Commentary Magazine


Topic: Chuck Grassley

RE: GOP Playing to Win in 2014

I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

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I certainly agree with Jonathan that it’s nice to see Republicans this time around apparently keeping their eye on the ball (which is victory in November) rather than demanding an ideological purity that results in a candidate who couldn’t get elected dog catcher because he says dumb things. The dumb statement is then turned into a 30-second attack ad, endlessly repeated, and the candidate sinks without a bubble.

But maybe this year it is the turn of Democratic candidates to say dumb things. National Journal reported the other day that the likely Democratic candidate to replace Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa this year, Rep. Bruce Braley, came up with a beaut.

Talking to a group of lawyers at a Texas fundraiser that was supposed to be off the record—but was video recorded on someone’s cell phone—Braley managed to insult both Iowa’s other senator, Republican Chuck Grassley, in particular and farmers in general. With 97,000 farms in Iowa, that is probably not a good idea in a race for an Iowa senate seat.

Braley, noting that Senator Grassley is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that if there is a Republican majority in the Senate next year, “You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

He then compounded the felony by noting that he was not a farmer but a lawyer, and that if he were on the Judiciary Committee there would be someone on the committee with,  “your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years.” In other words, on the committee he wouldn’t represent the interests of the people of Iowa, he would instead represent the interests of lawyers.

This was also not too smart. As James Taranto pointed out yesterday, a Google search on “lawyer jokes” turns up 28 million matches. Lawyers, in other words are about as unpopular as members of Congress. Nearly the only people in the country who are against tort reform (and legal reform generally, for that matter) are lawyers and their very well-funded water bearers in Congress and state legislatures, like Rep. Braley.

The video should make a great attack ad.

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ObamaCare and the Congressional Circus

Last night, Politico published what seemed like quite the scoop: members of Congress from both parties were holding secret negotiations with the aim of passing legislation that would exempt their staffers from unwieldy ObamaCare rules. The backlash was immediate, and virtually guaranteed that whether or not the Politico story got it right (it didn’t), it would at least have the effect of snuffing out whatever legislation was being contemplated.

The countdown began, and ended this afternoon when Harry Reid announced that the problem they spent months in secret negotiations trying to fix doesn’t actually exist, in his expert opinion, and thus would not require legislation that reeked of hypocrisy. So what actually happened? As Ezra Klein explained at the Washington Post, during the ObamaCare negotiations Chuck Grassley had proposed, and Congress subsequently passed, an amendment that requires congressional offices to purchase their health insurance policies from the insurance exchanges set up by ObamaCare. Grassley’s amendment was designed to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to reject part of ObamaCare as good enough for the ragged masses but not for them. Democrats, instead, accepted the amendment.

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Last night, Politico published what seemed like quite the scoop: members of Congress from both parties were holding secret negotiations with the aim of passing legislation that would exempt their staffers from unwieldy ObamaCare rules. The backlash was immediate, and virtually guaranteed that whether or not the Politico story got it right (it didn’t), it would at least have the effect of snuffing out whatever legislation was being contemplated.

The countdown began, and ended this afternoon when Harry Reid announced that the problem they spent months in secret negotiations trying to fix doesn’t actually exist, in his expert opinion, and thus would not require legislation that reeked of hypocrisy. So what actually happened? As Ezra Klein explained at the Washington Post, during the ObamaCare negotiations Chuck Grassley had proposed, and Congress subsequently passed, an amendment that requires congressional offices to purchase their health insurance policies from the insurance exchanges set up by ObamaCare. Grassley’s amendment was designed to embarrass Democrats by forcing them to reject part of ObamaCare as good enough for the ragged masses but not for them. Democrats, instead, accepted the amendment.

Democrats thought they had won the battle by meeting Grassley’s dare head-on. But there was a problem: the law excludes from those exchanges, in most cases, large employers–a category that includes the federal government. Which meant Hill staffers might have to foot the entire bill for their health insurance–of course made even more expensive thanks to ObamaCare–because the Grassley amendment, which Democrats so proudly accepted, put them into a strange new category Klein refers to as a regulatory limbo. They’ve been arguing ever since over what this means, with the fear that their staffers will all quit on them when they see the price tag on their shiny new health insurance plans.

