Posts Tagged United States Congress
Why are Republicans holding yet another futile, time-wasting and taxpayer-money-wasting Obamcare repeal vote next week? House Speaker John Boehner explains.
70 [sic] 17 new members who have not had an opportunity to vote on the president’s health care law,” Boehner said. “Frankly they’ve been asking for an opportunity to vote on it.”
Well, then. By all means. It’s not like it’s costing American taxpayers something like $1.45 million to have that meaningless vote.
Oh, wait. Yes, it is! It’s exactly like it’s costing us $1.45 million for that repeal vote. Last July, when CBS News tallied it up using the CRS figure of $24 million per work week in the House, they figured that the House had spent 80 hours on 33 repeal votes, for a grand total of $48 million. That’s $1.45 million per vote. There have been another three repeal votes since then, for another $4.4 million to the tally.
So, we’re at a grand total of $52.4 million wasted on futile Obamacare repeal votes, just in the House. And that’s being generous to the Republicans, not counting committee time wasted on this, the opportunity cost of delaying other work, etc. It’s probably a lot closer to $55 million.
And if you ask those 70 new GOP members who are insisting on having their turn to cast a meaningless vote on settled law why they want to be in Congress, they’ll tell you it’s to stop big government from wasting taxpayer dollars.
- Boehner explains why House will waste more time and money on Obamacare repeal (dailykos.com)
- G.O.P. Split Over Whether to Waste Time Investigating Benghazi or Repealing Obamacare : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- Tell Boehner: Enough already with the damned “Repeal Obamacare” votes; The House is about to vote for the THIRTY-SEVENTH time tomorrow on repealing Obamacare. (sunsetdaily.wordpress.com)
- Boehner Says He Cares About Jobs While Republicans Have Wasted 15 Percent Of House Time On Obamacare (youngprogressivevoices.com)
- GOP SPLIT! : Waste Time on Benghazi or Repealing Obamacare (aapd0418.com)
- House GOP to vote on Obamacare repeal – Vol. 37 (cbsnews.com)
- Since 2011, House GOP has spent 15 percent of its time voting to repeal ‘Obamacare’ (thesunnews.typepad.com)
- Obamacare repeal vote-a-palooza resumes Thursday (dailykos.com)
- G.O.P. Split Over Whether to Waste Time Investigating Benghazi or Repealing Obamacare (newyorker.com)
- House GOP pumped to vote to repeal Obamacare – for the 37th time (tv.msnbc.com)
Obama goes wobbly
By Eugene Robinson, Published: May 2
President Obama had the opportunity this week to make an irresponsible Congress face the consequences of its own dumb actions. For reasons I cannot fathom, he took a pass.
Rather than use the veto pen that must be gathering dust in some Oval Office drawer,Obama signed legislation that cushions air travelers from the effects of the crude, cruel budget cuts known as the “sequester.” The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now allowed to shuffle funds around to avoid furloughing air-traffic controllers — thus avoiding flight delays.
At his news conference Tuesday, Obama said he agreed to sign the measure because the alternative was to “impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers.” That’s true — and it’s precisely why the president should have vetoed this quick-fix bill.
Remember how we got here. Republicans in the House refused to compromise on a far-reaching budget deal, insisting that there had to be deep spending cuts but no new revenue. Both sides agreed to across-the-board cuts that were designed to be unacceptable. This Damoclean sword was supposed to provide an incentive for reaching a comprehensive deal. But the gambit failed.
Obama said he would not go along with attempts by Congress to selectively ameliorate the effects of sequestration. After all, the whole point was to make both sides so uncomfortable that they would fall into one another’s arms in a desperate embrace of deal-making. The incentive disappears if either side is allowed to alleviate its sharpest pains.
A few weeks of long flight delays, frequent cancellations and crowded airports full of angry, frustrated voters might have concentrated the minds of even the most anti-government Republicans on Capitol Hill. But now, no worries.
Meanwhile, Congress is offering no emergency legislation to restore Head Start funds for preschoolers. Nor is an urgent remedy being designed for poor people who will have to go without their Section 8 housing subsidies. The president could have told Congress that he will agree to make travel more convenient for their jet-set constituents, all right — if and when they send him a companion bill restoring needed benefits for low-income citizens.
Obama noted Tuesday that even in terms of air travel, the FAA bill was “not a solution.” The money that will keep the controllers on the job was originally slated for airport improvements. If these projects are not undertaken, the president said, those who use our aging airports will suffer congestion and delays in the future.
But he signed the thing anyway. Sigh.
A veto would have allowed Republicans to claim that the president was gratuitously making the American people suffer so he could score political points. But the gratuitous harm was done long ago, when both sides agreed to this whole sequestration nonsense. It is truly absurd that our highest elected officials would agree to impose measures that they knew were not in the public interest. But that’s what they did, and all who had a hand in making this uncomfortable bed should be forced to lie in it.
