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The Rules change that could end gridlock in the US House

GOP pretzels

Record dysfunction in Congress: it’s NOT just the Senate, and NOT just the filibuster.

Republican extremists in the House have also been using parliamentary tricks to block legislation – including bills that had bipartisan support and would have passed if our elected Representatives were actually allowed to vote.

“The use of ‘closed rules’ has excluded most House members from full participation in the legislative process,” Rep. Louise Slaughter, ranking Democrat on the House Rules Committee, wrote earlier this week.

“Under a closed rule, no amendments are allowed on the House floor. As a result, House Republicans are able to pursue a politically driven agenda without allowing commonsense amendments that could achieve bipartisan compromise.  This approach has also empowered the most extreme members of the House to pursue narrow policy goals at all costs.”

Like, say, the government shutdown.

“On Sept. 30 — the eve of the government shutdown — Republicans on the House Rules Committee changed the rule so only House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) could call up a Senate-passed clean funding bill — a bill that has the votes to pass the House and would end the shutdown, if it were given a vote.”

One man, standing in the way of a vote that impacts millions of Americans.  (Remind you of anything?  Such as: then-Senator Scott Brown single-handedly blocking an extension of unemployment benefits, back in 2010?  The Senate couldn’t vote until they added an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.)

This is what’s REALLY wrong with Congress:  our elected Representatives aren’t being allowed to vote on legislation that has bipartisan support.

GOP leadership is using the “closed rule” process to keep the House from passing legislation.  Last year was the most “closed” year in House history.  “In fact, the House GOP passed as many closed rules in a single week in October as during the entire last year of Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) speakership.”

The Senate is finally reforming the filibuster.

Isn’t it time for the House to reform the “closed rule” process?

The real story behind Congressional dysfunction

US CONGRESS

Take five minutes and watch…

Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen explains how Speaker Boehner bends to the will of the Tea Party Caucus — and keeps the House from voting on bills that would pass, if members were just allowed to vote.

Just one example:

If the Speaker of the House brought up the comprehensive immigration bill – that has already passed the Senate – if he brought that up for a vote in the House today, it would pass.  We could have it on the President’s desk by this afternoon.

 

Shea-Porter Urges Speaker Boehner to Stop Playing Games with U.S. Default

CSP Official Photo

CSP Official PhotoWASHINGTON, DC – Building on her efforts to end the government shutdown and put Americans back to work, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) today called on Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to stop threatening default, end the government shutdown, and work across the aisle on a bipartisan budget that grows the economy and creates jobs.

In two days, the United States is slated to exhaust its borrowing authority, resulting in self-inflicted wounds that could cripple economic growth, create uncertainty for families and businesses, and drive the country back into recession. Increasing the debt limit does not authorize new spending nor does it increase the deficit. It simply allows the Treasury Department to pay the bills Congress has already incurred.

“Instead of taking our country to the brink of default, Washington Republicans should reopen the government and ensure America pays its bills on time so we can negotiate a bipartisan budget and focus on growing the economy,” Shea-Porter said. “For Speaker Boehner to allow the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party to put its ideology ahead of the health of the U.S. economy and financial security of New Hampshire families is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

In recent days, Senate Democratic and Republican lawmakers have held multiple meetings over a bipartisan approach to ending the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling. To date, House Republican leaders have refused to bring a bipartisan funding bill up for a vote. Today, Speaker Boehner discussed introducing legislation that would only raise the debt ceiling if parts of the Affordable Care Act were repealed or delayed, such as removing requirements that employer-offered health insurance cover birth control and other forms of contraception.

“These partisan politics are exactly what Granite Staters hate about Washington,” Shea-Porter said. “This shutdown has now dragged on for two weeks, and that’s two weeks too many. It’s time to re-open our government, pay our nation’s bills, and work together to create jobs.”

Economists and politicians have widely agreed that failure to raise the debt ceiling will have significant negative consequences on the U.S. economy.

President Ronald Reagan: “The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate.”

Judd Gregg, Former Republican Senator from New Hampshire: “Defaulting on the nation’s obligations, which is the alternative to not increasing the debt ceiling, is not an option either substantively or politically. A default would lead to some level of chaos in the debt markets, which would lead to a significant contraction in economic activity, which would lead to job losses, which would lead to higher spending by the federal government and lower tax revenues, which would lead to more debt.   It understates things to say merely this is not a smart position to put forward. It is a terrible policy that would produce immense economic disruption and very difficult times for people on Main Street.”