In other words, the United States Congress has no idea what the law says or how to comply with it. But at least they’re not hypocrites, so don’t you feel better?

Klein is fairly sanguine about the whole thing, since it turned out to just be a terrible misunderstanding. But I actually think that’s the story. Congress started by trying to pass a massive bureaucratic overhaul of nearly one-fifth of the American economy, stared blankly at thousands of pages of regulations they wouldn’t even consider reading, and voted to make it the law of the land. Along the way, they treated the amendment process like a game of frat house beer pong, and their personal pride determined which amendments got through. Unsurprisingly, they passed amendments that made a hash of the law, because they didn’t read the law before enacting it.

When Nancy Pelosi suggested that it would just be tremendously exciting if no one looked at the bill and then we all found out together afterward to what extent Congress had just wrecked an entire industry, she was speaking for members of Congress as well as the public. So when Congress found out what Congress had wrought, they got to work trying to undo part of what they had done (the part, naturally, that affected them the most).

But that brought up another problem (just as we Jews famously answer questions with questions, so Congress “solves” problems with other problems): namely, that it would be quite a bummer if the public found out what they were up to. That’s because there are only two possible explanations for what they were doing, and neither sounded good. Either it would be exposed that they had no idea what was in the health care bill they passed, or it would seem like they did and now were trying to weasel out of part of it. And of course, by doing this in secret in a town where there are no secrets, they ensured the public would have both reactions.

Now that the public found out, Reid says there’s no need to take any action, that the law as written won’t do what they thought it might (he’s probably right). But Reid is a senator, not emperor, so he doesn’t get to make that decision–it’s up to the Office of Personnel Management. Reid’s statement, Klein notes, “doesn’t say much about what will happen if OPM doesn’t rule as Reid hopes.” It’s almost as if he’s not planning ahead. Klein continues:

If OPM doesn’t rule as Reid expects, I’ll be surprised to see this get fixed, at least quickly. Republicans view any chaos around Obamacare as a win for them. As of today, they’re telling me that that even extends to chaos caused by a Republican senator’s amendment that mainly effects (sic) their health insurance. I don’t think they’ll hold out long on that if it turns out they actually have to shoulder the full cost of their premiums. But it will be tough to preemptively back down too.

More games, more bluffing, more staring contests in response to the chaos they’ve created. Welcome to Congress.

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LIVE BLOG: Great Moments in Wonkery

Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan: “You called into question the Congressional Budget Office! … We have to decide, do we agree with the Congressional Budget Office or not?”

Ryan: “I did not call into question the Congressional Budget Office!”

They actually have an interesting dispute about the way the CBO “scores” the effect of a health-care bill on the budget deficit long term. But it’s still funny.

UPDATE: Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley: “I see the CBO as God.”

Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan: “You called into question the Congressional Budget Office! … We have to decide, do we agree with the Congressional Budget Office or not?”

Ryan: “I did not call into question the Congressional Budget Office!”

They actually have an interesting dispute about the way the CBO “scores” the effect of a health-care bill on the budget deficit long term. But it’s still funny.

UPDATE: Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley: “I see the CBO as God.”

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Re: That Explains It

Sen Harry Reid blew up the bipartisan jobs bill. In its place he offered a slimmed down $15B bill. One hitch: he doesn’t have the votes to pass it. The Hill reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lacks the votes to begin debating his targeted job bills, according to sources monitoring the legislation.

Reid needs 60 votes to open debate on the $15 billion jobs bill up. The vote is scheduled for Monday, when lawmakers return from the Presidents’ Day recess.

“I understand Reid does not have the votes for cloture on Monday on his jobs bill,” one source said.