By agreeing to keep the planes flying on time, Obama keeps public opinion on his side, which should be an asset. But I see no indication that the Republican Party really cares what the public thinks.
About 90 percent of Americans support near-universal background checks for gun purchases, according to polls, but that legislation — a modest reaction to the horror of Newtown — couldn’t even make it out of the Senate, thanks mostly to GOP opposition. Even prospects for immigration reform, which is clearly in the Republican Party’s interest, are uncertain in the House. At the moment, the typical Republican officeholder cares more about avoiding a primary challenge from the Looney Tunes right than doing what the public wants and needs.
Looking and sounding like the one reasonable man on a ship of fools is good for Obama’s political standing, I suppose. But he’s no longer running for anything. Somehow, he has to govern until January 2017. In his quest to find a way to work with a hostile Congress, he might consider trying something new.
The next time Congress tries to undo one of the sequestration cuts, Obama should just say no. Let the Republicans jump up and down and call him names. Tell them to sit down and negotiate a proper budget deal, even a grand bargain — or else live with the pain.
The president should find that forgotten veto pen. And he should use it.
- Eugene Robinson: Could 1 life have been saved at Newtown? (goerie.com)
- Eugene Robinson: Thatcher embodied feminism, like it or not (goerie.com)
- Matthews Goes After ABC’s Jonathan Karl For Asking ‘Jock Question’ About Obama’s Waning Political ‘Juice’ (mediaite.com)
- EUGENE ROBINSON: US inaction is better than intervention (tauntongazette.com)
- Eugene Robinson: Say ‘never again’ to gun violence (goerie.com)
- Okay, who tried to cloak the president with “a fog of ambiguity”? (bokertov.typepad.com)
- Obama dithering on Syria keeps press minions in knots (bizpacreview.com)
- Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson unsure how anyone can determine who is crazy and who isn’t (theblaze.com)
- The drone issue is real, it is urgent (lissakr11humane.com)
- Obama Goes Wobbly (truthdig.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)
Congressman, Florida’s 26th District
No to Sequestration: It’s Time to End ‘Government by Crisis’
Posted: 02/28/2013 5:47 pm
I came of age in a Republican household during the Reagan years. My dad, Joe Sr., was a small business owner who served as a committee man for the local party. My mom, Carmen, like most Cuban exiles of her generation, voted Republican down the ticket. When the family would gather around the dinner table and discuss current affairs, my brothers and I wouldn’t always agree with our parents’ politics, but we were taught from an early age to respect other people’s views and keep an open mind because nobody has all the right answers.
This is a valuable lesson that has stuck with me, but it is one that many of my colleagues in Washington either never learned or have perhaps forgotten. The refusal of some in the Tea Party controlled Congress to compromise, learn from members of the other party, listen to reason, and put ideology and partisan politics aside has resulted in a government that is too often dysfunctional, reckless and irresponsible. From the debt ceiling, to the fiscal cliff and now the sequester, what we have is a Congress that governs and responds only to self-inflicted crises.
The consequences of sequestration are dire for Florida. Here are a few of the many examples of what they look like:
· Parents in neighborhoods like Kendall and Perrine will experience dramatic cuts in funding for Head Start and Early Head Start resulting in 2,700 fewer children in Florida from having access to those programs.
· Students at schools like FIU, FKCC and MDC will see cuts in work-study programs that help them pay for college.
· Florida will lose approximately $54.5 million in funding for primary and secondary education.
· Local hospitals that we all depend on will experience a loss of $368 million from cuts, potentially limiting first responders’ capabilities to respond to heart attacks, strokes and other critical medical issues.
· Longer lines at Miami International Airport with as many as 31,000 civilian Department of Defense employees being furloughed throughout our state.
These aren’t just numbers on a page. The sequester will impact the lives of millions of real people, such as our neighbors, grandparents, teachers, friends, and loved ones. The cuts that will go into effect if Congress does nothing are avoidable. There is a solution and a better way, but it’s going to require hard work and a willingness to compromise — two things that unfortunately are anathema to some in Washington. Consider the following: Despite these looming disastrous cuts, Congress was only in session for six of the 31 calendar days in January (about one day a week). Imagine how your boss would react if you only showed up to work one day a week. You probably wouldn’t have that job for too long.
This is unacceptable to me and I know it is unacceptable to many of my colleagues from both parties. Just a few weeks ago, I joined a bipartisan coalition of over 20 members — Republicans and Democrats, alike — who are committed to avoiding the sequestration by working in a bipartisan manner and compromising. For Democrats, this means we are open to spending cuts so long as seniors can retire with dignity, receive the benefits they have paid for and have access to affordable, quality health care. For Republicans, this means they are willing to look at revenue increases so long as Democrats meet them half-way.
