Posts Tagged Senate
House Republicans spent most of their time over the last three years reminding Americans that Senate Democrats hadn’t passed a budget in two, then three, then four years. It was a regular Republican talking point, a particular favorite of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s. But now that the Senate has returned to regular order by passing a budget, House Republicans are refusing to come to the table to negotiate a long-term spending plan.
Republicans passed their own budget, the plan Ryan authored, in March, and since the proposal differs from the Senate budget, regular order requires the two chambers to come together in conference to iron out their differences in a compromise budget that is then taken back to the full memberships of each house. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has hinted at forming such a conference for more than a week, but Republicans have shown no willingness to join him. This morning, Senate Republicans blocked Reid from creating a conference committee, a move that led Reid to accuse them of turning “a complete 180″:
“,” Reid said.
He noted that Republicans have called for “regular order” for years.
,” Reid said.
The GOP offered numerous excuses for why they wouldn’t approve a conference, including that certain rules need to be worked out. Ryan and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R), the ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, have said they need to agree to “framework” for a deal to make a compromise more likely.
What that “framework” would need to be to get Republicans to agree to conference, however, is clear: a deal that cuts spending but includes no new tax revenue. That has been a consistent GOP demand throughout budget and spending fights over the last three years, a sticking point that has brought the government to the brink of both shutdown and default. It’s also a concession Democrats and President Obama are unwilling to make, given that they have already agreed to nearly $2.5 trillion in spending cuts while receiving little revenue in exchange. Any new deal, in fact, would have to achieve 90 percent of its deficit reduction from tax revenue to balance the overall reductions achieved in the last four years.
- After Demanding Senate Pass A Budget, GOP Refuses To Enter Budget Negotiations (thinkprogress.org.feedsportal.com)
- Dems try to turn budget fight back against GOP (firstread.nbcnews.com)
- Reid calls for regular budget order (politico.com)
- Republicans Object to Reid’s Call for Budget Negotiating Committee (thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Budget Conference on Ice (blogs.wsj.com)
- Why Republicans Suddenly Became Afraid Of Their Own Budget Shadow (tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com)
- Wonkbook: Reid wants to call Republicans’ budget bluff (eezzbeat.newsvine.com)
- How The GOP Demand For A Democratic Budget Just Backfired Big Time | TPMDC (brite.newsvine.com)
- GOP’s Budget Lies Exposed (boomantribune.com)
- Reid: Action on sequester priority (upi.com)
Is Constant Obstruction in Congress Putting Our Republic at Risk?
When legislatures stop functioning, executive branches tend to grab power in order to “save the Republic.”
March 6, 2013
When a government lacks the authority or the ability to govern effectively, to meet the urgent needs of its citizens, history has shown it will not long survive. There will be resistance, civil unrest, and if the government cannot respond, revolution.
Most Americans would say it can’t happen here. Our government has been relatively effective and stable for over 200 years. We are, however, the exception when compared to the 30 developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa that have established constitutions based on separation of powers
All of these countries have had frequent breakdowns by coup d’etat or revolution ending in despotism. Typically, these breakdowns begin with a legislative branch that fails to act or actively obstructs badly needed legislation. When this happens, the president may act to accomplish what he deems are much-needed policy objectives using his executive power. This may start as a genuine effort to preserve a functioning government, but it can easily evolve into an abuse of power, which descends into a usurpation of power and then the dissolution of the legislature and dictatorship.
We may be seeing the beginnings of such a pattern in the United States. The series of manufactured crises, from the debt ceiling debacle to the sequester are indicators of a failing system. Congress is certainly in trouble when root canals, head lice and cockroaches are viewed more favorably, according to a recent PPP poll. (To be fair, Congress did beat out gonorrhea, meth labs and North Korea, and the cockroaches had just a slim two-point advantage.) Overall, Congress had only a 9 percent favorable rating with 85 percent unfavorable.
While the poll provided great fodder for comedians, the disgust with Congress has much larger implications for all of us. In our government, the principle of separation of powers makes Congress a co-equal partner with the President in governing our nation. If Congress fails to function in its constitutional role to set policy, approve spending, raise taxes, advise and consent to presidential appointments, oversee the results of its actions and hold the executive accountable, our system of government is impaired. If the dysfunction lasts long enough, the republic itself could eventually fail, as has happened in all other systems with similar constitutions.
When the President and at least one house of the Congress are of different parties, it may be hard to accept that both have a responsibility for governing, not just for obstruction. The recently ended 112th Congress operated more like those third-world legislatures that led to the demise of their elected governments. They passed the fewest bills of any Congress since World War II. The House wasted time on futile gestures such as voting 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Their self-created “crisis” over the debt ceiling damaged the economic recovery, which was just gaining steam, and caused a drop in our credit rating. The 113th Congress appears to be following a similar path as the current refusal to deal with the sequester threatens to throw the economy back into recession.
The Senate minority has filibustered virtually every significant bill or presidential appointment. The House simply refuses to legislate at all. The federal bench was damaged due to the number of judicial appointments being delayed by holds or filibusters. The holds by individual senators and the filibusters were intended only to obstruct as no alternatives were put forward – when they ended, often large bipartisan majorities have approved appointees.
