July 01, 2007

Allow-Nothing Republicans

I have posted before on how Republicans, who before this year went apeshit whenever Democrats even hinted at a filibuster, have started using the filibuster far more in a few months than Democrats did in several years. It appears that this trend is not only continuing, but that Republicans are now cashing in on their obstructionism by blocking everything Democrats do and then turn around and call them the "do-nothing Congress." Talking Points Memo comments on this:

For the last several years, Republicans, with a 55-seat majority, cried like young children if Dems even considered a procedural hurdle. They said voters would punish obstructionists. They said it was borderline unconstitutional. They said to stand in the way of majority rule was to undermine a basic principle of our democratic system.

And wouldn't you know it; the shameless hypocrites didn't mean a word of it. As Roll Call reported this week, 239 separate bills have passed the House, only to find Senate Republicans "objecting to just about every major piece of legislation" that Harry Reid has tried to bring to the floor, whether it enjoys bi-partisan support or not.

The fact is, the Democratic majority in Congress has been passing truckloads of popular legislation in the House, only to find Republicans filibustering like there's no tomorrow, not allowing up-or-down votes that they so recently claimed were the only fair thing to do.

And before you think that this is simply a case of turnabout being fair play, keep in mind these facts: (1) Republicans are being far more obstructionist and are using the filibuster far, far more often than Democrats ever did; (2) Republicans reacted vehemently whenever the Democrats did this, crying foul like there was no tomorrow and threatening the "nuclear option" of doing away with the filibuster at the drop of a hat; and (3) Democrats, despite being obstructed far worse than they ever gave, are not objecting to the filibuster itself and have not even hinted at the nuclear option. They resent the obstructionism, but are not complaining about the method.

In short: the Democrats are being consistent, trying to play by the rules, while the Republicans are so shamelessly hypocritical and opportunistic as to boggle the imagination. This is not simply turning the tables, this is about as lopsided as it gets. and Republicans are not ashamed at all:

Indeed, Senate Republicans -- the ones accusing Dems of being a "do-nothing Congress" -- are proud of their efforts. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott boasted, "The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it's working for us."
And in the end, that's all that matters to the GOP: if it works for them. Forget consistency, forget fairness, forget fair play, forget honesty, forget just about anything right or wrong; these are "null sets" to congressional Republicans. It either works for them, and therefore is good and right, or it doesn't, and so it is evil and immoral.

In the first half of the first session of this Congress, Republicans have used the filibuster 13 times; compare that to the whole first sessions of the previous two Congresses,when Democrats used it a total of four times. If I'm reading that right, Republicans are filibustering at a rate 12 times more than Democrats did. Republicans have filibustered and killed the Employee Free Choice Act, a minimum wage increase, renewable energy and clean-energy bills, cheap Canadian pharmaceutical imports, a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, and a large number of immigration bill amendments. Republicans are blocking bills from going to committee, blocking them from being debated, blocking them from getting the up-or-down vote they once said was a sacrament. Just go to this page and see how many times the word "Cloture" appears; it's staggering.

And of course, the "liberal" media is completely ignoring the hypocrisy and instead are playing along with Republican spin. Surprise!

Posted by Luis at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2007

Yeah, But What Can You Expect?

Democrats have traditionally been called tax-and-spenders and weak on security by the right wing. The tax-and-spend meme goes back a ways; I remember hearing it especially in the Reagan 80's. It's always been a lie, easily proved. Just go to your local library, like I did, and look up the budgets during those years. You'll find that out of the eight budget years during the Reagan administration, the Democratic-run Congress passed budget bills that were less than what Reagan had called for--in seven out of eight years. Had Democrats simply spent what Reagan asked for, we would have spent more; how that makes Democrats high spenders is not exactly explained by the right-wing rhetoric.