This framework is similar to how most people go about their lives. When you and your coworkers disagree, you don’t stop showing up to work and take your company to the brink of disaster. Rather, you simply gather around a table, discuss your differences and find solutions. Not everyone will get what they want, but progress isn’t held hostage at the expense of ideological purity. It’s ironic that many of the same politicians who decry government for not operating more like the private sector have adopted a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to governing that would leave them fired, bankrupt or both in corporate America.
I hope my colleagues find it within themselves to compromise and learn how the rest of America works when people disagree and yet want to move forward. My family’s dinner table is a great place to start.
- Frankel, Murphy say Congress should stay in session until budget deal reached (postonpolitics.com)
- What Obama Isn’t Telling You About Sequestration – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Sequestration Looms Large For Florida (miami.cbslocal.com)
- Sequestration: Top 4 States With Largest Losses (theepochtimes.com)
- Sequestration will leave Pentagon cash-strapped but operational (stripes.com)
- What Sequestration Really Tells Us About Our Government (evergreeninstitute.wordpress.com)
- White House, Republicans dig in ahead of budget talks – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Obamacare/Sequestration Double Whammy For GOP (youviewed.com)
- Will A Government Shutdown Threat Determine The Winner Of The Sequestration Fight? (tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com)
- WaPo/Pew sequestration poll question oddly missing an option (hotair.com)
A Tax to Pay for War
By R. RUSSELL RUMBAUGH
Published: February 10, 2013
NOW that Congress has discarded the idea that taxes can never be raised, we must change how we pay for the wars we ask our military to fight. We should institute a war tax.
With leading officials calling for action in Syria, and the American military providing support for France’s intervention in Mali, the need for such a tax is urgent. And President Obama’s call for tax reform as the next round of budget negotiations begins offers a perfect opportunity to enact it.
Military spending has been declining since 2009, easing the conflict between pursuing our national security interests and solving our fiscal crisis. But if we undertake new military interventions, that tension will come roaring back.
Those who look at our military spending as a percent of gross domestic product and argue that we could spend more are right. At our current level of $646 billion, we are spending roughly 4 percent of G.D.P. on national defense, well below cold war averages. The missing part of their argument is whether we can afford to pay for it now or would have to borrow, adding to the national debt. After all, war spending — like all government spending — wrecks public finances only when more money is spent than is brought in.
This simple equation is nothing new. Three years ago, the Senate Budget Committee adopted a bipartisan amendment requiring that wars be paid for. The Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission and Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, both proposed doing much the same thing. None of these proposals resolved the question of whether to pay for future wars through spending cuts or raising more revenue. Now that Congress has finally passed legislation letting taxes increase, we must make a choice and require a tax surcharge to pay for any military operation.
War traditionally has motivated major changes in tax policy. The Civil War brought the first income tax. World War I made the federal income tax permanent. World War II brought tax withholding. In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, the United States ran a budget surplus because of a tax surcharge Congress forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to accept.
Today’s budget negotiations offer a similar opportunity to make a surcharge permanent. President Obama called for counting as savings the money that will not be spent as the war in Afghanistan winds down. Many decried the scheme as playing with funny money because he plans to exit Afghanistan in 2014 anyway; the savings only exist because of an accounting trick in Congressional budgeting. But if those savings were associated with an actual policy change, they would start looking more real.
Since the Budget Control Act already caps military spending, there is an easy way to implement the surcharge: any spending over the caps would require it. If we felt the need to use the military and could do so under the spending caps, as the Obama administration did in 2011 responding to the earthquake in Japan and the uprising in Libya, no surcharge would be necessary. But if military action required supplemental financing, any amount over the caps would be offset with new revenue raised by an automatic surcharge on taxes.
By tying military action to additional revenue, the president would actually have a freer hand in deciding when to use force. Every argument the Obama administration makes for military action would explicitly include a call for increased taxes, forcing the question of whether the stakes in the military situation are worth the cost. If the American people agree they are worth it, the president will get both the political support and financing he needs.
Syria is the most immediate example. We now know that some top officials have argued for arming the rebels, as the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did last year. Others argue for an even more robust military response, while detractors insist that we should learn from Iraq and not get involved at all.
Such decisions should not be divorced from economic considerations, but neither should we allow our finances to prevent us from pursuing vital American security interests. Putting in place a permanent tax surcharge to pay for wars would ensure that we could achieve our interests throughout the world without further worsening our finances.
If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth our treasure, too — not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American.
- A Tax to Pay for War (dailyqueernews.wordpress.com)
- President Delivers a New Offer on the Fiscal Crisis to Boehner – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Stabilization Won’t Save Us – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Congress inaction on budget could affect raises, benefits for military (stripes.com)
- How will he pay for it? Fiscal realities put Obama agenda in question – NBCNews.com (blog) (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- Tax rules change, but advice remains the same (cantonrep.com)
- War Addiction Default: America’s Political Dysfunction at Root is an Unwillingness to Cut War Spending (nationofchange.org)
- The GOP’s Defense Spending Problem (anirrationalviewoftheirrational.wordpress.com)
- Spoiled Brat Syndrome (safehaven.com)
- Obama’s War on the Troops (freebeacon.com)
Making Sense, by Michael Reagan
We have junk food, junk mail and junk bonds.