It is truly urgent that members of Congress take action to protect and preserve the institution. Changing the filibuster rule in the Senate, so that not everything requires 60 votes would have been a positive step, but key senators did not want to give up their individual power despite the damage being done to the institution by endless obstruction. This rule, which is not part of the original constitution, allows minority control of the Senate. When abused, the institution’s governing responsibilities cannot be exercised.
The Senate has so many arcane procedural rules, it has long required “unanimous consent” to move even the most routine business forward. This requires trust, reciprocity and collegiality – something that is missing from the Senate today. Every procedural step, every appointment, every bill is now subject to a filibuster. The business of the country is held hostage or sacrificed entirely to the whims of a single Senator or a disciplined minority.
The House has also given great power to a minority of its members. Since the 1990s, House Republicans have used a rule, created by former Speaker Dennis Hastert, that nothing would be brought to the floor for a vote unless a majority of the majority party supports it. This has allowed a small but vigorous minority within the majority to block needed action.
Thus in both houses, small, often uncompromising minorities can block the will of the majority preventing our government from dealing with the serious issues we confront. Meanwhile, the slow recovery and continuing high unemployment is caused by Congress’s refusal to take action on numerous jobs and infrastructure bills. The Congressional Budget Office makes this point in its report, “The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2013 to 2023.”
The legislative gridlock has led to calls for the President to take more executive action to get things done. It was even suggested by a prominent journalist that the President ignore the sequester law and act on the basis of his role as Commander-in-Chief of the military — in other words, like a dictator. Here is Bob Woodward, speaking during the February 27 “Morning Joe” program:
“Can you imagine Ronald Reagan sitting there saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I can’t do this because of some budget document?’” Woodward said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Or George W. Bush saying, ‘You know, I’m not gonna invade Iraq, because I can’t get the aircraft carriers I need?’ Or even Bill Clinton saying, ‘You know, I’m not going to attack Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters’ — as he did when Clinton was President — because of some budget document? Under the Constitution, the President is Commander-in-Chief and employs the force. And so we now have the President going out, because of this piece of paper and this agreement, I can’t do what I need to do to protect the country. That’s a kind of madness that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Let’s be clear. This is a member of the elite media establishment telling the President that a law passed by Congress and signed by him can and should be ignored. This is how it begins.
The temptation of power is real, and so far we have been lucky to have had presidents who resisted that temptation. Now we have a President being excoriated for obeying the law, even though he has made clear he believes the actions required under the law are wrong and damaging to our country.
This President gives every indication that he will follow the Constitution and the laws as enacted by Congress, even though the actions (or inactions) of Congress are putting the country at risk. As the dysfunction continues, the damages mount, and the press and public call for action, can this President or some future President resist the temptation to ignore Congress and act on his own to “save the Republic?”
We should not count on executive restraint. It’s time for members of Congress to recognize their responsibility to govern. By refusing to talk to the President, to negotiate with the President – or with each other – or to allow votes on legislation, they are contributing to the disgust people feel toward their government, especially the Congress. It is strange how some members of Congress claim to revere the Constitution but hate the government it created.
The separation of powers was designed to prevent the abuse of power by safeguarding the interests of minorities. It has worked well to accomplish that goal, but the Founders did not anticipate the growing need of modern governments to provide effective policy leadership and implementation over a wide range of extremely complex issues. Minority rule rather than majority tyranny has too often prevented large majorities from acting. The result is gridlock and self-generated “crises” while important issues go unresolved. The separation of powers has thus far protected our liberties, but these will be small comfort if our democracy collapses in the face of problems it cannot or will not solve due to implacable minorities who block any attempt at solution.
- What did the RandPaulibuster tell us about filibuster reform? (washingtonpost.com)
- Filibuster Abuse (robertlindsay.wordpress.com)
- The Sequester as a Tea Party Plot | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Filibusters (brainiac-conspiracy.typepad.com)
- Bipartisan Senate filibuster challenges Brennan CIA nomination (constitutioncampaign.org)
- No More Excuses: Soaring Market Latest Evidence of Need to Tax Wall Street | Alternet (robertlopez144.wordpress.com)
- Filibusted? (niallbarron.wordpress.com)
- Editorial: Filibuster on Hagel irresponsible (journalstar.com)
- Rand Paul and the Filibuster (lewrockwell.com)
- Sen. Jeff Merkley on the filibuster deal: ‘There are two pieces I’m excited about’ (washingtonpost.com)
Obama sends warning shot to Republicans on debt-ceiling increase
President Obama on Saturday sent a cautionary note to GOP leaders ahead of the looming debt-ceiling debate, warning the Republicans that anything but a timely hike in the nation’s borrowing cap represents a “dangerous game” that threatens the economy both at home and abroad.
In his weekly radio address to the country, Obama urged GOP leaders to support a drama-free increase in the debt limit, and tackle the issues of spending, revenues and entitlements in a separate context.
“As I said earlier this week, one thing I will not compromise over is whether or not Congress should pay the tab for a bill they’ve already racked up,” Obama said from Honolulu, Hawaii, where he’s vacationing. “If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic.
“The last time Congress threatened this course of action, our entire economy suffered for it,” he added, referring to the protracted debt-ceiling debate in 2011. “Our families and our businesses cannot afford that dangerous game again.”
The debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling is shaping up to be the next big, partisan fight in a string of high-stakes budget battles that are threatening to consume most of the political oxygen in the early stages of the 113th Congress. The Treasury Department reached its $16.4 trillion debt ceiling on Monday, but the agency has said it can shuffle funds to pay its obligations for roughly two months, setting the stage for a showdown as March approaches.
Behind Obama, the Democrats want a clean debt-ceiling hike without the burden of extraneous budget provisions that could prolong the debate and scare the markets. Republicans, on the other hand, view the debt-ceiling hike as a rare leverage point in their effort to win significant spending cuts from the Democrats.
In the summer of 2011, the GOP won $2.1 trillion in spending reductions in exchange for a debt-ceiling increase of the same amount, and they want this year’s package to contain a similar balance.
In a closed-door meeting Friday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his conference that he’ll insist that a debt-limit hike be accompanied by spending cuts, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sounded a similar note.
“Now that the House and Senate have acted in a bipartisan way to prevent tax increases on 99 percent of the American people, Democrats now have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to join Republicans in a serious effort to reduce Washington’s out-of-control spending,” McConnell said Wednesday.
Obama, meanwhile, says he also wants more spending cuts, just not as a part of the debt-ceiling bill. On Saturday, the president vowed to seek a grand bargain on deficit reduction that includes significant cuts – as the Republicans are demanding – but also new tax revenues.
“I believe we can find more places to cut spending without shortchanging things like education, job training, research and technology all which are critical to our prosperity in a 21st-century economy,” Obama said. “But spending cuts must be balanced with more reforms to our tax code. The wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations shouldn’t be able to take advantage of loopholes and deductions that aren’t available to most Americans.”
Obama also hinted at some of the non-fiscal issues he’ll be pushing in the new Congress, including thorny matters like climate change, immigration reform and gun policy that foreshadow additional partisan battles this year.
“Fixing our infrastructure and our immigration system, promoting our energy independence while protecting our planet from the harmful effects of climate change, educating our children and shielding them from the horrors of gun violence – these aren’t just things we should do,” Obama said. “They’re things we must do.”
- Debt ceiling dance (susiemadrak.com)
- Pelosi favors use of 14th Amendment to avoid another debt-ceiling crisis (thehill.com)
- Obama: Not Playing This Debt Ceiling Game Again (txwclp.org)
- Pelosi on Raising Debt Ceiling Unilaterally: ‘I Would Do It in a Second, But I’m Not the President’ (cnsnews.com)
- Schumer: Dems Won’t Negotiate With GOP On Debt Ceiling (tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com)
- Pelosi: Of course I support giving Obama “unilateral control” to hike the debt ceiling (hotair.com)
- Really? – Tea Party Nation (gds44.wordpress.com)
- Republican Senator: GOP Should Hold Debt Ceiling Hostage As Leverage For Medicare Cuts (thinkprogress.org)
- Obama: Give Me Debt Ceiling Power Or I’ll Veto My Own Tax Proposal (freedomoutpost.com)
- Newt warns GOP on debt ceiling (politico.com)
The last forty-eight hours have been a complete failure for the Republican Party leadership in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House and scores of their members. With a clear majority in the House of Representatives 85 Republicans voted for a $620 billion tax increase on all Americans. In the Senate, only five Republicans stood their ground and voted against the bill…five! The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says that the “Fiscal Cliff Compromise” will raise taxes on 77.1 percent of Americans. What is the Republican leadership in Congress doing, and do they stand for anything anymore?
As Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said on New Year’s Eve, and who ultimately voted against this flawed piece of legislation, “Not only are they raising taxes — maybe on a smaller percentage of people but a large amount of money — they’re also going to spend more money…So it’s a spending bill.”
America has a spending problem not a revenue problem. With the passage of this “compromise” the Congressional Budget Office projects that the federal government’s spending will actually increase by $330 billion over ten years. To put it in even starker terms, for every$1 in spending cuts $41 is generated in tax increases. A real compromise would have included entitlement reform and meaningful cuts in all federal spending programs across the board.
So how did we get here? Since the failure of the “Super Committee” in the fall of 2011, thanks to President Obama’s jihad against successful people, a ticking time bomb was set in motion where a number of tax increases and unsavory defense cuts would go into effect on January 1, 2013. Congress waited to the last possible second to come to a resolution. The House of Representatives did pass a number of bills that alleviated pressure from the “Fiscal Cliff” but those pieces of legislation died in the Democrat controlled Senate. Harry Reid and President Obama skillfully played Republicans by using the hourglass to their advantage and forcing this bad piece of legislation through Congress in the dead of the night.
To be an honest broker, one also has to fault the failed presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. The Romney Campaign chose not to make the “Fiscal Cliff” a central theme of the campaign. If they had a detailed plan, they did not make it public and by doing so the campaign and the Republican Party lost the message war to the Obama campaign in the fall.
So where do we go from here? Thankfully Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell did not give the whole store away and cede control of the debt ceiling to President Obama. In two months Republicans in Congress will have a chance to redeem themselves in holding the line on spending when it comes to our $16 trillion plus national debt.
Republicans in both the Senate and the House must aggressively cut government spending. Punting yet again is not an option after the fiasco of the “compromise” that passed last night. Our debt is out-of-control and future generations of Americans depend on what will happen in Washington in the near future. When will America’s leaders show courage to tackle entitlement reform?
