Friday, June 5, 2015

Last Call For The Wrath Of The Turtle

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was torched by the USA Freedom Act, looking like a complete fool when the rest of the Senate dropped him like a hot potato to sign on to the NSA reform measure earlier this week.  Now he's taking out his turtley rage upon President Obama, announcing a permanent blockade on any and all Obama federal judicial nominees -- including Supreme Court appointments.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicated in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday that no federal appeals court judges — or, for that matter, Supreme Court justices — will be confirmed in the coming year. In response to a question about judicial confirmations, McConnell told Hewitt that “so far, the only judges we’ve confirmed have been federal district judges that have been signed off on by Republican Senators” (district judges are the lowest rank of federal judges under Article III of the Constitution). When Hewitt followed up by asking if McConnell believes this pattern will continue for “the balance of the session,” the majority leader replied “I think that’s highly likely, yeah.” 
The term “session” refers to a one-year period of congressional business.

If McConnell carries out his threat to confirm no appellate judges in the next year, that would be an extraordinary departure from prior practice. According to the Federal Judicial Center, the Senate confirmed six appeals court judges in President George W. Bush’s seventh year in office, despite the fact that the Senate was controlled by Democrats. Presidents Clinton and Reagan also spent their seventh year in office in a period of divided government when the opposite party controlled the Senate, and yet the Senate confirmed 7 appeals court judges during that part of the Clinton presidency and it confirmed 10 appeals court judges during the same period in the Reagan presidency.

So that's fair, right?  President Obama got a bill passed, so he has to be punished.  This is how the modern GOP works, folks.

Jobapalooza Update

This month's job report was pretty damned good, if I do say so myself.

Blunting worries about the American economy’s momentum after a stretch of lackluster growth, the government reported on Friday that employers added a hefty 280,000 jobs in May, well above the average monthly totals logged over the last year. 
The official unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 5.5 percent from 5.4 percent, as more Americans dived back into the labor pool and started actively looking for work. Higher hourly wages, which rose 0.3 percent last month, may have helped lure back some sidelined workers while providing those already on the job with some long-awaited gains. 
The return of stronger job growth is also likely to strengthen the resolve of Federal Reserve officials who are hoping to start raising interest rates from their near-zero level later this year. 
“This is a confirmation that the economy is performing well and the first quarter was an aberration,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust. 
He added that he was encouraged by the growth in wages, which have now risen 2.3 percent over last year. “It’s good for workers and also a sign that capacity in the labor market is being utilized more fully.”

So May's numbers, including an upward revision in March to back over 110K, really makes it possible we could see an interest rate hike this year. If these numbers keep up, unemployment will be under 5% by the end of the year. Some 63 straight months of job growth, along with 3 million new jobs in 12 months.  We need growth like that for the rest of this year and next and if we get it, we're going to be in much better shape.

I Dunno But Alaska Just In Case

The poster child for Red State Welfare is in a heap of trouble with the price of oil at $60 rather than $90, and the state is facing a government shutdown on July 1 if Gov. Bill Walker doesn't get a budget to sign into law.

Ferry boats will stop running. The watchdog agency that fines politicians for violating campaign finance rules will close. People who break hunting and fishing laws will have a better chance of getting away with the crimes.

That's a sample of what the looming Alaska government shutdown would mean for the state, according to department heads. All told, more than 10,000 state employees will be laid off if the Legislature does not adopt a fully funded spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1, Gov. Bill Walker said Monday. 
Not all state departments will slash staff and services. Public Safety, including Alaska State Troopers, and Corrections, which runs Alaska prisons, will operate as normal. The Permanent Fund Division will continue processing dividends. 
In other departments, entire offices will be laid off, promising a ripple effect of reduced services. Each agency on Monday announced how it would operate under a shut down.

So the department that pays Alaskans their government handouts will keep on rocking, but 10,000 employees will get laid off. That seems fair. And state lawmakers are nowhere close to a deal.

The House’s budget deal included about $30 million added to a previous state spending plan — concessions made by the Republican-led majority to the Democratic minority. The deal also preserved the raises for state workers, though it balanced that cost with the $30 million unspecified cut.

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said her caucus on Monday made a counteroffer that would have preserved the $30 million in concessions in the House budget.

About half of that $30 million would go toward canceling a cut proposed to the state’s per-student education funding formula, with the other half going toward Democratic priorities like the state’s ferry and university systems.

McGuire said in an interview that the Senate was also prepared to add another $16 million in education grant money to the House deal, which would partially restore a cut originally proposed by Gov. Bill Walker. But her chamber refused to budge when it came to canceling the pay raises for state workers, some of which are contractually obligated.

Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, on Sunday said those raises shouldn’t be contemplated with the state facing multibillion-dollar budget gaps that he called a “deficit tsunami.”

McGuire said she thought the Democrats would accept the deal and characterized their willingness to concede the pay raises as a “glacier that finally calved.”

But that wasn’t the case. Tuck, the Democratic leader, said his caucus remained committed to keeping the state’s contracts with union workers, given that Democrats have already given up on many of their priorities. Those include big cuts in the state tax credits granted to oil companies, as well as expansion of the public Medicaid health care program to cover about 40,000 low-income Alaskans.

“We are committed to honoring those union contracts. There wasn’t a price they could give us to go back on our word on that,” Tuck, who works as a union representative, said in a phone interview late Monday.

“If they want to honor the tax credits to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, I don’t see why we can’t do that with labor contracts.”

So Alaska Republicans would rather kill Medicaid expansion, cut state worker raises and trash school spending rather than give up oil companies' hundreds of millions in tax breaks.

And people wonder why there's a "deficit tsunami" in the state.  I can't imagine why.


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