Now, thanks to our dysfunctional and devious Congress, we have junk laws like the “Taxpayer Relief Act.”
Junk laws are really nothing new. The people we send to Washington to represent us have been passing legislation larded with pork or special privileges for their friends in business, agriculture and labor since the country was born.
Adam Zyglis / Buffalo News
Insiders have always known how this cynical bipartisan game is played. But now, thanks to the failure of Congress to deal with the government debt crisis it in large part created, the average American is starting to become aware of these junk bills.
Even the liberal media were outraged by what went on when Congress passed the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012″ — which, ironically, raised the taxes of every working American by 2 percent by returning the Social Security tax to its usual 6.2 percent level.
The “Fiscal Cliff Bill” did virtually nothing to solve the federal government’s money problems or create a single job. But it was junked up with nearly $70 billion of pure pork — including tax credits for the owners of NASCAR racetracks, wind turbine makers, Hollywood moviemakers and rum-makers in Puerto Rico.
While President Obama was promising to raise taxes on the rich but really shafting the working poor, congressional folk were so busy loading up the “Fiscal Cliff Bill” with presents for their friends that they forgot to pass the relief bill to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Members of Congress are grandmasters of deceit and dishonesty. Taking maximum advantage of every crisis or disaster that comes along, they attach their favorite pieces of pork to dishonestly named bills such as the “American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012″ and the “Affordable Healthcare Act.”
Members know these big important super-bills have to pass to avert a crisis, so they junk them up with their $200 million “Bridges to Nowhere” and their $59 million tax credits for the algae-growing industry.
A perfect example of how Congress gets its junk bills passed has to with the way it funds FEMA. Congress always underfunds the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Why?
Because Congress knows each year there will always be a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy that FEMA will need billions of federal dollars to address.
And when FEMA comes asking for emergency funding, members of Congress will clean out their closets and throw every piece of junk legislation they have into the relief bill, which they know will automatically pass without scrutiny.
Another reason we get junk laws is that few members of Congress actually read these monster bills before they vote for them. Nancy Pelosi’s career quote is going to be her comment on the healthcare bill, “But we have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it.”
Law-making is not supposed to work that way. There’s a rule in Congress that a bill has to be posted for 48 hours before it can be voted on. But that rule has become a joke.
Just watch C-SPAN the next time a vote is being taken in the House. You’ll probably hear someone say something like, “Under suspension of the rule, we’ll now vote.”
What arcane parliamentary rule are they talking about? The 48-hour rule. No wonder Congress is always finding out after they vote what they just voted for. If members of Congress don’t read the damn bill, they shouldn’t vote on it.
I’m getting real tired of people saying, “My guy’s a good guy and your guy’s a bad guy.” They’re all acting like bad guys.
We need to start holding every member of Congress accountable. And we need more up-and-down votes in Congress, so that the next important piece of legislation doesn’t become another “Fiscal Cliff Junk Bill.”
- Congress to vote on Sandy aid as FEMA warns funds low (cnn.com)
- Sandy Shows Disaster-Relief Funding Is a Disaster – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Sandy Relief Bill Filled With $9 Billion of Pork (theburningplatform.com)
- Voting Against Sandy Relief is the Only Moral Option (txwclp.org)
- Long funding process to follow irate Sandy rhetoric (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- The Pork Filled and Expensive Non-Relief Sandy Relief Bill (conservativeread.com)
- HARD TO ARGUE: Taxpayer Advocate Says Tax Code is “Unconscionable Burden,” Suggests Junking the… (pjmedia.com)
- House passes $9.7B Sandy relief bill (cbsnews.com)
- Republican Congressman Says He’s Not Convinced Sandy Victims Need Relief (politicususa.com)
- Not So Fast, Governor Christie (personalliberty.com)
The Deadly Secret About the Fiscal Cliff Charade
Let’s stop repeating failures of austerity and move toward solutions that can restore our Federal budget – and us – to health.
January 4, 2013
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Imagine a nation with a terrible problem – one its leaders refuse to discuss. The problem will needlessly drain trillions of dollars from its economy in the next ten years.
Now imagine that this problem also robs that nation’s citizens of life itself, draining years from their lifespans while depriving them of large sums of money. Imagine that it sickens and disables countless others, drives many people into bankrupcty, and kills more than two newborn infants out of every thousand born.
Imagine that fixing this problem would make result in a dramatic decline in publicly-held debt. It wouldn’t just “help” the debt problem, mind you – it would cause that debt to plunge.
And now imagine a national “deficit debate” which completely ignores this problem.