- U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’ deal passage ends standoff (thehindu.com)
- Congress approves fiscal cliff deal (bizjournals.com)
- U.S. House joins Senate in voting to clear fiscal cliff bill (vancouversun.com)
- House Republicans clear way for fiscal cliff vote (thehindu.com)
- Congress staves off ‘fiscal cliff’ of tax hikes (thehindu.com)
- Cliff avoided: Congress staves off tax hikes (cnsnews.com)
- Congress OKs cliff deal‚ signaling future fights (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Fiscal cliff deal under threat from hardline conservative Republicans (guardian.co.uk)
- US Senate approves ‘fiscal cliff’ deal‚ crisis eased (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Congress’ deal signals future fights (toledoblade.com)
JANUARY 1, 2013
WASHINGTON CELEBRATES SOLVING TOTALLY UNNECESSARY CRISIS THEY CREATED
POSTED BY ANDY BOROWITZ
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Official Washington was in celebration mode on New Year’s Day after kind of averting a completely unnecessary crisis that was entirely of its own creation.
“This deal proves that if we all procrastinate long and hard enough, we can semi-solve any self-inflicted problem at the very last minute in a way that satisfies no one,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).
But even as Sen. McConnell basked in self-congratulation, he warned Congress against the complacency that could come with having sort of fixed its own completely avoidable mess.
“This is a new year, and much work remains to be done,” he said. “It’s up to us to concoct entirely new optional disasters that we will have to undo at some later date in a more or less half-assed way.”
In a related story, an arsonist received an award for putting out his own fire.
- Senate Outraged at Having to Work Weekend to Save Nation : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- Al Qaeda Defers to U.S. Congress : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- Boehner: Obama Needs to Stop Acting Like He Won Election : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- Andy Borowitz understands Senator McConnell (prairieweather.typepad.com)
- Fiscal Cliff: It’s Biden, McConnell to the Rescue Again (independent.co.uk)
- Billionaires Warn Higher Taxes Could Prevent Them From Buying Politicians : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- A Holiday Letter from John Boehner : The New Yorker (tribuneofthepeople.com)
- The Republicans’ Closing Argument : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- Mitch McConnell: Fiscal Cliff Deal Is Close (huffingtonpost.com)
- Sen. Mitch McConnell: ‘I need a dance partner’ to solve fiscal cliff (rawstory.com)
DECEMBER 30, 2012
SENATE OUTRAGED AT HAVING TO WORK WEEKEND TO SAVE NATION
POSTED BY ANDY BOROWITZ
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Howls of protest filled the halls of the U.S. Senate today as dozens of Senators expressed their outrage at having to work through the weekend to save the United States from financial Armageddon.
“We’re hearing a lot about the country plunging back into recession and millions of people being thrown out of work,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). “What we’re not hearing much about is how our Sunday is being completely and irrevocably ruined.”
Senator McConnell said that when President Obama called the Senate back to work on a budget deal this weekend, “At first I thought he was kidding. Not only have I never worked on a weekend, I’ve never met anyone who’s done such a damn fool thing.”
The Senate Minority Leader added that “if saving this country means working Saturday and Sunday, then I’m not sure this is a country worth saving.”
“Yes, I know that the fiscal cliff is a ticking time bomb that could destroy the U.S. economy for years to come and take the rest of the world with it,” he said. “I also know that Sunday is Week seventeen of the N.F.L. season and now I’m missing all my games.”
Mr. McConnell said that while “saving the nation may be important to be some people,” he worries that forcing the Senate to work on a weekend is setting a dangerous precedent.
“For years, people have run for Congress because they knew that serving here was synonymous with not working,” he said. “If that’s going to change all of a sudden, a lot of us are going to feel very betrayed.”
- Senate Outraged at Having to Work Weekend to Save Nation (jimdent.newsvine.com)
- Andy Borowitz understands Senator McConnell (prairieweather.typepad.com)
- Al Qaeda Defers to U.S. Congress : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- Boehner: Obama Needs to Stop Acting Like He Won Election : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- With hours remaining, fiscal deal uncertain (news.yahoo.com)
- The Republicans’ Moment of Truth – The Daily Beast (mbcalyn.com)
- Obama daring Senate Republicans to filibuster fiscal cliff bill (blogs.suntimes.com)
- If cut, fiscal deal will pale against expectations (nzherald.co.nz)
- Obama to weigh in on fiscal cliff as hours dwindle on compromise (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- Fiscal follies – Fiscal Cliff hanger winds toward Sunday ” Do or Die ” sessions in Congress …… (fredw-catharsisours.blogspot.com)
The Republicans’ Moment of Truth
by Michael Tomasky Dec 28, 2012 11:00 PM EST
We’re going to learn a lot about the post-election GOP this weekend, says Michael Tomasky.