U.S. Chamber of Commerce:  “The U.S. Chamber respectfully urges the House of Representatives to raise the debt ceiling in a timely manner and thus eliminate any question of threat to the full faith and credit of the United States government.” [letter to Congress, 9/18/13]

Ben Bernanke, Chairman Federal Reserve Bank: “A government shutdown, and perhaps even more so a failure to raise the debt limit, could have very serious consequences for the financial markets and for the economy.”

Mark Zandi, Chief Economist at Moody’s Analytics: “It will be devastating to the economy… Consumer confidence will sharply decline, investor confidence, business confidence. Businesses will stop hiring, consumers will stop spending, the stock market will fall significantly in value, borrowing costs for businesses and households will rise.”

Bloomberg Editorial Board: “A default could trigger a global crash.”

Steve Bell, Senior Director for Economic Policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center: “I don’t know any serious person who doesn’t think this will be cataclysmic.”

Washington Post: “[A] debt-ceiling breach would push the economy into a free fall…The Obama administration will have to decide whether to delay — or possibly suspend — tens of billions of dollars in Social Security checks, food stamps and unemployment benefits if negotiations to raise the federal debt ceiling are not resolved this week, experts say, one of the many difficult choices officials will have to make at a time when the government will essentially be running on fumes.”

New York Times Editorial Board: “The Republican-induced government shutdown and the party’s threats to create another crisis next week over the debt ceiling are causing harm internationally as well as at home. They are undermining American leadership in Asia, impeding the functioning of the national security machinery, upsetting global markets and raising questions about the political dysfunction of a country that has long been the world’s democratic standard-bearer.”

 

Does The Government Shutdown Mean “The End of the World”? The Radical Religious Right Thinks So

end_of_the_world_by_swanksalot_via_Flikr

The End of the World Is Nigh

Ok, so maybe the government shutdown IS “the end of the world.”  At least as far as some Tea Party leaders are concerned.

Yes, seriously.  No, this is not a joke.

This eye-opening analysis comes from Rev. Morgan Guyton, a pastor in Virginia:

I wanted to do some research into the theological roots of Senator Ted Cruz, the standard-bearer of the Tea Party Republicans behind the shutdown… It turns out that Ted’s father, Rafael Cruz, is a pastor with Texas charismatic ministry Purifying Fire International who has been campaigning against Obamacare the last several months. He has a distinct theological vision for what America is supposed to look like: Christian dominionism.

Here’s Sen. Cruz’s father, a year ago: “But here’s the exciting thing… The rabbinical teaching is… that in a few weeks begins that year 2012 and that this will begin what we call the end-time transfer of wealth.”

Here’s how the Rev. Guyton distills the current state of Cruz’s theology:

The reason governmental regulation has to disappear from the marketplace is to make it completely available to the plunder of Christian ‘kings’ who will accomplish the ‘end time transfer of wealth.’ Then ‘God’s bankers’ will usher in the ‘coming of the messiah.’ The government is being shut down so that God’s bankers can bring Jesus back.

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OK, take a minute to breathe here.  Remember that most Christians (including, particularly, Rev. Guyton) don’t believe that bankers can bring Jesus back.  (Most Christians take a very different message from the Bible.  Remember my post “The Republicans Make an Offer on Sequestration”?)

But it’s a very enlightening perspective on the current federal crisis.

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Prepared for even more enlightenment?  Read Rev. Guyton’s post on “The God of No Compromise and the Government Shutdown.”

[For evangelicals], the word ‘compromise’ has always been a bad word. It means to allow non-Christian values and influences to corrupt your devotion to Biblical truth.  … a stormtrooper evangelical Republican must categorically reject any idea that is generated by a Democrat because accepting it would amount to a compromise of worldview.

This need to “categorically reject” Democratic ideas helps explain why the right-wing Heritage Foundation so adamantly opposes Obamacare.  If you’re a policy geek, you might remember that the Heritage Foundation actually proposed the individual mandate, back in 1989.  But now that’s a Democratic policy… Sen. Cruz believes it’s a reason to shut down the government.

It also helps explain why – no matter how hard President Obama may try to “compromise” – his attempts to “meet in the middle” are always going to be rejected.  Read “Translating from TeaPartyese: What ‘negotiate’ really means.”