Imagine a news media which pretends the problem doesn’t exist. Imagine a corporate-funded “Fix the Debt” movement that refuses to mention it, and yet is treated as an objective source of information. Imagine a political consensus in which the debate isn’t around how to fix this problem, but how to cut service programs that help people cope with it.
Welcome to the United States of America, January 2012. It’s a land where the population is broke, sick, gypped, and mistreated. But the problem’s fixable – if we can find the political will.
The problem, of course, is our health care system – although “system” seems like a flattering word for this greed-driven, anarchic three-ring circus. Our health care system – guess we’ll need to call it that for lack of an alternativer – is the worst in the developed world. It costs far more, provides much less, and has worse outcomes than any system that’s even remotely comparable.
How bad is it?
Our health care spending is 17.6 percent of GDP , compared with an average of 9.6 percent for all developed countries. (All figures are from the compendium ofhealth and economic statistics published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ( OECD ), unless otherwise indicated.)
Total health spending (from all sources, not just insurance-related) averages $7,960 per person in the United States, versus an average of $3,233 for all developed countries.
If we spent the same on health as the average developed country (as a percentage of GDP ) that would inject more than a trillion dollars per year into other parts of the economy. ( 1.14 trillion, by my rough calculation.)
What are we getting for our money?
- Life expectancy at birth in the United States is 78.2 years, compared with an OECD average of 79.5 years and Japan’s life expectancy of 83 years.Our expected lifespan is the shortest of any among the countries we normally think of as “developed.” The ones that trail us are newer entrants into the “developed” category — like Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Eastern European countries.
- Our infant mortality rate is 6.5 deaths per 1,000 live births, as opposed to the OECD average of 4.4 deaths. As with life expectancy, we lag behind all the other long-term “developed” nations.
- We score even more poorly on another metric, “Premature Mortality,” which measures the number of years someone loses “before their time” (essentially by calculating how many years it would have taken on average to reach the age of 70).
Our high rates of premature mortality are affected by our high rates of accidents and suicide, too, and from a homicide rate for males that’s five times the average. (That’s a figure worth citing in the gun control debate.)
The question becomes, Why? Why do we pay so much and get so little for our money?
Part of the answer lies in the fact that, despite the high cost of private-insurance premiums, our health plans don’t provide enough coverage. According to survey data, Americans were unable to meet their medical needs because of cost more often than citizens of ten comparable countries ( OECD , Table 6.1.3).
That statistic applied to lower-income Americans, as might be expected. But interestingly, it was also true for higher-income Americans – those that are most likely to have private health insurance. 39 percent of Americans with higher-than-average income had an unmet medical need due to cost in 2010. For the runner-up, Germany, that figure was 27 percent. (It was 12 percent in Switzlerland and 4 percent in Great Britain.)
Higher-income Americans also led the pack in reporting out-of-pocket expenditures of $1,000 or more per year, along with their lower-income peers, with 45 percent in the higher-earner category spending that much or more per year. The figure was 37 percent for runner-up Switzerland. It was 2 percent in Sweden. And in much-reviled “socialist” Great Britain the figure was effectively zero.
These results reinforce the findings of studies on medical bankruptcies by Prof. Elizabeth Warren, which showed that medical costs were a dominant reason for bankruptcy even for people with health insurance. (She was officially sworn in as Senator Warren today – congratulations!)
Where does all the money go? Much of it goes to profit margins for private insurance companies, of course. (They’re experts at understanding their margins, which are much higher than most observers believe.) There are also profit margins for a number of health providers, including for-profit hospitals, medical imaging companies, and physician practice management groups.
Underlying much of our explosive cost growth is the phenomenon we described in “Sick Money“: Investors like Bain Capital buy up health care companies, load them up with debt, and demand highly aggressive profit margins. Many of them respond to the problem the way the Bain companies did in our piece: through fraud.
But many other providers overtreat, subjecting the population to a barrage of needless (and sometimes invasive) procedures while other basic health needs go unmet.
Here are two more OECD statistics that illustrate the point:
The United States is second only to technology-crazed Japan in the prevalence of high-cost (and high profit) MRI and CT devices for medical imaging, both in hospitals and in free-standing facilities. Many American facilities were financed by physicians who send their patients there, which poses a significant conflict of interest and which both public and private insurers have been attempting to limit. Many others are owned by sales-driven chains. Unsurprisingly, studies suggest there is significant overuse of this equipment in the United States.
And let’s not forget drugs. When it comes to per-person pharmaceutical costs the United States is off the charts, spending $947 per person on average. That’s nearly twice the OECD average of $487.
And remember: Congress won’t even let Medicare negotiate with the drug companies.
Pharmaceutical corporations, for-profit hospital companies, private insurers — our system is sick. The diagnosis: Corporate greed.
Our “sick secret” can be fixed. In our next piece we’ll discuss how to attack it — and what it will take to shift the debate away from a “consensus” plan to adopt the miserly failures of austerity and toward real solutions that can restore our Federal budget – and us – to health.
