I applaud House Republicans for voting to suspend the sequester which threatens to decimate military spending and replacing it with cuts to social welfare programs. But the Republican leadership knows their legislation has little chance of passage in the Senate. They are simply hoping to set the stage for negotiations later this year that would at least suspend the first stage of the sequester which could cut another $500 billion or so from the defense budget on top of $450 billion or cuts already set in motion last summer.
The question is whether those negotiations will succeed. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the answer is yes, but I join Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute in being skeptical of that consensus. She points out that there is no intrinsic reason to think Democrats and Republicans, who couldn’t agree on alternative spending cuts or revenue increases until now, will suddenly find some way to sing “Kumbaya” after the election–especially when the composition of Congress will be exactly what it is today. And there are many reasons to expect that an attempt to stop sequestration will not be a high priority item for Congress also grappling with expiring tax cuts and the need to raise the debt ceiling once again.
Rudy Giuliani was on CBS News this morning cautioning Republicans to stay out of the gay marriage debate. It looks like he’s a bit late. Last night, the House passed a Republican-backed bill that would prevent the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to oppose the Defense of Marriage Act, Politico reports:
With a 245-171 vote, the House voted to stop the Justice Department from using taxpayer funds to actively oppose DOMA — the Clinton-era law defining marriage as between a man and a woman that the Obama administration stopped enforcing in February 2011. …
Democrats immediately attacked Republicans for the vote.
“On an historic day and in the dark of night, House Republicans have voted to tie the hands of the Obama administration with respect to their efforts to end discrimination against America’s families,” Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said in a statement. “House Republicans continue to plant their feet firmly on the wrong side of history.”
The formal kickoff events for President Obama’s re-election campaign this past weekend sounded themes that won enthusiastic cheers from his admirers. But despite the hoopla, the rallies in Virginia and Ohio also showcased his weaknesses. The president possesses formidable advantages in his battle with Republican opponent Mitt Romney, but his reliance on a purely negative approach demonstrates something that political observers have long understood: a man who cannot run on his record is going to have to spend most of the next six months attacking the opposition and attempting to define them as unfit to govern rather than talking about his own accomplishments and ideas.
With the national polls showing the race to be dead even, the Obama campaign finds itself in a difficult predicament. The economy is in poor shape, and the latest jobs numbers give little hope for the sort of summer recovery that could put the president in a commanding position. The White House is confident, as Mark Halperin writes in TIME, that they can define Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire who has swung to the right to win his party’s nomination. But though it is certainly possible for a politician to win re-election by framing the race as a referendum on his challenger, that generally only works when the opposition is an obvious outlier in the manner of a Barry Goldwater or George McGovern. Romney has his problems, but it will not be easy to portray such a mainstream and conventional person as a marginal figure. The dip in enthusiasm for the president, illustrated starkly by the empty seats at both rallies that few doubt would have been filled four years ago, shows the potential downside to this approach.
Rep. Darrell Issa’s draft contempt order against Attorney General Eric Holder is the latest attempt to pressure the Department of Justice into complying with the House Oversight Committee’s subpoena requests related to Fast and Furious, and whether it works depends on a political calculation by the administration. What’s would be more damaging: releasing these subpoenaed documents, or risking the media circus of contempt procedures?
In the contempt order argument, which was issued to members of the House Oversight Committee today, Issa says he’s still waiting for Holder to release documents for 12 out of 22 categories in the subpoena schedule:
According to the draft contempt order, the department “has yet to provide a single document for 12 out of the 22 categories contained in the subpoena schedule.”
The draft order pointed to three categories in particular. Those categories concerned: who among the department’s top brass should have known about the “reckless tactics” in Fast and Furious; how department leaders ended up figuring out the program was a bad idea; and how a special task force “failed” to share information that could have supposedly led to key gun-trafficking arrests.
Despite what you may have heard from President Obama, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress favor extending low interest rates on student loans that are set to expire in July. The problem is they’re conflicted over how to pay for it. While Democrats support a payroll tax hike on certain businesses, the House GOP is planning to introduce a bill that would pay for the extension with some of the advanced appropriations included in ObamaCare. Politico reports:
House Republicans will announce by the end of this week their own bill to keep student loan rates from doubling, several Republican leadership sources said.
The GOP will offset its cost with money from what they dub a “slush fund” in the Democrats’ 2010 health care law. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is holding a media availability in the Capitol Wednesday afternoon to announce the effort.
The specter of government-subsidized student loan rates doubling is the most recent attempt by the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill to paint Republicans as the model of inaction. President Barack Obama is on a nationwide college tour, slamming congressional Republicans for allowing the Stafford loan rate to jump on July 1. In reality, Republican leadership on Capitol Hill didn’t address how they would deal with the July 1 deadline, which would have allowed government subsidized student loan rates jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
I understand that late-night comics can’t be expected to have anything more than a basic comprehension of the political issues they discuss. Their job is to be funny, not to grasp the details of a legislative bill, or understand the political posturing in both parties. But Jimmy Fallon and his producers got so spun up by the White House last night that it was embarrassing to watch.