But today we see the conservative Reality Distortion Field™ even more strongly in play. For six years we suffered unchecked excessive porkbarrel orgies passed by the Republican-controlled Congress, not once vetoed by Bush for overspending (he only vetoed one bill, and it was over stem cell research). The Clinton surplus was destroyed right out of the gate by Bush and his Congress, and the deficit has been back up to Reagan-era levels ever since.

And yet, after all of this, Bush has the unmitigated gall to call the Democrats big spenders, whipping out the old, tired, but ultimately effective (thanks to that damned Liberal Media™!) canard about tax-and-spending Democrats:

President Bush warned Congress on Saturday that he will use his veto power to stop runaway government spending.

"The American people do not want to return to the days of tax-and-spend policies," Bush said in his radio address.

The House passed a $37 billion budget for the Homeland Security Department on Friday, but Republicans rallied enough votes to uphold a promised veto from Bush.

Six years. For six years Republicans in Congress spent more than any other Congress in history. More pork-barrel bills and amendments than ever before. And the president, who could have checked it with veto threats, never did so. Bill after expensive pork-laden bill, Bush instead signed off on them, all of them--reserving his sole veto for a partisan issue to satisfy the hard-core religious right. Bush and the Republican Congress overspent by hundreds of billions of dollars, with several billion taxpayer dollars lost through corruption and bad accounting in Iraq alone.

But maybe Democrats deserve to be called tax-and-spenders today; what kind of pork did they heap on to the latest bill?

The spending bill passed 268 to 150. It calls for $2.1 billion in spending, or 6 percent, above the president’s request and 14 percent more than in the current fiscal year.

The bill would double the president’s financing request for state antiterrorism grants to $550 million and set aside $400 million in grants for port security, $190 million more than the president proposed.

Yep, those damned Democrats have gone and blown a couple billion dollars on antiterrorism and port security funding. You know, the kind of stuff that the 9/11 commission urged that we spend, and the Bush administration and congressional conservatives have blocked for years. Because they're strong on defense. Democrats are tax-and-spenders because they oppose huge, multi-trillion dollar giveaways to the super-rich and to profit-heavy corporations, and they're for spending a few hundred million more on minimally funding local governments' ability to respond to terrorist attacks and other disasters. Because they're weak on defense. The bastards!

But if you look closer, you'll see a stronger underlying reason for Bush's opposition:

Perhaps the most hotly contested part of the bill is a requirement that department contractors pay their employees at least the local prevailing wage. The provision, part of broader Democratic efforts to enact legislation being pushed by unions, would allow the president to waive so-called Davis-Bacon restrictions only in times of national emergency.
You've probably heard of this provision before. Remember after Katrina, when Bush and Republicans poured billions of dollars into "rebuilding" New Orleans, but mostly just pumped the money into the pockets of their campaign contributors? At the same time, Bush and the Republicans were trying to short-change hired labor--the same people they were supposedly trying to uplift. You see, the corporations that were getting huge, no-bid contracts wanted to pad their own pockets by using emergency provisions to pay less than market wages for labor.

Well, those nasty, middle-class-hating Democrats are at it again, trying to make it so the government funding does not allow people receiving the funds to pay below-market wages. And that's the main reason Bush is against the bill. Forget that the workers deserve to be paid a fair wage--and that's exactly what it is, a fair, "local prevailing wage." Because it's pro-worker, that means it's pro-union, and therefore it must be an evil liberal plot.

Maybe if the Democrats had laden the bill with actual pork, Bush would have signed the bill out of sheer habit.

Posted by Luis at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2007

Republicans Filibuster, Nobody Notices

Remember how Republicans used to rail against the use of the filibuster? Remember how they used to claim that it was undemocratic and un-American, and that there should be a straight up or down vote? Remember how they used to threaten the nuclear option if the Democrats dared to be so vile as to even consider filibustering?