- The Deadly Secret About the Fiscal Cliff Charade (alternet.org)
- The Deadly Secret About the Fiscal Cliff Charade | Alternet (seculardiscourse.wordpress.com)
- America’s White Male Problem | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- 6 Reasons the Fiscal Cliff is a Scam | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Tea Party Republicans Flaunted Their Nihilist Extremism During Fiscal Cliff Negotiations | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- America’s White Male Problem | Alternet (goodolewoody.wordpress.com)
- The Real Meaning of the Fiscal Cliff: “We Were All Lying in 2011.” (teapartyeconomist.com)
- The Real Meaning of the Fiscal Cliff: “We Were All Lying in 2011.” (flyoverpress.wordpress.com)
- Fiscal Cliff charade over – next charade will be debt ceiling and sequestration charades…… meanwhile the Fed will be buying 45 billion a month in treasuries starting January 3rd….. (fredw-catharsisours.blogspot.com)
- Even Mainstream Pundits Are Now Saying, Republicans ‘No Longer a Normal Governing Party,’ ‘Unfit for Government’ | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
Tea Party Republicans Flaunted Their Nihilist Extremism During Fiscal Cliff Negotiations
Why does the Tea Party crowd still have clout in the GOP? Support for them has dropped continually since 2010.
January 2, 2013
It is irresponsible to help create a mess and then to walk away and expect someone else to clean it up. That’s true whether the mess is a spill in the kitchen or something comparably sticky, smelly or hazardous in deliberations in Congress.
Multiple press reports observe that this is what the political tantrum known as the Tea Party has been doing. We haven’t heard much from the Tea Partiers recently because they opted out of participation in the fiscal cliff drama as the rest of the country counted down the time remaining until the New Year’s, and budgetary, ball drops.
In this latest phase in the tantrum, Tea Partiers unhappy that the political game has not gone entirely their way (with the outcome of the presidential election being, of course, their principal setback) have decided to take their own ball and bat and go home.
As a South Carolina Tea Party activist put it, “Why in the world would I want to get involved in the games they [i.e., members of Congress] are playing? I have other things to spend my energy on besides lost causes.”
Some of the causes which Tea Partiers evidently do not think are lost and to which they now are devoting energy include “nullification” by states of the Affordable Care Act, exposing corruption in Florida election boards that they believe illicitly handed the state to Obama, and opposition to a United Nations resolution on sustainable development that they contend is a threat to property rights.
Tea Partiers are providing some of their own drama with disarray and dissension within their own movement. The Washington-based Tea Party group FreedomWorks experienced an attempt by its chairman Richard Armey, accompanied by a gun-slinging aide, to purge his opponents within the organization, a few days before Armey himself was ousted in a counter-coup. Meanwhile, polls show public support for the Tea Party has dropped significantly from its heyday around the 2010 election.
This certainly does not mean — unfortunately — that we have heard the last of the Tea Party. But the more that this tantrum subsides or fades out of view, the better off the Republic will be. Republicans, and more broadly those who believe in a healthy two-party system, ought to be especially hopeful that it will fade out of view.
Tea Party activism during the primary season probably cost Republicans a couple of Senate seats. It also has cost the Republican Party the services in public office of some of its most distinguished thinkers, including Richard Lugar, a victim of one of those primary fights, and Jon Huntsman, who was the most sensible person on the stage in those primary debates but never seemed to have a chance to win his party’s nomination.
The biggest damage the Tea Party has inflicted has been the less measurable but still major boost it has given to intolerance and inflexibility, with everything that implies regarding dysfunction in the American political system. It has been poison to any spirit of compromise and to the normal give-and-take of politics in a democracy. In this regard it is remarkable how, among all the attention to the details of the fiscal cliff negotiations such as where to set tax brackets and how to define inflation adjustments, so little has been said about how we got confronted with the cliff in the first place.
To refresh our memories: sequestration and the other fiscal changes that define the cliff were devised as a threat to concentrate minds on the congressional super-committee that was charged with reaching, but failed to achieve, a fiscal and budgetary grand bargain. The super-committee was in turn a device for getting out of the impasse created when one side of the aisle resorted to extortion by threatening to force a default on the national debt if that side did not get its way.
The extortion was a marked departure from the normal way of conducting the people’s political business, which is to try to enact one’s preferred policies by winning support and winning votes for one’s point of view, rather than by threatening to inflict harm on the country. Since then, the inflexibility and resistance to compromise have been, as Ezra Klein reminds us in reviewing the bidding of the last couple of years, far more on the side that did the initial extortion than on the other side.
The Tea Party cannot be blamed for all of this, of course. Roots of inflexibility such as no-tax-increase obsessions and related starve-the-beast notions have been around before there even was a Tea Party movement. Nor is it only Tea Partiers who today kvetch endlessly about the deficit but not long ago did not say a peep about it when the unprecedented combination of a very expensive war of choice and simultaneous tax cuts turned — surprise, surprise — what had been a budgetary surplus into a ballooning deficit.