Barack Obama sounded reasonably confident Friday evening that a deal can still be reached. But it’s his job to sound optimistic, and not to anger Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. Happily, that’s not part of my portfolio, so I’m free to say that the question that still looms over the eleventh-hour fiscal cliff negotiations this weekend is a simple one: Will McConnell and Boehner allow votes on any last-minute deal? A more emphatic way of phrasing it is, will they finally put the country ahead of their party for a change, and ahead of their party’s unaltered view that any posture toward Obama other than belligerence equals capitulation to an enemy? That’s all that matters here. They both have the power to permit a deal, at least on taxes. The question is whether they’ll allow it. We’re going to learn a lot about the post-election Republican Party this weekend.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on ongoing “fiscal cliff” negotiations during press conference in Washington, DC, Dec. 19, 2012 . (Win McNamee / Getty)
Let’s start with McConnell. Obama said Friday night that McConnell and Harry Reid were working on the details of deal that both could agree on. Well, that would be peachy, but count me skeptical, and a bit mystified as to what that deal would be. Would McConnell really be willing to raise taxes on dollars earned above, say, $400,000, the compromise figure mentioned lately? That’s a violation of the “principle” of no new taxes as surely as the $250,000 level is. I’m not sure why McConnell would suddenly be open to this. Maybe the prospect of having to face Ashley Judd in November 2014 worries him a little more than he’s letting on.
But even if he is, then we must ask about the other 46 Republicans. Matters can come to the Senate floor for a quick vote only under a “unanimous consent” rule, which means that every single senator needs to agree to allow it to do so. One senator can say no and end the whole process. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and several others are obviously prime candidates to object to unanimous consent. McConnell could prevent such moves if he really wants to. So let’s see if he does.
More dramatically, of course, there’s the question of the filibuster. As I assume you know, any bill needs 60 Senate votes, not a simple majority of 51, to end debate and proceed to a final up-or-down vote. The Republicans, now numbering 47, could filibuster anything they wish. And in this particular case, there’s an extra wrinkle. Under Senate rules, debate on any matter starts to wind toward its end when a “cloture motion” is filed, a petition signed by 16 senators expressing the wish to end debate. From that moment, the rules call for 30 more hours of debate (read this if you’re interested in all this). As of Saturday morning, there are only 72 hours left in the year. But since senators need to sleep and eat and raise money, and since every hour is not a working hour, it’s possible that the year could end before the cloture clock runs out.
In other words: McConnell can negotiate in quasi-good faith with Reid up to a point, but only up to a point. If his crazies rise up against him, they have any number of ways of blocking progress, and he can say, “Hey, it wasn’t me, I did what I could,” and he walks away.
Wrong. It comes to the House for a vote if Boehner decides to permit a vote. But he and the Republicans operate under the “Hastert Rule,” announced by then-Speaker Denny Hastert and now followed by Boehner, that no bill can come to the floor of the House unless it has the support of “a majority of the majority,” or a majority of Republicans. Obviously, any deal approved by Obama and Reid will not get that level of support, even with McConnell’s imprimatur.
I wrote about this in early December, predicting that this unwritten (and unspoken, at least by Boehner) rule would prove to be the real killer, and I see no reason to think I’m wrong, especially with the vote for the next House speaker looming on January 3. If Boehner were to permit a Senate- and Obama-approved bill to come to the House floor, and if somehow it were to pass with about 190 Democrats and 30 Republicans (a big if, that latter number), the right-wing fury against him would be boundless, and he could kiss his speakership goodbye.
So this all falls entirely on the shoulders of McConnell and Boehner. Obama, if The New York Times scoop was right yesterday about the new terms he put on the table, has done plenty of compromising, especially for the guy who won the election. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are behind him. So the Democrats are ready to play ball.
The only thing the Republicans are ready to play, as usual, is roulette, with the cocked gun against the country’s temple, unfortunately, and not their own. It’s worth taking a moment in this context to consider: Never have the priorities for survival and success of a major party’s Washington politicians been so utterly at odds with the priorities required for the country’s survival and success. These Washington Republicans represent the one-third of the country that hates government, despises Obama, and considers obstruction victory.
The rational two-thirds wants compromise, good-faith bargaining, higher taxes on the wealthy, a reasonably strong safety net, and lower defense spending. But the obstructionist one-third wants the opposite. McConnell and Boehner aren’t ideologically committed to that one-third in the way that Jim DeMint and Paul Ryan are, but so far, they have never once stood up to it for the country’s sake. We’ll find out this weekend who they really are.
- The GOP’s Moment of Truth (realclearpolitics.com)
- Analysis: For Senate leaders, a mission impossible from Obama (news.yahoo.com)
- Republican Leaders Wait For Action From Obama, Democrats On Fiscal Cliff (huffingtonpost.com)
- Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Continue (huffingtonpost.com)
- Republicans Continue to Stare Into the Abyss, But Nothing Stares Back (motherjones.com)
- For Senate, a ‘mission impossible’ from Obama? (capitolhillblue.com)
- Exclusive: McConnell Calls Out Obama’s Negotiation Charade (breitbart.com)
- Lawmakers to Hold Weekend Talks on Averting Budget Change – Businessweek (businessweek.com)
- ‘Optimistic’ Obama asks Senate to forge fiscal cliff deal (firstread.nbcnews.com)
- Analysis: For Senate leaders, a mission impossible from Obama – Reuters (reuters.com)
Optimism for fiscal deal grows ahead of White House meeting
By Alexander Bolton - 12/28/12 12:09 PM ET
Senators are growing more optimistic of a deal to avoid part of the fiscal cliff as Senate Republican Mitch McConnell (Ky.) works with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama to craft a last-minute deal.
The president will meet with McConnell, Reid, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) at the White House at 3 p.m. Friday.
Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said the White House meeting could accelerate negotiations among the president and Senate leaders.