All of that is interesting when you consider that in the past few months, Republicans have used the filibuster more than Democrats did over a period of years. As The Carpetbagger reports:

...over the last couple of months, Senate Republicans have filibustered a minimum-wage increase, filibustered a debate over a non-binding resolution on the war (twice), threatened to filibuster two appropriations bills, and filibustered a bill that would have led to lower prices on prescription medication.
That last one is the most recent: Republicans have stopped cold an attempt to allow Medicare to negotiate for drug prices. There really is no defense for that; it is a complete and utter sell-out to Big Pharma, and is a betrayal of the American people. That's almost as bad as stopping the minimum wage hike with a filibuster. And now the Republicans are threatening to filibuster a vote which would give Washington D.C. citizens representation in Congress; I mean, how more democratic and American could you be in wanting to give Americans the right to vote and be represented? But D.C. is mostly Democratic, so...

What's amazing here is that their filibusters seem targeted at stopping legislation that follows the will of the people--most Americans want a minimum wage hike, and end to the Iraq War, and Medicare negotiations. And even more ironic, the filibusters aren't even necessary, as Bush has vowed to veto all of this legislation in any case.

So where is the "liberal media" on this story? Well, they're reporting on the filibuster as a background story, no big emphasis, but virtually no one is noting the extreme hypocrisy practiced by the Republicans in their hyperactive usage of the practice, or that Democrats are not threatening the "nuclear option" every time a filibuster is hinted at. Maybe it would be a bigger story if the Democrats railed against the filibuster like Republicans did, if they threatened the nuclear option constantly, like the Republicans did. Maybe it would even be more effective politically. But it would also be inconsistent.

In short, the Democrats are being fair and honest in accepting the use of the practice, while the Republicans are being unbelievable hypocrites. But because the Democrats are being fair and honest, nobody is picking up on the story. Instead, the media goes hog-wild when Nancy Pelosi wears a scarf. Nice to see their priorities are in order.

Posted by Luis at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2007

Veto Flood

In the six years during the Bush presidency when Republicans controlled Congress, Bush vetoed only one piece of legislation, and that was for stem cell research funding. One reporter noted that this was the "cleanest record since the veto-less presidency of James A. Garfield. He was shot four months after he took office in 1881 and died several months later."

In the past six weeks or so, Bush has issued threats against no fewer then sixteen different pieces of legislation, and it looks like he will probably follow up on every single threat. The bills threatened include the current war funding bill, bills on minimum wage, union rights, medication negotiating rights for Medicare, a sheaf of bills on open government (FOI requests, presidential library donor disclosure, and whistleblower protection), and the same stem-cell bill that Bush vetoed last year. And reports say that the real conflicts have yet to come.

It's good to see Bush backing up his vow for bipartisanship with action.

Posted by Luis at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

March 29, 2007

Right Back Atcha

From Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, to President Bush over his promised veto of the Democrat's new bill on Iraq:

Last week the House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote passed an emergency supplemental spending bill. The Senate is poised to pass its version of the bill as soon as later today. Both bills contain much needed funding for our troops and our veterans. Both bills also chart a new course forward in Iraq. Given the importance and urgency of this legislation to our troops and our security, we are quite disturbed by your insistence to veto it. Rather than work with the Congress to develop a bill you could sign, you apparently intend to follow a political strategy that would needlessly delay funding for our troops.
The bill, as you may have heard, provides $122 billion in funding for the troops as well as other necessary provisions--but also mandates a March 31, 2008 withdrawal date for U.S. forces in Iraq. Depending on how things work out, this could be a similar situation to the famous government-shutdown showdown between Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress.

When Bush vetoes the bill (a sure enough thing that I won't bother using the word "if"), necessary funding for the troops will be put off. It will then be a game of public perception: who is cutting off funding for the troops, the Democrats or Bush? Both sides will claim that the other is being unreasonable. Each side will have an advantage: Democrats will have public opinion on their side (most Americans want us out of this war), but Bush will likely be able to depend on his bully pulpit and on a more-freindly-than-not media to get his side out to the people more.