But the influence of the Tea Party has unquestionably made this whole sorry story substantially worse than it otherwise would have been. The very irresponsibility that the movement is exhibiting today, in walking away from the mess it did so much to help create, testifies to its character.
However much reasonable men and women may disagree about tax codes or the size of government, what is even more important to the health of a society such as America’s are the give-and-take habits and attitudes that are necessary for a liberal representative democracy to function. Those habits and attitudes are ultimately what keep the United States from being an Iraq or a Syria. The Tea Partiers never seem to have understood that.
We should all hope that they will consign themselves permanently to a safe-to-ignore lunatic fringe that burns its energy pursuing wacky conspiracy theories about Florida election boards and the like.
- Tea Party Republicans Flaunted Their Nihilist Extremism During Fiscal Cliff Negotiations (alternet.org)
- Go Away, Tea Party (nationalinterest.org)
- Tea Party Extremism and the ‘Cliff’ (veteransnewsnow.com)
- The Tea Party Mindset Still Dominates the GOP | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- “A Resettling Of The Hostages”: What The Tea Folk Want In The Fiscal Talks (mbcalyn.com)
- Even Mainstream Pundits Are Now Saying, Republicans ‘No Longer a Normal Governing Party,’ ‘Unfit for Government’ | Alternet (mbcalyn.com)
- Sen. Chambliss warns Obama tough negotiations are ahead on spending cuts, entitlements (jacksonville.com)
- Both Obama, GOP have laid out hard lines for tough talks ahead (cnn.com)
- Congress: Cliff diving (firstread.nbcnews.com)
- Tea Party Extremism and the ‘Cliff’ (consortiumnews.com)
JANUARY 2, 2013
REPUBLICANS APOLOGIZE TO TOP 1.5 PER CENT
POSTED BY ANDY BOROWITZ
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In the aftermath of the fiscal-cliff deal, Republicans in Congress issued a heartfelt apology to the top 1.5 per cent richest people in America, offering “messages of profound condolence” for allowing their taxes to increase slightly.
“Our hearts go out to them,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), still teary-eyed after hanging up the phone with a multimillionaire in Orange County, California. “We came to Washington to do the work of 1.5 per cent of the American people, and we didn’t get it done.”
The House Speaker said that he had spoken to several members of the top 1.5 per cent who were “understandably despondent” over seeing their taxes rise marginally as a result of the deal: “Some of them were so upset they even considered moving to Canada, until they found out the taxes were higher there.”
Mr. Boehner said that he tried to offer the wealthy consolation by reminding them that because of an increase in payroll taxes, millions of middle-class and working-class Americans would be suffering more than they would: “That usually put them in a better mood.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) assailed the fiscal-cliff legislation today, calling it “a classic example of putting 98.5 per cent of the American people ahead of the rest of the country.”
Offering words of hope to the top 1.5 per cent, Mr. Cantor said, “In a few months we’ll have the next debate about the debt ceiling. As God is my witness, we will try to do a better job of bringing this nation to the brink of Armageddon.”
But to billionaires such as Harland Dorrinson, a longtime super-donor to the G.O.P., such assurances ring hollow: “If the fiscal-cliff deal is the kind of performance we can expect from Republican politicians, what’s the point of owning them?”
- Republicans Apologize to Top 1.5 Per Cent (proglib.newsvine.com)
- Why Boehner, Cantor parted ways on Sandy, cliff (politico.com)
- Boehner: Obama Needs to Stop Acting Like He Won Election : The New Yorker (mbcalyn.com)
- John Boehner faces Republican backlash over fiscal cliff and Hurricane Sandy (telegraph.co.uk)
- Northeast Republicans add to GOP crisis with split on Sandy aid (bangordailynews.com)
- The Fiscal Cliff explained (macleans.ca)
- FURIOUS NEW YORK REPUBLICAN: The GOP Just Stuck A Knife In The Back Of New Yorkers By Shafting Them On Sandy (businessinsider.com)
- House Republicans clear way for fiscal cliff vote (thehindu.com)
- House Passes Fiscal Cliff Deal Over Conservative Nays (buzzfeed.com)
- Amid backlash, Boehner relents on Sandy vote (cbsnews.com)
113th Congress Actually May Get Something Done
by John Avlon Jan 3, 2013 4:45 AM EST
There’s reason to hope that Capitol Hill’s new lawmakers—more diverse and solution-oriented than their do-nothing predecessors—will go beyond politics and work together to benefit America, says John Avlon.
Today, the new 113 Congress officially enters Capitol Hill. Their swearing-in represents a fresh start and the hope that maybe, just maybe, the ideological excesses and obstructionism of the Tea Party class of 2012 are over.