President Obama appeared in Fallon’s “slow jam the news” bit to express his support for the student loan extension bill and blast the GOP for supposedly opposing the extension. Using a late-night show with a college-aged audience to push such a distorted, partisan message may be a little unseemly, but Fallon got in on the act too, shilling for the bill and basically endorsing the president’s claim that Republicans simply want to raise interest rates on students:
President Obama: Now there’s some in Congress who disagree. They say keeping the interest rate low isn’t the way to help our students. They say we should be doing everything we can to pay down the national debt. Well, as long as it doesn’t include taxing billionaires. But their position is that students just have to make this rate increase work. Frankly, I don’t buy it.
Jimmy Fallon: The Barackness Monster ain’t buying it. We all know our legislative bodies in the House tossing and turning late into the night. But Republicans disagree and could even filibuster. But if they do, the president said they’re gonna feel it buster.
Byron York reports on the status of the Keystone XL debate. Democratic lawmakers are facing more pressure to support the pipeline with the election looming, and some in the Senate are confident they’ll be able to peel away enough Democrats to break Harry Reid’s filibuster. Which means that the bill for approval could land on President Obama’s desk in the not-too-distant future:
When the House voted on the pipeline in July of last year, 47 Democrats broke with the president. Now that it’s an election year and the number is up to 69, look for Republicans to hold more pipeline votes before November. GOP leaders expect even more Democrats to join them.
Then there is the Senate. Democrats are using the filibuster to stop the pipeline, which means 60 votes are required to pass it. (Some Democrats who bitterly opposed the filibuster when Republicans used it against Obama initiatives are notably silent these days.) In a vote last month, 11 Senate Democrats stood up against Obama to vote in favor of the pipeline. Add those 11 to the Republicans’ 47 votes, and the pro-pipeline forces are just a couple of votes away from breaking Harry Reid’s filibuster.
Senate Democrats are doing all they can to keep oxygen in this “war on women” narrative, and the next big agenda item is the vote to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. It’s an uncontroversial law, one that would have passed the Senate with wide bipartisan support. But that was before Democrats added a host of vaguely-related controversial new measures to it, including provisions on immigration and tribal laws.
Republicans have speculated that this was a tactic to provoke a fight over an otherwise uncontroversial piece of legislation. But it doesn’t sound like they’re going to take the bait, at least not in the Senate:
The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) released a statement this afternoon commending House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for “admit[ting] to anti-Semitism within the House Republican caucus” during an interview with Mike Allen today. The problem? Cantor never did that. In fact, when Allen asked him whether he’s detected anti-Semitism from members of Congress, Cantor replied with an unequivocal “no.”
Either the NJDC didn’t actually listen to Cantor’s comments (which you can find here), or just thought the political attack was too good to pass up. The group issued the following:
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad is often described as a fiscal hawk, but as he prepares to retire after 26 years in the Senate, his legacy may be as the chairman who failed to pass a budget for three years as national debt shot up by $4 trillion.
It’s not that Conrad didn’t try this week. Despite opposition from Democratic leadership, he scheduled a markup on a budget proposal for this afternoon – his last one before retirement – but yesterday suddenly backed down from the plan. There would still be a “markup,” he said – but it would be a markup in name only. No voting, no room to propose amendment, no chance of bringing anything to the Senate floor.
“Stalinist” is how IBD describes a provision in the new transportation bill, which would give the IRS the power to revoke passport rights for individuals they suspect of owing more than $50k in taxes. The key word here is “suspect,” because apparently no court ruling is required:
“America, Love It Or Leave It” might be an obsolete slogan if the “bipartisan transportation bill” that just passed the Senate is approved by the House and becomes law. Contained within the suspiciously titled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” or “MAP 21,” is a provision that gives the Internal Revenue Service the power to keep U.S. citizens from leaving the country if it finds that they owe $50,000 or more in unpaid taxes — no court ruling necessary.
It is hard to imagine any law more reminiscent of the Soviet Union that America toppled, or its Eastern Bloc slave satellites.
In an interview with New York’s Jason Zengerle, Representative Barney Frank said this:
It seems like you’re leaving in large part because of this dysfunctional atmosphere.
I’m 73 years old. I’ve been doing this since October of 1967, and I’ve seen too many people stay here beyond when they should. I don’t have the energy I used to have. I don’t like it anymore, I’m tired, and my nerves are frayed. And I dislike the negativism of the media. I think the media has gotten cynical and negative to a point where it’s unproductive.
Is that a recent development?
It’s been a progressive development, or a regressive development. And I include even Jon Stewart and Colbert in this. The negativism—it hurts liberals, it hurts Democrats. The more government is discredited, the harder it is to get things done. And the media, by constantly harping on the negative and ignoring anything positive, plays a very conservative role substantively.