“I don’t think much comes out of this meeting per se, but the preparation for the meeting and some of the things that are said in it could cause case other conversations to occur. That is generally the way these things work,” he said.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, said on the “Today” show Friday that leaders are closer to a potential deal than many people in Washington think.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said if McConnell wants to raise the threshold for extending the Bush-era income tax rates to $400,000 — up from the $250,000 cutoff Obama campaigned on — Democrats would like to see unemployment insurance benefits, a freeze in scheduled cuts to doctors’ Medicare payments, and a package of “tax extenders” added to it. The tax-extender package would address expiring business and renewable energy tax breaks.
Addressing the estate tax rate could be the key to getting Republican and centrist Democratic support for higher income taxes. The estate tax is now set at 35 percent with an exemption of $5 million per spouse. It will leap to 55 percent without congressional action. If a last-minute tax deal extends the estate tax rate at 35 percent or a level lower than the 45 percent rate proposed by the Democratic leadership, it could draw strong Republican support, say GOP senators.
A Democratic aide said any tax package hammered out over the next three days could be the last chance for months to address the estate tax. Democratic senators will discuss what to support at a lunch meeting Friday afternoon.
Republican senators say Boehner is likely to support any deal that attracts broad endorsement from the Senate Republican conference.
Asked if there’s any scenario in which the Senate will agree to something that Boehner would not agree to, Kyl said: “I think that is pretty unlikely. Our effort here is to try and get a result. If you know the House isn’t going to do something than why go through the charade? Then it becomes political gamesmanship.”
“We have said now for quite a long time that the time for that is over. We have to get to a result here. I think everybody recognizes that we are either going to get something in the next few hours or not. There is no more posturing time left,” he added.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) has prepared several backup tax proposals in case Congress goes over the fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, said a Senate aide.
Baucus has worked out these measures as part of an ongoing effort to avoid the fiscal cliff, not in anticipation of President Obama and congressional leaders failing to reach agreement, the aide emphasized.
“He has a number of things he can pull off the bookshelf and insert as needed,” said the aide.
Any legislation introduced after Congress went over the fiscal cliff would have to be tweaked depending on the circumstances.
Senate Finance panel members say Baucus has been preparing policy alternatives for weeks.
“Chairman Baucus has long been talking with Finance members about various ways to proceed,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the committee. “One of the advantages that the Finance Committee provides here is because we’ve looked at a variety of different options, when there’s discussion about a particular course, the Finance Committee, which has worked on a lot of these issues, can in effect dial in numbers.”
- New Fiscal Crisis Talks Set, but Hopes Are Low – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- As Fiscal Deadline Looms, Path to Deal Remains Unclear – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- How The ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Affects You (wspa.com)
- Meeting planned on bridging ‘fiscal cliff’ as deadline looms – Buffalo News (buffalonews.com)
- White House Meeting a Last Stab at a Fiscal Deal – ABC News (abcnews.go.com)
- McConnell to review new Obama ‘cliff’ plan (upi.com)
- Obama pushes for fiscal cliff breakthrough in White House talks (guardian.co.uk)
- Obama Said to Plan Offer of Scaled-Back Budget Package Today – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Cliff Notes: Five things to watch at today’s White House meeting (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- Fiscal cliff deal increasingly unlikely (politico.com)
Senators to Return With 5 Days Left and No Clear Fiscal Path
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Published: December 26, 2012
WASHINGTON — With just five days left to make a deal, President Obama and members of the Senate were set to return to Washington on Thursday with no clear path out of their fiscal morass even as the Treasury Department warned that the government will soon be unable to pay its bills unless Congress acts.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, adding to the building tension over how to handle a year-end pileup of threatened tax increases and spending cuts, formally notified Congress on Wednesday that the government would hit its statutory borrowing limit on Monday, raising anew the threat of a federal default as the two parties remained in a standoff.
Mr. Geithner wrote that he would take “extraordinary measures” to keep the government afloat but said that with so much uncertainty over the shape of the tax code and future government spending he did not know how long the Treasury could shuffle accounts before the government could no longer pay its creditors.
For months, President Obama, members of Congress of both parties and top economists have warned that the nation’s fragile economy could be swept back into recession if the two parties did not come to a post-election compromise on January’s combination of tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts.
Yet with days left before the fiscal punch lands, both sides are exhibiting little sense of urgency, and new public statements Wednesday appeared to be designed more to ensure the other side is blamed rather than to foster progress toward a deal.
After a high-level telephone conference call, House Republican leaders called on the Senate to act but opened the door to bringing to the House floor any last-minute legislation the Senate could produce.
“The House will take this action on whatever the Senate can pass, but the Senate first must act,” said the statement issued on behalf of Speaker John A. Boehner and his three top lieutenants.
But Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, instead called on House Republicans to pass an existing Senate measure that would prevent tax increases on household income up to $250,000. “The Senate has already rejected House Republicans’ Tea Party bills, and no further legislation can move through the Senate until Republicans drop their knee-jerk obstruction,” he said in a statement.
Senators will return to the Capitol on Thursday evening with nothing yet to consider. The series of votes waiting for them are unrelated to the fiscal deadline. The House will be gaveled into session at 2 p.m., but since Mr. Boehner has not called the members back to Washington, it will most likely be gaveled back into recess shortly thereafter.