But if Democrats play it just right, they could get the upper hand. When Bush vetoes the bill, they should stress compromise and talks, do everything they can to offer different versions of the bill, removing the pork and perhaps even modifying the withdrawal date--but not taking it out altogether. Bush has nothing really to offer back; he won't budge on any withdrawal date, and really won't be able to give any other compromises. As a result, the Democrats will appear to be flexible while Bush is intransigent. If the Democrats then send a modified bill, with everything they desire removed from the bill except a withdrawal date, back to Bush, and still he vetoes it, Bush could easily be seen as the baddie.

On an aside, this entire situation is sweetly ironic, in that the Democrats are using Bush's favorite tactic against him: you're either for our legislation, or you hate the troops. So, which is it, George?

Posted by Luis at 11:00 AM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2007

Firings

Remember how Republicans were furious when the staff of the White House Travel Office was fired, even though they served at the pleasure of the president who had every right to fire them? Remember how the GOP made a huge issue out of it, sicced Kenneth Starr on it, and even tied it in with the whole Vince Foster suicide and claimed that there was a massive conspiracy where Hillary Clinton shot Foster and... well, you remember.

Well, Republicans aren't so interested in investigating firings now. Especially since the firings were not low-level flunkies in some travel office, but instead were seven highly-regarded U.S. Attorneys. Especially since the firings were not travel office personnel charged with embezzlement, but instead were serious investigators who were looking into political corruption. Especially since those said attorneys were doing things that Republicans didn't like.

Among the seven fired attorneys were Carol Lam, the California prosecutor who had brought down Duke Cunningham, and who was investigating other corrupt Republican politicians, and David Iglesias, who was investigating a Democrat in New Mexico--but had defied pressure to change his timetable so the investigation could become an election-year scandal.

People were already suspicious about the firings, as they were attributed to "performance-related" issues, even though the attorneys in question had been doing their jobs very well. Adding to the suspicion was the fact that the Bush administration was replacing the fired attorneys with political flunkies, most notably when Arkansas attorney Bud Cummings was fired so that a Karl Rove flunky could take his place. [Update: though suggested in irony, the idea that the Rove flunky got assigned to Arkansas just in time to wield subpoena power in order to dig up dirt on Hillary is not such an outrageous one....]

Making the stench worse was the Bush administration using a terror-related power given them in the "Patriot" Act which allowed them to make indefinite appointments to these offices without review.

Iglesias even goes so far as to say that he was told directly by the Justice Department that the firings were so that Bush appointees could take their places, not because they weren't doing their jobs well.

Well, of course you can't expect Republicans to go for an investigation of Republicans, any more than you could expect Democrats to go along with an investigation of Democrats (what the hell are they thinking with appointing Jefferson to a committee, anyway?).

However, the firing of U.S. Attorneys who were investigating Republicans or refusing to politicize the investigation of Democrats is clearly more than just a little political scandal; it is obstruction of justice at the very least.

Last year, nothing would have come of this. Now, the Democrats have the gavel, and they're going to use it.

About damn time.

Posted by Luis at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2007

Filibuster

Remember back when Republicans considered the filibuster to be pure evil? Whenever Democratic politicians used it, say, to block the umpteenth attempt to nominate the same extremist hardcore right-wing nutballs into high court positions, the Republicans, furious that they could only get 95% of their nominees forced through the Senate, screamed bloody murder and threatened to outlaw the filibuster altogether with what they called the "nuclear option" (sorry, the "constitutional option")?

Yeah, Republicans despise the filibuster. Not just because it was used to deny them total and absolute dominance, of course--they loathed the filibuster in principle, and made a big thing of it. After all, the filibuster denied a straight up-or-down vote! What were those sneaky, underhanded Democrats up to, if they were so chicken as to not want a simple, apple-pie American procedure like a straight up-or-down vote! Those weasels!

I mean, if Republicans ever lost their majority in the Senate, they would never resort to such a nasty, underhanded, un-American, pinko commie... uh... err....

Okay, sarcasm off.