“Let Them Eat Cat Food”: The Truth Behind The GOP’s Ten Year Push To Cut Social Security

marie antoinette

marie antoinetteAs the latest GOP-caused national crisis begins to coalesce around the Tea Party’s demand for Social Security cuts… here are some facts worth remembering:

  1. Even though President Obama included chained-CPI in his FY14 budget proposal, it wasn’t his ideaChained-CPI – which incrementally reduces Social Security benefits – was first proposed in 2003 by then-Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan as a way of cutting the federal budget deficit.  (Read Greenspan’s testimony to Congress here.)
  2. Almost exactly a year later, Greenspan was back before Congress, arguing that “Congress should make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent and cover the $1 trillion price by trimming future benefits in Social Security and other entitlement programs.”
  3. The American public has never supported the Bush tax cuts. Just months after the first round of tax cuts was passed, in 2001, a Washington Post poll found that 57% of Americans wanted to roll back the tax cuts in order to preserve the federal budget surplus. (Yes, we had a surplus, back then.)
  4. The Bush tax cuts primarily benefited the folks at the top of the food chain.  The top 1% received more tax benefits than the bottom 80% of taxpayers combined.
  5. Even Bush’s own economists disavowed the idea that lower taxes improve the economy.  Back in 2006: “Even under favorable assumptions, making the tax cuts permanent would have a barely perceptible impact on the economy.  Under more realistic assumptions…the tax cuts could even hurt the economy.”

So here we are, 12 years after the public said “repeal the tax cuts”… 10 years after Greenspan suggested using chained-CPI to reduce the budget deficit… nine years after Greenspan explicitly told Congress to choose between tax cuts and Social Security… seven years after Bush economists reported that his tax cuts would likely hurt the economy…

..and there’s a faction of the Congress insisting on even more tax cuts… and Social Security cuts… or they’re going to blow the economy to smithereens.

As you’re watching events unfold in Washington, over the next few weeks, remember this fact, too:

By 2010, even Alan Greenspan thought the Bush tax cuts should go away.

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Got the aspirin bottle handy?

In his 2003 testimony to Congress, Greenspan also suggested a third path: increased immigration.  “Short of a major increase in immigration, economic growth cannot be safely counted upon to eliminate deficits and the difficult choices that will be required to restore fiscal discipline.”

(But it turns out that that same small faction in Congress doesn’t like immigrants, either.)

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Don’t know what the chained-CPI brouhaha is all about?  Read the latest report from the National Committee for the Preservation of Social Security and Medicare here.

Here’s how I look at it:

Chained-CPI is a vivid example of the “race to the bottom” that unions have been trying to stop for years.  It assumes that when personal finances are tight, consumers will alter their purchasing behavior and buy cheaper products.  Then, since they’re spending less, Congress figures they’ll need less money in Social Security benefits.

It’s the image of a senior citizen, trying to make ends meet, who gives up buying beef because she can only afford chicken… and then her Social Security benefit drops, so she gives up chicken and buys tuna… but with the next benefit drop, she can’t afford tuna anymore.

It’s the cat food thing.

(And BTW… given that about 12% of our nation’s jobs are in retail… I gotta wonder about the idea of “solving” a federal fiscal crisis by slowly strangling consumer spending.)

“GOP VALUES” — How The GOP Shows Favoritism to Unearned Income over Hard Work

Horatio Alger

Something else I don’t understand about Republican dogma…

GOP rhetoric seems to idealize the virtues of hard work:  “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Just get a job.”  “Quit freeloading.” It’s like they actually believe the Horatio Alger myth.

But look at our federal tax structure, and the changes Republicans have forced through since Ronald Reagan.   There is no reward for hard work.  Instead, our current tax system is tilted strongly in favor of those who already have money.  Investment income — unearned income — is now taxed at about half the rate of wage income.

Flashback to the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis: “Even an architect of the Bush tax cuts, economist Glenn Hubbard, tells Rolling Stone that there should have been a ‘revenue contribution’ to the debt-ceiling deal, ‘structured to fall mainly on the well-to-do.’ Instead, the GOP strong-armed America into sacrificing $1 trillion in vital government services – including education, health care and defense – all to safeguard tax breaks for oil companies, yacht owners and hedge-fund managers. The party’s leaders were triumphant: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell even bragged that America’s creditworthiness had been a ‘hostage that’s worth ransoming.’ ”

Now, let’s look at the impact that this VERY ODD tax preference has had on the US economy.

What happens, when our tax system rewards investment income, rather than actual work?