The shift to the Senate has focused new attention on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a deal-making veteran. Democrats say they need assurances from Mr. McConnell that he will not use procedural tactics to delay any potential bill for an interim solution to avert the fiscal crisis.
But Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, said no one from the White House or from Mr. Reid’s office has reached out to begin negotiations. Democrats say that Mr. McConnell knows full well what they are proposing: the same Senate bill that passed in July extending all the expiring Bush-era income tax cuts on incomes below $250,000, setting the tax rate on dividends and capital gains at 20 percent, and stopping thealternative minimum tax from rising to hit more middle class taxpayers. Onto that, Democrats would like to add an extension of expiring unemployment benefits and a delay in across-the-board spending cuts while negotiations on a broader deficit reduction plan slips into next year.
Democrats now suggest that Republicans are content to wait until after the January deadline. On Jan. 3, Mr. Boehner is likely to be re-elected speaker for the 113th Congress. After that roll call, he may feel less pressure from his right flank against a deal.
For its part, the Senate may simply be out of time. Without unanimous agreement, Mr. Reid would have to take procedural steps to begin considering a bill. He could then be forced to press for another vote to cut off debate before final passage. If forced to jump through those hoops, the 112th Congress could expire before final votes could be cast.
“I think there’s some chance that we get a deal done in the early weeks of January, which technically means you’re going over the cliff,” Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut, said on CNBC on Wednesday.
Lawmakers from both parties say Mr. McConnell could be the key to a resolution. He has played the role of adjudicator for Congressional Republicans before, during last year’s fight over a payroll tax extension and the battle between Democrats and Republicans over how, or if, to pay for an emergency disaster financing bill.
With days to spare, Mr. McConnell must decide whether to allow on the Senate floor the Democrats’ bill to extend expiring tax cuts. If passed without a filibuster, that legislation could force the House speaker’s hand and quiet his raucous Republican conference. Or Mr. McConnell, who is up for re-election in 2014 and would like to avoid a primary fight, could stand back quietly and hope that Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama somehow manage to put together a deal that saves him the trouble.
If Mr. McConnell cannot come to the rescue, there is another hope: Starbucks. Howard Schultz, the company’s chief executive officer, asked baristas who work in Washington-area Starbucks to scrawl “Come Together” on coffee cups for the rest of the week to generate enthusiasm for a compromise.
- As Fiscal Deadline Looms, Path to Deal Remains Unclear – NYTimes.com (tribuneofthepeople.com)
- No deal in sight as deadline for fiscal deal nears (news.yahoo.com)
- No deal in sight as deadline for fiscal deal nears (cnsnews.com)
- Fiscal Cliff Flea Circus and I (bakulaji.typepad.com)
- Debt ceiling looms again, Treasury Department begins delay tactics (tv.msnbc.com)
- Geithner Warns Lawmakers Debt Standoff Risks U.S. Default (bloomberg.com)
- Search for Way Through Fiscal Impasse Turns to the Senate – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- U.S. will hit debt ceiling on Monday, Treasury Secretary Geithner warns (business.financialpost.com)
- No deal in sight as deadline for fiscal deal nears (wwltv.com)
- Geithner: Debt Ceiling Will Be Reached Monday (huffingtonpost.com)
How Party of Budget Restraint Shifted to ‘No New Taxes,’ Ever
Luke Sharrett for The New York Times
Speaker John A. Boehner could not sell a tax increase in his proposal on the fiscal crisis last week, even on incomes of $1 million.
Published: December 22, 2012
WASHINGTON — On a Saturday afternoon in October 1990, Senator Pete V. Domenici turned from a conversation on the Senate floor, caught the eye of a clerk by raising his right hand and voted in favor of a huge and contentious bill to reduce federal deficits. Then he put his hand back into his pocket and returned to the conversation.
David Scull/The New York Times
Pete V. Domenici, as a senator in 1990, was the last Congressional Republican to vote for higher federal income taxes.
It was the end of an era, although no one knew it then. It was the last time any Congressional Republican has voted for higher income taxes.
The conservative revolt against that 1990 legislation — and against President George Bush, who violated his own “Read my lips” vow not to increase taxes — was a seminal moment for Republicans. The party of balanced budgets became the party that opposed tax increases.
When conservatives sank Speaker John A. Boehner’s plan last week to acquiesce on tax increases for the most affluent Americans as part of a potential broader deal with the Obama administration to avert tax increases for everyone else, several said that 1990 accord was a reason. They regard Mr. Bush’s broken promise as a major reason he was not re-elected, and they say the budget agreement proved that such compromises do not restrain the growth of government.
But the 1990 legislation also highlights a basic challenge now facing the party, which the chaos within the House caucus helped bring into public view on Thursday night.
Republicans continue to embrace the no-new-taxes stand as a centerpiece of the party’s identity, even in the face of public opinion that strongly supports tax increases on high incomes. And some Republicans fear that the party’s commitment to prevent tax increases more and more is coming at the expense of those other, older kinds of fiscal responsibility.
“Republicans used to be interested in not running continual rivers of red ink,” said former Representative William Frenzel, a Minnesota Republican who as the ranking member of the House Budget Committee in 1990 helped to negotiate the deficit deal. “If that meant raising taxes a little bit, we always raised taxes a little bit. But nowadays taxes are like leprosy and they can’t be used for anything, and so Republicans have denied themselves any bargaining power.”
