The House snuck in a few suspension bills early on, before diving back into the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill. It was another marathon session, and by late last night they debated some twenty-plus proposed amendments. Oh, let's see... there was one prohibiting the use of funds for defending court challenges to the Affordable Care Act. And one to prohibit the use of funds to litigate against any of state on behalf of the National Labor Relations Board pertaining to secret ballot union elections. And one to prohibit the use of funds by the Department of Justice to bring any action against any state for implementation of a state law requiring voter identification. And of course, one to prohibit the use of funds to implement a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act which allows miniature horses to be used as service animals. Gotta have that.
You get the idea, though. Minus that last one, maybe.
The Senate returned, at least technically, to the motion to proceed to the student loan bill. But they never did get around to reconsidering the cloture vote, which probably means there were some negotiations going on in the background, but no movement on votes. As a result, they had to fill their floor time with random debate, and a few non-controversial items passed by unanimous consent. Not much.
Looking ahead to today:
Another late, late night in the House left us without a schedule posted before midnight, but by the wee hours, the Majority Leader's site had something for us to go on. It looks like we can expect a brief break in the appropriations action, clearing the way for the budgetary shenanigans aimed at undoing the defense-related portion of those supposedly automatic, across-the-board spending cuts imposed by the debt ceiling deal from last August. At the beginning of the week, the schedule said that was supposed to come in the form of the "Sequester Replacement Act," and its sister bill, the "Sequester Replacement Reconciliation Act." But now, the two bills have been folded into one, and the reconciliation bill will be the one coming to the floor today.
And yes, I did say... RECONCILIATION!
Remember when it was all the (Republican) rage to pretend that reconciliation was the same thing as the "nuclear option"? Hilarious! But of course, it's all cool now. This despite the fact that normally, the authority to bring a reconciliation bill to the floor must arise from the adoption of a budget containing reconciliation instructions. Of course, no such budget has actually been adopted. But no matter. The Republicans "deemed" their budget passed last month. Remember? Well, that fake budget had reconciliation instructions in them. Only, we found out yesterday that the numbers were wrong, and they had to deem some new ones in there, by jamming a fix into the rule for the appropriations bill they're still working on.
So how about these last few weeks, huh? The insane Ryan budget, the return of "Demon Pass," and now the use of reconciliation without any actual authority for it, but doable because they deemed themselves authorized, and waived all the rules against bringing the bill to the floor. And just for good measure, the whole thing will be debated for just two hours, with no amendments allowed. Who'd have thunk it? Besides everyone in the whole damn world, that is.
Meanwhile, the whole thing is a farce anyway, since the deeming is only valid insofar as the House is concerned. The House can't deem anything for the Senate, and there's no indication the Senate has any interest in passing any of this crap. Besides which, reconciliation's magic is only really of interest in the Senate, since it's protected from the filibuster there (where it gets 20 hours of debate, by the way). The House never really needed special handling rules for reconciliation, because they could always make them up as they went along. But the special magical powers reconciliation has in the Senate have to be triggered by the adoption of reconciliation instructions in a budget resolution, and the Senate hasn't done that, and doesn't seem likely to do so. They certainly aren't interested in adopting the ones the House deemed them to have passed. So in the end, although House Republicans are breaking all the rules in order to pretend they have both a budget and a reconciliation bill, there's a whole other house of the Congress that knows it's all make believe, and to which none of this pixie dust bullshit applies.
The Senate, for its part, isn't even really entirely sure what they'll be up to today. The student loan bill?or rather, the motion to proceed to it?is still hanging out there. If Harry Reid has reason to believe there's been some movement on the votes, he retains the right to call for its reconsideration, since he switched his vote to "no" on the last attempt at cloture on this motion. (Any Senator who voted with the majority has the right to call for reconsideration.)
But absent any movement on cloture, Plan B is to take up the Export-Import Bank Reauthorization Act. I'm not sure offhand what the status of that bill is, and whether there would be any resistance to moving directly to consideration of the bill (as opposed to getting bogged down on a motion to proceed to it). But if the sun comes up in the East today, I think there's a good chance Republicans will say no to this one, too.
Whatever they do, it'll be done while they happily ignore the make-believe game going on in the House.
Today's floor and committee schedules appear below the fold.
Is anybody else as depressed as I am about the next four years?
No matter who wins, we face the prospect of bitterly divided government, savage partisanship in Congress, and increasing executive desperation. Even if Republicans win the Senate and retain the House, they will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate; even if Obama holds on to the White House, he will face filibusters in the Senate and outright defiance in the House. A Congress that cannot deal with the tiny student-debt problem in orderly fashion is unlikely to be able to tackle big problems at all.
