Democratic victory like this one would generate some excitement within the Dems' base, prove that Democrats can govern and tackle huge challenges, and deliver on an issue Americans have been waiting for progress on for nearly a century.

"Republicans would like this bill to pass"? I really doubt that.
Nope.  They will never let Obama claim victory on health care reform.  Ever.  They have to stop him here, or they lose the health care argument for good.  Republicans could have passed health care reform during Bush's term.  They didn't.  But they'd rather lose than see Obama get credit for it.

30 Rock

The number of Dem senators who say they would support the public option as part of reconciliation has grown to 30, including the Dems' number two man, Dick Durbin.
"Sen. Durbin has long been a supporter of the public option," reads a statement from Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker to the progressive groups Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy for America, and Credo. "I don't know whether the votes exist in the Senate right now, but if the House version of the public option came up for a vote in reconciliation Sen. Durbin would vote yes."

Similar statements were also issued from four other senators: Patty Murray (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

To be clear, these are not signatories to a letter--circulated by the three groups--advocating the public-option-through-reconciliation strategy. PCCC co-founder Adam Green put it this way: "We're accepting clear statements that if the public option comes up for a vote, they would vote yes. We're debunking what [White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs said last week, that the votes don't exist -- they do...we'll prove it."

So far, 24 members have signed the letter, and five have issued statements indicating their support for passing a public option through reconciliation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also stands behind the idea in principle. That means Green et al. have 20 members to go.
No, it's not the same, but it is very encouraging and getting more so daily.  However, this means the Senate Dems are going to have to act one way or another on this soon...very soon.  They need to either start twisting arms to get the other 20 or tell us now this is going nowhere, or there will be hell to pay.

Wrangling Charlie Rangel, Part 2

As I said in September, I wasn't sure how Charlie Rangel was going to survive this ethics investigation.  Now that he's been officially admonished by the House Ethics committee, it's looking tougher and tougher for him to keep his gavel.
As calls increase for New York congressman Charlie Rangel to step down or be removed as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday she won't take action until she has the full results of an ethics investigation into Rangel's real estate deals and corporate-sponsored Caribbean trips. Appearing on ABC's "This Week," Pelosi said Rangel's alleged misdeeds have not "jeopardized our country in any way."

Meanwhile, opposition to the Harlem veteran spread from Republicans and newspaper editorial pages to his own party. The House Ethics Committee admonished Rangel on Friday for taking two corporate-sponsored trips to the Carribean in violation of House rules. The New York Times on Saturday called for Rangel's removal, citing his "arrogance" at a Thursday hearing of the matter. (The paper has also led the way in investigating Rangel's finances with stories on a sweetheart apartment deal in Harlem and numerous properties he failed to report on his taxes.) The Washington Post has editorialized against Rangel twice.
Rangel's in serious trouble here, and he needs to step aside if only to take the heat off health care reform going forward.  The argument "Do you want Democrats like Charlie Rangel running health care" is a strong one.  My answer is no.  Rangel's crooked.  Fair or unfair, you get held to a higher standard when your party is in charge.  Dems would do well to remember how ethics hurt them badly in 1994.

Going Ballistic On Gun Control

The Supreme Court takes up local gun control laws in oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could not only overturn a number of state and local gun control laws in the country, but could theoretically overturn a post-Civil War precedent.
The conservative majority that struck down Washington, D.C.'s, handgun ban in 2008 appears poised to stretch the Second Amendment further. The hourlong session Tuesday will let justices test-fire arguments in a case in which the reasoning could be as intriguing as the outcome.

For gun owners and lawmakers, the case called McDonald v. City of Chicago presents one bottom line: If the court agrees that the Second Amendment covers state and local governments, as seems likely, some but not all gun restrictions will be blown away.

For constitutional scholars, the court's means may be as important as its ends. In order to eliminate Chicago's gun ban, court conservatives could end up overturning a 137-year-old precedent that's hindered the expansion of new rights.

With the case so crucial, the sidelines are jammed. Forty-nine amicus briefs have flooded the court, representing groups ranging from Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership to specialists in 17th-century English history.

The attorneys general for Florida, Texas, Alaska and 34 other states have urged the court to strike down Chicago's gun ban. So have a majority of members of Congress, and individual prosecutors from 34 California counties.

"The people's right to arms is inextricably tied to the equally fundamental right to defend oneself, to fight to save one's own life," Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth A. Egan and her colleagues argue.
Considering the last major case they decided put billions of corporate dollars into campaigns, I don't have high hopes for this decision either.

The End Of The Senate

Steve Benen covers nicely the proper response to GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander's "reconciliation would be the end of the Senate" idiocy over the weekend.
The very next thing host Elizabeth Vargas asked was, "Why political kamikaze, though?"