But isn’t part of that just because the media is expected to be adversarial?
Who expects it to be adversarial? Where did you read that? Did you read that in the First Amendment? Where did you read that the media is expected to be adversarial? It should be skeptical, why adversarial? Adversarial means you’re the enemy. Seriously, where does that come from?
President Obama has been decrying “the way Congress does its business these days” and promising to act “with or without this Congress,” so fed up is he by the lack of bipartisan solutions coming from the legislative branch. So the president, one would think, would be delighted that Congress has come together to produce a bipartisan, popular bill that would also give the president a strong foreign policy move while simultaneously beefing up his credentials on human rights and democracy.
I’m talking, of course, about the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011,” a bill that would sanction Russian human rights offenders. It is named after the Russian attorney who was detained without trial for investigating Russian corruption and then beaten and left to die in prison. It is intended to replace the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik amendment, aimed at getting the Soviet Union to allow Jewish emigration, but which is outdated and will likely be repealed now that Russia is joining the World Trade Organization. The bill was introduced by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and has broad bipartisan support. But Obama staunchly opposes the bill. Today, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera adds his voice to the growing chorus of commentators, both liberal and conservative, who support the bill:
I have to confess that when I first began receiving press releases about this effort, which has gained traction in Europe as well as the U.S., I didn’t take it very seriously. Visa restrictions didn’t seem like much of a price for allowing an innocent lawyer to die in prison. But after watching the reaction of the Russian government, which has repeatedly and vehemently denounced the bill — and which is now, out of pure spite, prosecuting Magnitsky posthumously — I’ve come to see that it really does hit these officials where it hurts them most.
President Obama, who recently vowed to bypass the Washington gridlock by churning out executive orders, has suddenly decided he can wait for Congress to do its job, at least when it comes to controversial laws that he’d prefer not to make unilateral decisions on. The New York Times reports:
President Obama disappointed and vexed gay supporters on Wednesday with his decision, conveyed to activists by a senior adviser, not to sign an executive order banning discrimination by employers with federal contracts.
The executive order, which activists said had support from the Labor and Justice Departments, would have applied to gay, bisexual and transgender people working for or seeking employment from federal contractors. Current law does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and legislation to do so, which Mr. Obama endorses, lacks sufficient votes in Congress.
Yesterday, President Obama informed us that that he was not prepared to question the patriotism or love of country of any of his political rivals. “I’m a firm believer that whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, that you’re a patriot, you care about this country, you love this country,” Obama said at a fundraiser in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “And so I’m not somebody who, when we’re in a political contest, suggests somehow that one side or the other has a monopoly on love of country.”
Except that he is.
The White House is still feeling heat from President Obama’s comments suggesting it would be “unprecedented” for the Supreme Court to overturn a law passed by Congress. And much of it has to do with the fact that the media is actually doing its job and calling the president out on his falsehoods:
During robust questioning when [White House Press Secretary Jay] Carney was told at one point that he had mischaracterized what the president had said, the press secretary was forced to repeatedly defend the remarks of his boss as an observation of fact.
“Since the 1930s the Supreme Court has without exception deferred to Congress when it comes to Congress’s authority to pass legislation to regulate matters of national economic importance such as health care, 80 years,” Carney said.
“He did not mean and did not suggest that … it would be unprecedented for the court to rule that a law was unconstitutional. That’s what the Supreme Court is there to do,” Carney said.
In a press conference on Monday, President Obama said, “I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or the lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. And I’m pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step.” Obama went on to say that the court would take an “unprecedented, extraordinary step” if it overturns the law because it was passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
Set aside the fact that the House, despite a huge Democratic majority, passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act by a margin of 219-212, hardly a “strong majority.” In fact, it barely qualifies as a plurality. Let’s turn instead to the substance of what the president said.
Presidential chutzpah. Well, at least you can admire him for that perhaps. After all, someone who graduated from Harvard Law School, edited the Harvard Law Review, and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School must be familiar with Marbury v. Madison. As Wikipedia explains, it’s an important case:
Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) is a landmark case in United States law and in the history of law worldwide. It formed the basis for the exercise of judicial review in the United States under Article III of the Constitution. It was also the first time in Western history a court invalidated a law by declaring it “unconstitutional.” The landmark decision helped define the boundary between the constitutionally separate executive and judicial branches of the American form of government.
The progressive movement – which I seem to remember accusing a certain general of betraying the country in a full-page New York Times ad a few years back – is suddenly apoplectic that Rep. Paul Ryan would dare suggest that Pentagon leadership may not be expressing their full reservations about President Obama’s defense budget cuts.
The Rachel Maddow blog slams Ryan’s “unbridled chutzpah,” and concludes:
And finally, there’s the biggest, most jaw-dropping angle of them all: Paul Ryan, who has never served in the military a day in his life, believes he knows better than the U.S. military leadership what funding levels are needed to “keep people safe.”
Amazing. Just amazing.