The response to legislative paralysis is, of course, executive aggrandizement. Charlie Savage of The New York Times laid out recently the turn by the Obama administration to executive authority as its means of governing the country. It?s entirely predictable; legislative fecklessness has led to Presidential power-grabbing for more than a century. And if Mitt Romney becomes President, he is already poised to follow the trend?witness his announcement that he will simply suspend the Affordable Care Act by executive order, a claim of prerogative that would, I suspect, make even John Yoo wince.
It?s common to blame the Constitution?s structure for this recurring political train wreck. The President and the members of Congress are both chosen by voters, but there is no necessary connection between them. Local people can decide that they like both Congressman Mossback and President Jetson; nothing in the political structure forces them to note that their choices will devote the next two years to destroying the other rather than to governing. Mossback can block legislation and blame Jetson for not passing it; Jetson can flex executive muscles, knowing that a paralyzed Congress will be unable to pass a statute blocking him. Two, or four, years later, the voters will still have no idea who is to blame.
The Framers did not foresee the rise of a two-party system. As a result, the Constitution (unlike most twentieth-century constitutions) makes no provisions for party participation in government, or party accountability in policy. But their vision of disinterested, dispassionate demigods soberly debating the public good barely survived the Washington administration; the Founding generation itself descended into partisan warfare that compares in vitriol with what we face today. No amount of wishing will make party polarization go away?as Senator Richard Lugar learned this week. And amending the Constitution to tie parties more closely to responsibility would be a chancy and dangerous process.
But the Founding generation also found a work-around for this problem. Between 1800 and 1824, the national parties chose their presidential nominee by vote of a Congressional nominating caucus. Each member of Congress had one vote in his party?s caucus, and the winner was the standard-bearer. The result was a closer identification between parties on Capitol Hill and leaders in the White House, and greater ability to debate national issues during election season with the understanding that the winners would be expected to work together.
The lore of the political-party convention is so ingrained in the American mind by this point that it?s easy to imagine that the Federalist Party gathered in Philadelphia with brass bands to renominate John Adams in 1800, while the Jeffersonian Republicans partied in Richmond wearing Styrofoam WIN WITH TOM hats.
But the presidential nomination convention came into existence only in 1831, when the Anti-Masonic Party, which had virtually no congressional caucus, held a membership convention in Baltimore to unveil the doomed Wirt-Ellmaker ticket. The caucus itself, however, had died in 1824?an election cycle that produced the modern problem of divided government for the first time. The caucus died of crass political calculation. Everyone knew that the Democratic Republican caucus would be dominated by Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford, who had just been disabled by a stroke. By a bizarre coincidence, the other candidates suddenly discovered that the caucus system was undemocratic. John Quincy Adams said he would refuse the nomination because the system was ?adverse to the spirit of the Constitution and tending to corruption.? Also, he could not win it.
The election was fought by five candidates?Crawford, Adams, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun. When no candidate got an electoral majority, the House picked Adams, even though he finished behind Jackson in the popular vote. For the next four years, as historian Edward Pessen writes, Congressional supporters of Jackson ?had a marvelous pretext for mounting what was to be four years of incessant opposition to the Adams administration and all its works.? In 1828, Jackson drove Adams from office in an election that historian Lynn Hudson Parsons has called ?the birth of modern politics.? Jackson was the first ?modern? president in another way: as a representative of ?the people,? he insisted he could act on his own authority even absent constitutional authorization.
What if the members of today?s Congress had to pick their party?s nominee? The caucuses would, in effect, have to find candidates they respected, then step before the country and say, ?We can work with this candidate, and here?s what we will do together.? Voters would be on notice that each party had a plan of government if it gained power. Presidents would arrive in office with some skill in dealing with Congress, and some commitment to doing so. The pattern of congressional fecklessness and executive usurpation might be broken.
At this point, I suspect, the greatest threat to Obama?s re-election is not fear by his enemies of what he will do, but despair by his supporters that he will ever be able to do anything. A feeling may grow among swing voters that it is better to have a President who will govern badly than one who may not be able to govern at all. Of course, voters who choose Romney on this basis have no real guarantee he will do any better. He was certainly not the first choice of Republicans on the Hill, particularly of the Tea Party extremists. Even if he becomes President, a year from now the level of paralysis may be almost the same.
Much of what the foes of caucus nomination said in 1824 is true. It is undemocratic. It does open the way for unseemly insider dealing. It would of course be better to have a system in which candidates are selected by the people after a democratic nomination process, the two candidates conduct a fair, issue-oriented campaign, and members of Congress arrive in Washington to work together for the common good.
But as Bob and Ray used to say, ?I bet you believe in the Tooth Fairy too.? The current state of our politics is so wretched that a sordid drama of congressional intrigue would seem by comparison like an assembly of the gods. Maybe it?s time to rethink our approach. The caucus system resulted in the election of three good presidents, and in a political climate that came to be known as ?the era of good feeling.? We who live in ?the era of I-Hate-You-And-Everybody-Who-Looks-Like-You? ought at least to take another look at their solution.