The resulting debate has created perhaps the greatest test of the tax stand in the last two decades. Republicans who are willing to accept tax increases as part of a broader deal are pitted against a conservative wing, restocked by the Tea Party wave of 2010, that insists that opposition to tax increases is particularly important at times like these, when the temptation is greatest to avoid spending cuts by asking Americans for just a little more. Many in the antitax camp come from deeply conservative districts and were re-elected by wide margins.
They were not even swayed by Grover Norquist, the activist and arbiter of antitax orthodoxy, who has pushed politicians for the last 25 years to promise that they will not vote to raise taxes, a pledge a vast majority of Congressional Republicans have signed. Mr. Norquist said Mr. Boehner’s proposal was not a tax increase, but he could not convince the generation of politicians he helped create.
“We know that our big problem is too much spending,” Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, said on Fox News last week, explaining his opposition to Mr. Boehner’s plan. “We know that President Reagan fell into the trap and President George H.W. Bush fell in the trap of ‘Here, just raise taxes on somebody, and we’ll come along with the cuts later.’”
The Republican Party’s embrace of tax cuts is often traced to the 1970s, when conservative thinkers began to argue that cuts were not just politically advantageous but also fiscally responsible. The economist Arthur Laffer advanced the theory that cuts could even be self-financing, because they could generate enough economic activity to increase revenue.
Others said that cutting taxes would force the government to cut spending too, an idea colorfully described as “starving the beast.”
But the movement did not truly take hold until the early 1990s. Some Congressional scholars argue that opposition to tax increases offered a new kind of ideological glue after the cold war. Others cite changes in the political landscape, including the rise of advocacy groups like Mr. Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and the purification of Congressional districts through gerrymandering, which led House members to fear primaries more than general elections. And the electoral success of the political strategy — many voters are swayed by promises of a lower tax bill — became its own justification.
In the early 1980s, majorities of Congressional Republicans voted for a pair of deficit deals orchestrated by President Ronald Reagan, even though tax increases accounted for more than 80 percent of the projected reductions. But by 1987, a majority of Republicans opposed a third deal, even though only 37 percent of the reductions came from tax increases.
The 1990 battle echoed the present situation. The economy was struggling. Deficits were growing. Congress had enacted automatic spending cuts that it was racing to avoid. Republicans did not want to raise taxes. Democrats did not want to cut spending. Mr. Bush, convinced that the government needed to balance its books, reluctantly agreed to break his no-new-taxes pledge. Once again, less than 40 percent of the money came from tax increases. Once again, a majority of Republicans voted no.
By 1993, not a single Republican would vote for a deficit package drafted by the Clinton administration and Congressional Democrats that laid the groundwork for the first balanced budget since the late 1960s.
Instead, in 2001 and 2003, Republicans passed tax cuts that more than reversed the increases during the Clinton administration.
“When I entered politics, the frame of reference was a balanced budget as the principal conservative precept,” said former Representative James Leach, an Iowa Republican who served from 1977 to 2007. “Today, it’s the level of taxes.”
In order to maintain that commitment, Republicans need to develop a similar consensus about how to reduce federal spending. The federal budget, particularly spending on health care programs, is projected to grow rapidly as the country ages and as medical costs continue to rise, leaving Washington in need of more revenue.
The party’s conservative wing wants to circumscribe those benefit programs, despite their popularity among voters. The goal of balancing the federal budget has all but vanished, replaced by the idea that deficits should be reduced to sustainable levels.
The 1990 deal still won the support of 47 Republicans in the House and 19 Republicans in the Senate. Only 4 of those 66 are still in Congress, and Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Representative Jerry Lewis of California both will be gone at the end of the current session, leaving just two: Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Representative Frank R. Wolf of Virginia.
Mr. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who played a significant role in negotiating the 1990 deal, which he regarded as necessary to reduce federal deficits, left the Senate in 2009. But he has continued to advocate a similar approach as a co-chairman of a commission organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center that called for a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts to stabilize the federal debt.
He said he was frustrated by the reflexive opposition of conservatives to any kind of tax increase, but he added that Democrats had also shown little willingness to negotiate necessary cuts in spending on federal entitlement programs.
“There has been a hardening in the Democratic line, too,” he said. “There isn’t any Democrat in here that is going to help with these cuts.”
- Republicans as the anti-tax party: when political ideology matters more than balancing a budget (mbcalyn.com)
- ‘Read my lips’ pledge on taxes still inspires GOP (newsobserver.com)
- The Last Republican To Ever Vote To Raise Income Taxes (businessinsider.com)
- Fiscal Agreement Update (calculatedriskblog.com)
- “A Party Of Spineless Legislators”: John Boehner’s Failure And The GOP’s Disgrace (mbcalyn.com)
- Remember George H.W. Bush’s whole “Read my lips: No new taxes” deal? Fun fact: He broke his pledge during a battle similar to the fiscal cliff crisis currently encircling Washington. (shortformblog.com)
- Wonkbook: Fiscal cliff deal moves to the Senate (washingtonpost.com)
- Congress in Tizzy; One GOP Leader: Obama ‘Eager to Go Over the Cliff’ (bloomberg.com)
- How Republicans Became the Anti-Tax Party (politicalwire.com)
- ‘Read my lips’ pledge on taxes still inspires GOP (charlotteobserver.com)