In other words, there was no effort at all to push back against the dishonest claims or set the record straight for viewers. What was interesting, apparently, was Lamar Alexander reflecting on the electoral consequences of the legislation, rather than the substantive. The senator's policy lies were overlooked, while the senator's campaign predictions drew scrutiny.

With that in mind, let's do what the show didn't. First, for Alexander to dismiss reconciliation as a "little-used legislative procedure" is pretty disingenuous. Reconciliation has been used, legitimately, to pass everything from welfare reform to COBRA, Bush's tax-cut packages to student-aid reform, nursing home standards to the earned income tax credit. Not too long ago, Senate Republicans even considered using reconciliation to approve drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It's a little too late to characterize the same procedural measure as some kind of outrage, after Republicans relied on it extensively.

Second, to insist that reconciliation's purpose is to "reduce deficits" is simply wrong. As Paul Krugman noted, "[R]econciliation was used to pass the two major Bush tax cuts, which increased the deficit -- by $1.8 trillion."

Third, even if we concede that health care reform is bigger in "size and magnitude" than the other bills approved through reconciliation, the plan isn't to pass health care reform through reconciliation.

Fourth, to suggest passing a budget fix by majority rule "would really be the end of the United States Senate as a protector of minority rights" is comically ridiculous.
This just in:  GOP senators are trying to kill health care reform.  Scary, but true.

Seriously, Vargas failed to call out Alexander on this at all.  She knows that the Senate, specifically Republicans, have used reconciliation before for much larger programs and much more expensive ones...they've used them for entire budgets, for crissakes.

The reconciliation pearl clutching is ridiculous, and yet the "liberal media" lets the Republicans get away with it time and time again.  Alexander should know better and does...but Vargas should check his ass on that lie.  it's her job.

We need an election for Villagers.

The Rules Of The Reconciliation Road

If HCR does go down the reconciliation route, it could be an interesting exercise in civics as Brian Beutler points out:
Let's say the Republicans offer 100 politically charged amendments to the reconciliation bill, none of which are germane. Democrats can move to waive all of them, and, as the Republican aide said, the minority can force a vote on the motion to waive.

But it's important to remember: Reconciliation is intended to be an expedited process. It allows for 20 hours of debate, after which all amendments must be disposed of in a so-called "vote-arama." So all of those amendments (or motions to waive the amendments) must be voted on in rapid succession.

The grey area lies in exactly how Democrats can force an end to the charade once its clear that the Republican tactics are dilatory. That's uncharted territory--but, as one expert points out, the chair in the Senate--a.k.a. Vice President Joe Biden--has almost unlimited power to make rulings so long as 50 members are willing to go along with them. And if Republican tactics were to go over the line, Democrats would theoretically be able to put a stop to them.

As former Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove has pointed out, both the Republican strategy, and the Democrats' way around it, are far outside the traditional uses of the reconciliation process. But, hey, if both sides are exploring the limits of the rules anyway, who knows what will happen.
So, it's entirely possible that the Republicans could make Dems vote on approving of abortion or Muslims or apple pie or McDonalds or Thursdays. It's also possible the Dems can tell the Republicans to go to hell, but things could get dicey depending on how far the Republicans are willing to go.

Considering Senate Republicans are willing to cut off unemployment benefits to over a million Americans during a recession just to make a political point, "how far they are willing to go" isn't the question, but "What can the Dems do to move things along" when they get there.

Nancy Lowers The Boom

The big Sunday show news was Nancy Pelosi's appearance on ABC's This Week, where she said that she'd get the votes to pass the Senate version of health care reform...even if it means costing Democrats seats.
Ms. Pelosi was asked what she would say to House Democrats who were “in real fear of losing their seats in November if they support you now.”

“Our members, every one of them, wants health care,” Ms. Pelosi said. “They know that this will take courage. It took courage to pass Social Security. It took courage to pass Medicare. And many of the same forces that were at work decades ago are at work again against this bill.”

“But,” Ms. Pelosi continued, “the American people need it. Why are we here? We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress. We’re here to do the job for the American people, to get them results that give them not only health security, but economic security.” 
Strong words indeed...but I doubt she earned very many votes on the bill with this speech.  However she is right:  Politicians aren't there to get re-elected, they're there to pass legislation.

This also means that the Dems don't have the votes still.  That's a problem.  Again, something significant has to change in order for that to advance through reconciliation.  I doubt this was it.

More Republicans Bailing From The House

Make it 21 House Republican retirements now.  Political Wire is reporting that GOP Rep. Nathan Deal will resign today from Georgia's 9th in order to puruse a run for governor.  Deal was facing an ethics investigation anyway:
The back story: "The House Ethics Committee came down hard on Charlie Rangel last week. The next case up was to look at Deal's use of his Congressional staff to protect a no-bid State contract here in Georgia. The House ethics committee was due to release their findings in this case any day. Deal's resignation probably makes this go away."


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