From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE?
5 4 3 2 1 month 'til Netroots Nation!!!
With only 28 days 'til the convention in Providence, you can almost hear the packing of the steamer trunks. Here's your weekly update:
(And because someone always asks: Cuckolds is the name of our favorite lighthouse. Awww...)
Oh, and just to be clear: I call dibs on the top bunk.
Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]
Our planet?s supply of clean drinking water is dwindling, and lack of clean water is one of the many environmental problems looming in our future. Industrial and agricultural contamination, over use, and population growth threaten to make water as scarce and valuable as oil. So, it?s heartening to learn that a small company in France, [...]Related posts:
The most gleeful and the most bitter reactions to Obama's same sex marriage shift.[...]
Read The Full Article:
Someone sent me a link to an organization I had not previously heard of. It’s called the State Government Leadership Foundation, and it sounds a lot like ALEC. It takes positions and offers policy advice on many different issues, all from a conservative point of view. After much scouring of the site, I discovered that SGLI is a 501(c)(4) organization associated with the Republican State Leadership Committee.
Want the scoop on hot races around the country? Get the digest emailed to you each weekday morning. Sign up here.Leading Off:
? FL-16: Much of the grey cloud that hangs over Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan's head has to do with the House Ethics Committee pursuing him over campaign finance violations, and indeed on Wednesday, the panel voted 6-0 to expand their ongoing investigation because "there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Buchanan attempted to influence the testimony of a witness in a proceeding before the FEC in violation" of federal law and congressional rules. The full report is available here (PDF). The picture looks pretty bad for ol' Vern, and remember, this is on top of a separate House ethics inquiry into Buchanan's allegedly incomplete personal financial disclosure and further on top of a joint FBI/IRS probe into his business dealings and campaign finances.
But that's still not all: Buchanan is also getting a roasting in the local media over a topic that may be more resonant to everyday news viewers: thousands of purportedly fraudulent transactions at the network of auto dealerships that Buchanan owns. Consumer advocates point to former employees and customers who've allegedly forged signatures on loan docs and falsified loan application data, all in the interest of closing more deals. (David Nir & David Jarman)
Mitt Romney displayed a flash of tempter during an interview with a local CBS affilate in Denver today, interrupting and scolding a reporter for asking questions about same sex marriage and civil unions, the DREAM Act, and medical Marijuana. Romney fielded several questions about gay marriage in light of President Obama’s historic announcement today, but after a series of questions on the issue and the DREAM Act, CBS 4 reporter Shaun Boyd asked Romney about his stance on medical pot, which is legal in Colorado, and Romney bristled, suggesting that the issues weren’t of “significance.”
“Aren’t there — aren’t there issues of significance that you’d like to talk about?” he said, cutting off her question. “This is a significant issue in Colorado,” she replied. “We’ve got enormous issues that we face, but you want talk about — go ahead — you want to talk about Marijuana?” Romney said, sounding a bit exasperated. Romney explained that he wanted to talk about national issues like the economy and Iran. You can watch the interview HERE.
Millions of employers fail to claim healthcare tax credit: “Millions of small businesses failed to claim tax credits they could have received under President Obama?s healthcare law, according to a new report from the advocacy group Families USA.” [The Hill]
Lawmakers propose a permanent ‘doc fix’: “Reps. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) and Joe Heck (R-NV) introduced a bill Wednesday to reform how Medicare pays healthcare providers and to avoid a cut to reimbursement rates on Jan. 1.” [The Hill]
If individual mandate is overturned, states still have lots of options: “No individual mandate? No problem. That’s the attitude of some state health care officials who are bracing for a Supreme Court decision expected in June, a ruling that could overturn some components of the Affordable Care Act and national health care reform, including the individual mandate.” [California Healthline]
Birth control coverage ban ruled unconstitutional: “A Montana judge has struck down the state’s ban on prescription birth control coverage for teenage girls enrolled in its low-income health insurance program.” [AP]
Republicans find lots to love in PhRMA: “Even though the pharmaceutical trade group was the first industry group to make a deal with the Obama administration to support health reform, Republicans are working hard to fast-track the passage of the industry?s top legislative priority ? the reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration ?user fee? bill that regulates drug approvals.” [Politico]
Senate Democrats urge protection of public-health fund: “Six Senate Democrats are urging the chamber’s leaders to make a stand against a Republican measure that would eliminate the healthcare reform law’s public health and prevention fund in order to freeze student loan rates. The Democrats’ pleas came in a letter to Senate leaders after their party failed on a procedural vote to advance an approach to a student loan fix that relies on raising payroll taxes for some higher-income earners.” [Modern Healthcare]
Welcome to Justiceline, ThinkProgress Justice?s morning round-up of the latest legal news and developments. Remember to follow us on Twitter at @TPJustice