Oopsy. It seems as though Reid didn’t think even one move ahead when he substituted his jobs proposal. Now his chief blame passer, Jim Manley, says it is all in the Republicans’ hands. Hmm. There seemed to have been one deal there which did enjoy Republican support — so how is it now the GOP’s fault if Reid has no passable piece of legislation? Bemoaning the loss of a bio-diesel tax credit that was included in the bipartisan package, Sen. Chuck Grassley let Reid have it, declaring that “the industry is hemorrhaging jobs and we can do something to stop it . .  . Yet Senator Reid decided that it was more important to play political games than actually saving and creating jobs in the private sector.”

There is a comic quality to all of this. But the ramifications are very serious and real for the Democrats. Perhaps the White House could actually draft and send up its own bill, showing that it can lead rather than simply decry the partisan deadlock. But that’s really not their thing, is it? They are too busy puffing up the fake jobs numbers from the disastrous original Obama stimulus bill. Well, if the stimulus had done what the Obami had promised it would, perhaps a Son of Stimulus would not be required. It seems as though in this administration spinning past failures fills the time, while Democratic leaders are not making progress on the issues that trouble most Americans. You think the voters will notice? So far, only 6 percent of Americans think the first stimulus worked. Maybe the White House’s time would be better spent helping Harry Reid do his job.

Sen Harry Reid blew up the bipartisan jobs bill. In its place he offered a slimmed down $15B bill. One hitch: he doesn’t have the votes to pass it. The Hill reports:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lacks the votes to begin debating his targeted job bills, according to sources monitoring the legislation.

Reid needs 60 votes to open debate on the $15 billion jobs bill up. The vote is scheduled for Monday, when lawmakers return from the Presidents’ Day recess.

“I understand Reid does not have the votes for cloture on Monday on his jobs bill,” one source said.

Oopsy. It seems as though Reid didn’t think even one move ahead when he substituted his jobs proposal. Now his chief blame passer, Jim Manley, says it is all in the Republicans’ hands. Hmm. There seemed to have been one deal there which did enjoy Republican support — so how is it now the GOP’s fault if Reid has no passable piece of legislation? Bemoaning the loss of a bio-diesel tax credit that was included in the bipartisan package, Sen. Chuck Grassley let Reid have it, declaring that “the industry is hemorrhaging jobs and we can do something to stop it . .  . Yet Senator Reid decided that it was more important to play political games than actually saving and creating jobs in the private sector.”

There is a comic quality to all of this. But the ramifications are very serious and real for the Democrats. Perhaps the White House could actually draft and send up its own bill, showing that it can lead rather than simply decry the partisan deadlock. But that’s really not their thing, is it? They are too busy puffing up the fake jobs numbers from the disastrous original Obama stimulus bill. Well, if the stimulus had done what the Obami had promised it would, perhaps a Son of Stimulus would not be required. It seems as though in this administration spinning past failures fills the time, while Democratic leaders are not making progress on the issues that trouble most Americans. You think the voters will notice? So far, only 6 percent of Americans think the first stimulus worked. Maybe the White House’s time would be better spent helping Harry Reid do his job.

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That Explains It

Media pundits and Washington insiders have been puzzling over how and why Harry Reid could have unraveled a bipartisan jobs bill and in the process potentially provoked Evan Bayh’s retirement. This report by Jay Newton-Small notes that “it was with a bit of fanfare that the White House welcomed Thursday a bipartisan Senate deal on $85 billion jobs legislation forged after weeks of negotiations between Senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican.” The White House cheered and then — poof — “Reid hours later threw out the deal, replacing it with a stripped down $15 billion bill that would only provide scaled-back tax credits and help for small businesses, highway construction and state and local governments.” It was pure Reid — a high-profile bungle that managed to ensnare the Democrats in another round of finger-pointing.

Now perhaps he actually was pushed over the brink by scheming competitors. Newton-Small writes:

While Reid’s office says he pulled the Baucus-Grassley compromise because of opposition from GOP leaders, his left flank was also unhappy with the deal. Reid’s No. 2, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, led a group of progressive Senators against the bill, saying it gave too much away to Republicans and focused too heavily on tax cuts that had little to do with job creation. “Durbin was just trying to curry favor with the liberals,” says a senior Senate Democratic aide closely involved in the process. “Reid is hampered by Durbin and Schumer picking over his corpse right now — it’s really ugly.”