You of course by now have used your incredible psychic powers of clairvoyance to determine that--yes, you guessed it--Republicans in the Senate wasted no time at all in resorting to using the filibuster, and from their speed in adopting the tactic, are likely to start using it far more often than Democrats used to. Which is fine: that's how things are supposed to work. Better the government be hog-tied than to allow one party to run wild. Democrats didn't use it enough when they were in the minority; now you can expect Republicans, despite their former hatred of the procedure on principles, to go nuts with it.

Democrats don't like it and will complain, but they're not going to go "nuclear" over it; it's the Republicans who are the hypocrites here.

Already Senate Republicans are using the filibuster to block a straight up-or-down vote on a resolution to oppose Bush's "Surge™" in Iraq.

Note, however, that the media, at least at this time, is scared gutless of using the "F" word to describe what Republicans are doing. Read the USA Today article I linked to just above, you'll see that they "blocked" and "sidetracked" the vote, which "was 49-47, or 11 short of the 60 needed to go ahead with debate." They didn't even use the word "cloture," for Christ's sake. The only mainstream story I could find that used the word "filibuster" to describe the Iraq War resolution vote was US News & World Report. Everybody else I could find used words like "block" or "stop"--and neither representative article mentions the "F" word anywhere.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate used a version of the filibuster in committee to stop a bill designed to make it easier to form unions (how horrible! America has never been about forming unions! That's commie talk!), and while the press did use the "F" word then, it was only in forms like "rare filibuster" and "mini filibuster."

So, Republicans are being rank hypocrites and the media is too weak-kneed to even come close to calling them on it. Looks like business as usual.

Posted by Luis at 07:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 27, 2007

Kennedy Tears Republicans a New One over the Minimum Wage

You have got to see this speech by Ted Kennedy on the floor of the Senate. After Republicans have introduced at least 179 amendments (no typo) to the minimum wage bill over the past five days, Kennedy hit the roof.

Republicans are trying to kill the minimum wage increase now after having prevented it from coming up repeatedly over the past decade. Amendments of all sorts have been attempted, most of them poison pills, adding up to $200 billion dollars in proposals not directly involved with the minimum wage. And there are another 70 amendments the Republicans plan to throw at the bill.

The Republicans' main stated objection is that the increase in the minimum wage will hurt businesses, especially small businesses. Kennedy shot that down quickly, by pointing out that over the past several years, Congress has passed $240 billion in tax breaks for corporations, and $36 billion in tax breaks for small businesses--and despite a 42% increase in productivity, not a single extra penny has been mandated for the workers.

Then Kennedy got ticked off:

What is the price, we ask the other side? What is the price that you want from these working men and women? What cost? How much more do we have to give to the private sector and to business? How many billion dollars more, are you asking, are you requiring?

When does the greed stop, we ask the other side? That's the question and that's the issue. ...

Do you have such disdain for hard-working Americans that you want to pile all your amendments on this? Why don't you just hold your amendments until other pieces of legislation? Why this volume of amendments on just the issue to try and raise the minimum wage? What is it about it that drives you Republicans crazy? What is it? Something. Something! What is the price that the workers have to pay to get an increase? What is it about working men and women that you find so offensive?

The boldface on that last sentence I added, but with Kennedy's passion, it very well could have been his.

Republicans are being shameless on this one. Begrudging Americans on the lowest rungs even a cost-of-living increase while piling huge mountains of cash on the few who are making record profits already. Kennedy's question hits to the heart of the matter: Republicans must find the average American pretty damned offensive.

But this is not a surprise. The GOP passed through bills that supported huge pharmaceutical firms, making obscene profits, over elderly people of modest means just trying to stay alive. They voted for legislation that favored the credit industry, already flush with cash, over the poorer people of the nation. They gave billions and billions to Halliburton and other contractors, and billions more for weapons systems we won't need or use, and then chintzed on the soldiery by not giving them adequate armor or supplies whilst cutting their benefits and VA care back home. Republicans will fight through hell itself to give another hundred billion in tax cuts to those who sit upon piles of cash, but will not move a finger except in defiance when it comes to a meager nod to the people who actually produce that wealth but are denied access to it.