(L-R) Reps. Luke Messer, Tammy Baldwin, and Tim Scott. (AP; Getty )
Ironically, the first major act of the new Congress will be to deal with some of the priorities the Tea Party established for itself—dealing with the deficit and debt through a combination of entitlement reforms, spending cuts, and tax reform—which is expected to come due with the debt ceiling and sequester cuts in two months. The Congress’s challenge will be to deal with this opportunity more constructively and cooperatively than its Tea Party predecessors.
The Class of 2012 was elected in a presidential year, with a broader and more representative segment of the electorate. The message this freshman class heard from voters was all about finding a way to work together in Washington—stop fighting and start fixing. And, at least so far, that demand seems to be reflected in the attitudes of this freshman class.
For example, many of the 2013 freshmen attended an orientation session at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government after the election. The director of the Institute of Politics, Trey Grayson told me the staff noticed a distinct difference between these new congressmen and previous classes.
“The common attitude among those who attended our conference was that they wanted to be solution-oriented,” said Grayson. “They heard loud and clear from voters during the campaign that voters wanted solutions, not rhetoric.”
It was a perception also picked up on by Mark McKinnon—the center-right GOP strategist and fellow Daily Beast columnist and co-founder of No Labels, who teaches at the IOP. “This freshman class made an impression because they were: A) largely from entrepreneurial backgrounds and B) campaigned in an environment that was all about problem-solving rather than hyper-partisanship and finger-pointing.”
“We’ve got multiple entrepreneurs and folks from the private sector who are used to dealing with bottom line,” concurred the Republican freshman class president Luke Messer of Indiana. “We’ve got 16 or so military veterans and a lot of folks from local and state government, where you have to work together to get things done. These people didn’t come here to just bicker and fight and kick out a press release blaming someone else. They’re here to get results.”
That’s the good news. It’s not that their policy or philosophical differences are any less deeply held—Rep. Messer is a conservative committed to the idea that “we have to change our pattern as a nation of spending money we don’t have”—but their approach and tone is likely to be very different from the radioactive “us-against-them” rhetoric we heard from departing Tea Party stars like Allen West, who infamously accused the Democratic ranks of harboring communists.
There is an additional reason for hope rooted in the demographics of the 113 Congress. This is the most diverse and representative congressional class in our nation’s history. It’s not just the Senate presence of the first openly gay senator Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin—or the historic presence of Tim Scott as the first African-American Republican senator from the South since Reconstruction. There are more women in Congress now than ever before, and more ethnic and racial diversity as well. Simply put, this Congress comes closer to looking like America—and that is a good thing in terms of bridging all our interesting differences to find a way to work together based on our shared civic faith as Americans first.
Confronting the legacy of the Do-Nothing 112 Congress as the least effective since the 1940s is also a corrective. Hopefully, these freshmen will have learned from their predecessors’ experience that insisting on all or nothing usually results in nothing. They have the expectations of the 2012 electorate pushing them to form broader cross-aisle coalitions, even if the party whips push otherwise.
Of course, the culture of Congress is not going to change overnight. There are one-third the number of swing districts today than there were 20 years ago—a problem compounded by the rigged system of redistricting and the poisonous effects of partisan media. But this Congress has a very different mandate than the class elected in 2010—and a comparatively Democratic tilt despite the persistence of divided government.
Hopefully, this will be the Congress than passes comprehensive immigration reform—as President Bush tried in 2007. We know that gun laws are likely to be on the agenda courtesy of a bill that will be submitted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein on the first day of the new Congress. And then there is the pressing issue of finally getting some sort of grand bargain passed, which will require the president pushing some entitlement reforms against the wishes of his base as well as closing some tax loopholes than raise revenue along with spending cuts that include defense, policies that many conservatives will resist despite the rhetoric of dealing with the deficit and debt. None of it will be easy, but very little that’s worthwhile in this world is easy.
So, on this first day of a new Congress, we can at least hope that things will be different—a hope backed up by the knowledge that voters really did send a very different message in 2012 than they did in 2010.
“In the real world, adults have to work together,” reasons Rep. Messer. “So I’ll talk to anybody who is willing to work to move America forward. After all, our nation has overcome far bigger divides than we have today.”
- 113th Congress Sworn In Today (kabb.com)
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the first day of the 113th Congress (politics.blogs.foxnews.com)
- Old fights shadow the new Congress – Washington Post (washingtonpost.com)
- The Religious Makeup of the 113th Congress (patheos.com)
- The 113th Congress is a Congress of Firsts (iflizwerequeen.com)
- Faith on the Hill: The Religious Diversity of the 113th Congress – Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (policyabcs.wordpress.com)
- Congress just got a raise for doing nothing (kzawadzki88.wordpress.com)
- The freshman class of the 113th Congress gets welcomed to Washington (dailykos.com)
- Not Your Father’s (Or Mother’s) Congress (npr.org)
- Rep. Pascrell Elected To Leadership Post by House Democrats:Pascrell to serve as Regional Whip for the upcoming 113th Congress (paramuspost.com)