  1. Private equity “investors” use acquired corporations to borrow money – and then use that borrowed money to pay themselves dividends.  “Investment”?  Not hardly.  The acquired corporations go belly-up when they can’t pay pack the debt, leaving hundreds (or thousands) of workers unemployed.  Read “What Mitt Romney Taught Us about America’s Economy.”
  2. CEOs take more compensation as dividends, rather than wages.  Even accounting for inflation, top-tier taxpayers took home six times more dividends in 2009 than in 1992.  “But each dollar paid to the CEO in dividends costs the company (and the economy) a whole lot of money that could have been reinvested. Going back to Fred Smith as an example, his 15 million shares in the company represent only a fraction of the outstanding stock. For Mr. Smith to receive $8.5 million in dividends, personally, the company has to pay out well over $100 million in total dividends – money that could have been invested in new hires, or new planes, or new facilities (or improved employee benefits).”
  3. Some of those CEOs “invest” that money in politics.  And the cycle repeats itself.

“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps”??!? Bootstraps are getting very hard to find, these days.

(But please don’t shop for them at Walmart.  The corporation’s “Lowest Prices” policy has had a devastating effect on the US economy.  “Wal-Mart has the power to squeeze profit-killing concessions from vendors. To survive in the face of its pricing demands, makers of everything from bras to bicycles to blue jeans have had to lay off employees and close U.S. plants in favor of outsourcing products from overseas.”   Meanwhile, Walton family members – who receive about half of all dividends paid by Walmart – are doing just fine.)

GOP in Congress: Keeping — or BREAKING? — Promises

Crossed Fingers I by Katie Tegtmeyer via Flikr

Crossed fingers ICan someone please explain to me… how can the GOP be simultaneously

What, exactly, is the big difference?  For Social Security and Medicare, people have paid money into the system, with the expectation that they would receive an agreed-upon return (benefits) at a later date.  Just the same way that bondholders have loaned money, with the expectation that they would receive an agreed-upon return (principal plus interest) at a later date.

Would bondholders be happy if House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan suggested trimming bond repayments between 15% and 45%?  So why should people who have paid into Social Security accept those kinds of cuts?

Let’s see… if Ryan reduced federal bond payments by 15%, wouldn’t that free up about $54 billion a year?  Wait… wouldn’t that more than cover the $40 billion of cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that Republicans want to make?

Pediatricians at the Boston Medical Center have studied the interaction between hunger and health, and yesterday announced that SNAP was “one of America’s most cost-effective and successful public health programs in the country” and by improving children’s health, SNAP actually “saves society money.”  Except that Republicans want to cut children’s health insurance, too.  At this point, you halfway expect House leadership to start quoting Jonathan Swift.  But I digress.

Or if Ryan reduced bond payments by 45%, wouldn’t that free up about $162 billion a year?  Which would more than cover the revenue cost of not returning to Clinton-era tax rates.

But the GOP isn’t suggesting that bondholders should absorb those sorts of cuts…oh, no, that would be unthinkable.  So why would they think that Social Security recipients are fair game?

You pay your money in, you expect to get it back as promised.

Here’s what I think will happen, during the next few weeks of government shutdown/debt-limit crisis.  I think the Republicans will stop using Obamacare as their line in the sand/can’t compromise issue.  I think they will switch to insisting on some sort of “Entitlement Reform” in exchange for not driving our economy totally off the cliff.  And “Entitlement Reform” is Tea Party lingo for making cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

At one level, I guess it’s fair to lump Social Security and Medicare into the category of “entitlements” – you pay your money in, you’re entitled to get it back as promised.

Just like the US Treasury’s bondholders are entitled to get their money back as promised.

I’m wondering how the GOP is going to explain the difference between those promises, over the next few weeks.  Can’t imagine what rhetoric they will come up with, to justify holding bondholders harmless while trying to cut Social Security benefits.

 

Translating from TeaPartyese: What “negotiate” really means

Federal Tax Revenues as Percentage of GDP

Stahlwille ratchet head (1/2 SQ)Don’t let them fool you.

When GOP Congressmen say they “just want to negotiate” – what they’re really saying is “we’re going to have it our way”.

And when they talk about “compromise” – they’re really talking about “ratcheting it down even further.”

You know how a ratchet works, right?  When you turn it, the screw can only go one way.  And the Tea Party’s position is: government can only get smaller.

They’re yelling about the federal deficit – and accumulated federal debt – but the only “solution” they’re willing to entertain is to cut spending.  Have you heard anybody suggest raising revenues, lately?

The fact is: as a share of the nation’s economy, federal tax revenues are at almost-record lows. Yes, they were lower, back when Harry Truman was President – but that was before Medicare was enacted in 1965.

Federal Tax Revenues as Percentage of GDP

And it looks like the GOP may have already won the federal budget game.

Remember 2011, when House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan came out with his budget“$4 trillion of cuts over decade

Remember how radical that budget seemed, back then?  How far to the right?  How extreme the cuts appeared?