Whatever their rhetoric or prose, Republicans have spoken loudly and clearly with their actions: they despise the average American, especially those working the hardest and reaping the least.

Posted by Luis at 12:01 PM | Comments (3)

January 19, 2007

The First 100 50 Hours

The Democrats have now officially finished their "First 100 Hours" legislation barrage, in less than half the promised time. The initiative was completed when the Democratic-controlled House passed an Energy bill with a 264-163 majority, not enough to override a presidential veto. The bill passed by the house would raise $14 billion in revenue over 10 years by forcing oil companies to pay the tiny, meager royalties they are supposed to for drilling for oil on public lands, and rolls back tax breaks that save the oil companies billions even as their profits soar to ludicrous highs. Unsurprisingly, the bill is supported by a majority of Americans, though at 61% it is one of the less-popular items on the Democrats' agenda.

According to a new survey, the most popular item in the 100-Hours lineup was the minimum wage hike (81%), followed closely by the Medicare prescription drug bill (80%) and the student load rate cut (79%).

Other good news for Democratic lawmakers: Although the approval rating for Democrats in Congress hasn't changed too much, at 42% they are more popular than Bush right now, and besides, Congress always polls very low. But Pelosi has reason to be happy: her positives have risen from 27% to 34% over the past two weeks, and only 21% regard her unfavorably (compared to Newt Gingrich, who at this time in his leadership had 26% positive and 39% negative). So much for the conservative claims that Pelosi is the most-hated politician in Washington. The only reason her positives are only a hair below Bush's is because 41% still haven't heard much about her. Another way to look at it is that Bush's negatives are triple what Pelosi's are.

The only damper on the celebration: the Senate. Even though Democrats control the Senate, they do so by a razor-thin margin, and even though there is surprising Republican support for several of the 100-Hours measures, Republicans in the Senate may yet be able to filibuster most if not all of them, saving Bush the embarrassment of whipping out his promised and virtually-unused veto pen for bills that have overwhelming public support. Of course, Senate Republicans will have to deal with the embarrassment of filibustering after having for so many years claimed that it was a vile, despicable act.

The Democrats, in the meantime, are not embarrassed at all about denying Republican lawmakers from saturating the 100-Hours legislation with poison pills by denying them the ability to amend the legislation before a vote. For all their whining about being "treated fairly," after so many years of crushing the Democrats, having to put up with the same treatment for just a few weeks is chicken feed. If the Democrats go for the next decade or so in the same fashion, then the Republicans can start saying something, but frankly, the Democrats just don't have as much 'nasty' in them as Republicans do, which is a good thing and a bad thing; Republicans will get far better treatment from the Dems than the Dems got from them. Not that this will stop the Republicans from continuing their whining, of course.

Posted by Luis at 10:15 AM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2007

Three Down

The House passed a bill for stem cell research today, making it the third of six major targets the Democrats have planned for the "First 100 Hours" of the 110th Congress. However, unlike the first two measures, this one does not have a veto-proof majority in the House--and Bush has already vetoed such a bill before, the only veto in his six years as president so far. For something that could save lives and bring people back to health. Old news, but still emblematic, nonetheless.

Posted by Luis at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2007

Two Down

While the Senate has yet to act on any of this, the new Democratic-controlled House has just passed the second big First-100-Hours measure, a raise in the minimum wage. And like the passing of the 9/11 Commission recommendations yesterday, the minimum wage hike also passed with a veto-proof majority--this time with 82 Republicans joining all 233 Democrats, with 116 Republicans standing to deny minimum-wage workers their first raise in a very long, long time. 68 Republicans voted with Democrats on the 9/11 Commission recommendations, with 128 trying to block it.

The House Dems are living up to their pledge pretty well so far, and are bringing a surprising number of renegade Republicans with them.

Posted by Luis at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)