Well, that “senior Senate Democratic aide” might be Reid’s spinning an excuse and trying to tag Durbin and Schumer as the villains. Or it might be an accurate account, suggesting that Democrats aren’t as dense as they appear and would like nothing better than to see Reid get bounced from the Senate. They simply didn’t expect the loss of Bayh in the process.

In any event, Reid is once again in hot water:

“It’s a shock to us,” Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told Fox News on Friday. “I mean, in the states we were all hoping to see a robust jobs bill, and we’re confounded by this action, absolutely confounded.” And fellow endangered incumbent, Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, said in a press release that she hopes Reid “will reconsider. [The Baucus-Grassley] bill was carefully crafted to achieve significant bipartisan support.”

This hardly bodes well for the remainder of the year. If the name of the game is how to humiliate Reid (yes, yes, he often needs no assistance), then we are going to spend quite a bit of time watching Reid tied up in knots by his own side. With an invigorated Republican caucus, the loss of the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, and a White House unable to devise, let alone shepherd through Congress, its own policies, one can expect more chaos and more episodes of pin-the-blame on Harry.

In effect, the Senate Democrats have a lame duck as their leader — someone who in the best of times was not up to the task and is now facing his own demise as successors struggle for the upper hand. It’s not pretty for Democrats, but it sure is entertaining for the rest of us.

Media pundits and Washington insiders have been puzzling over how and why Harry Reid could have unraveled a bipartisan jobs bill and in the process potentially provoked Evan Bayh’s retirement. This report by Jay Newton-Small notes that “it was with a bit of fanfare that the White House welcomed Thursday a bipartisan Senate deal on $85 billion jobs legislation forged after weeks of negotiations between Senators Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, and Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican.” The White House cheered and then — poof — “Reid hours later threw out the deal, replacing it with a stripped down $15 billion bill that would only provide scaled-back tax credits and help for small businesses, highway construction and state and local governments.” It was pure Reid — a high-profile bungle that managed to ensnare the Democrats in another round of finger-pointing.

Now perhaps he actually was pushed over the brink by scheming competitors. Newton-Small writes:

While Reid’s office says he pulled the Baucus-Grassley compromise because of opposition from GOP leaders, his left flank was also unhappy with the deal. Reid’s No. 2, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, led a group of progressive Senators against the bill, saying it gave too much away to Republicans and focused too heavily on tax cuts that had little to do with job creation. “Durbin was just trying to curry favor with the liberals,” says a senior Senate Democratic aide closely involved in the process. “Reid is hampered by Durbin and Schumer picking over his corpse right now — it’s really ugly.”

Well, that “senior Senate Democratic aide” might be Reid’s spinning an excuse and trying to tag Durbin and Schumer as the villains. Or it might be an accurate account, suggesting that Democrats aren’t as dense as they appear and would like nothing better than to see Reid get bounced from the Senate. They simply didn’t expect the loss of Bayh in the process.

In any event, Reid is once again in hot water:

“It’s a shock to us,” Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told Fox News on Friday. “I mean, in the states we were all hoping to see a robust jobs bill, and we’re confounded by this action, absolutely confounded.” And fellow endangered incumbent, Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, said in a press release that she hopes Reid “will reconsider. [The Baucus-Grassley] bill was carefully crafted to achieve significant bipartisan support.”

This hardly bodes well for the remainder of the year. If the name of the game is how to humiliate Reid (yes, yes, he often needs no assistance), then we are going to spend quite a bit of time watching Reid tied up in knots by his own side. With an invigorated Republican caucus, the loss of the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, and a White House unable to devise, let alone shepherd through Congress, its own policies, one can expect more chaos and more episodes of pin-the-blame on Harry.

In effect, the Senate Democrats have a lame duck as their leader — someone who in the best of times was not up to the task and is now facing his own demise as successors struggle for the upper hand. It’s not pretty for Democrats, but it sure is entertaining for the rest of us.

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