Now, take a closer look at the “continuing resolution” passed by the Democratically-controlled Senate last week, in a last-ditch effort to avoid the government shutdown.

Yeah, the same “continuing resolution” that the House GOP won’t send to an up-do-down vote, without further concessions.

Funding levels in that “continuing resolution” are about 10% less than what Chairman Ryan proposed, back in 2011.

And it came from the Democrats.

And it’s still not enough for the GOP.

Ratchet, ratchet, ratchet.

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Read more about how the Senate’s continuing resolution compares to the Ryan budget here.

See the tax revenue data that my chart is based on here.

 

 

 

Want to keep the government afloat? Here’s the list of House GOP demands

ginsu


Just like the old Ginzu Knife commercials… “But wait, there’s more!”

Yes, House GOP leaders are insisting on a one-year delay of Obamacare (aka, the Affordable Care Act) as a condition of resolving this latest federal fiscal fiasco.

But that’s not all they’re looking for.

As compiled by the New York Times, here’s the list of House GOP leaders’ other demands:

…fast-track authority to overhaul the tax code, construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, offshore oil and gas production and more permitting of energy exploration on federal lands… roll back regulations on coal ash, block new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on greenhouse gas production, eliminate a $23 billion fund to ensure the orderly dissolution of failed major banks, eliminate mandatory contributions to the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, limit medical malpractice lawsuits and increase means testing for Medicare, among other provisions.

Does anybody (other than Fox News and a few hundred Internet trolls) still think the House leadership is trying to “compromise” and resolve this latest Congress-created crisis?

 

GOP House Members still fighting? Gonna be costly.

Last person leaving, please dock the doors

No, it’s not de ja vu. It’s just that… so much of it is still exactly on-point.  Wish it wasn’t, but it is. So, with very few updates, here’s a repeat of my post from February 6, 2013:

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Last person leaving, please dock the doorsHoping for bipartisan cooperation, now that the election is over? Think again.

The weekend before the inauguration, Republicans gathered in Williamsburg to discuss strategies for “fighting” the President. Just a week later, former Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was telling a gathering of conservatives that “Republicans control both the House and most of the statehouses. So we have to oppose the president and the Senate on some fronts—and engage them on others…”

Does that sound like cooperation to you?

Looks like it’s going to be an interesting next few months. Two dates to mark on your calendar:

On March 1st, the sequestration cuts are scheduled to go went into effect. Cutting government services through these automatic, across-the-board cuts is expected to send the economy back into recession. One example: according to a study commissioned by the airline industry, the FAA’s share of the sequestration cuts is about $1 billion a year. That cut would reduce the nation’s air traffic between 5% and 10%, and the country would lose between 66,000 and 132,000 jobs related to air transportation. The irony? The economic losses would cause tax revenues to drop by as much as $1 billion a year. (Hmmn… $1 billion in tax revenues lost because of a $1 billion spending cut. Not a whole lot of deficit-reduction going on, is there?)  After members of Congress were inconvenienced by airport delays, the FAA was granted special treatment under the sequestration act.  Recent estimates of the economic costs of sequestration include:  1.6 million jobs and 1.2% of GDP.

On March 27th  September 30th, the “continuing resolution” that funded federal government expired. That means a possible “government shutdown”. According to Politico, a majority of GOP House members “are prepared to shut down the government to make their point. House Speaker John Boehner ‘may need a shutdown just to get it out of their system,’ said a top GOP leadership adviser.”

What happens if the government shuts down? Federal employees who are deemed “essential” are still required to go to work – they just don’t get paid until after Congress approves a bill to pay them. The last time there was a significant government shutdown, almost a half-million federal employees were required to work without pay for three weeks.

The economic damage went far beyond the family finances of federal employees. The crisis also caused 11 states to suspend unemployment insurance, due to lack of federal funds. Veterans’ services were suddenly unavailable (including counseling, vocational rehabilitation, and pension and education payments). The crisis affected the oil industry, leaving more than 10,000 barrels a day untapped while companies waited for federal reviews. The tourism industry suffered millions of dollars in losses each day of the shutdown, because passports and visas were not processed. The housing industry suffered when $800 million worth of mortgage loans were delayed. The crisis halted cleanup of 609 toxic waste sites. It left hundreds of thousands of children in limbo, waiting for foster care or adoption.

And that was only a partial government shutdown. Most of the government still had funding, during that shutdown. (Just imagine what may happen on March 27th! now!)

There’s a moral here, folks. Government services are integral to our nation’s economy.

Is there any hope that Congress could learn that lesson, in the next month or so? Or is the GOP going to insist on doing economic damage, “just to get it out of their system”?

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