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Barbara Boxer: Republicans should be thanking us for meeting them more than halfway on spending cuts April 11, 2011

Posted by seeineye in : Politics , add a comment

by Barry Carr

I want you to go look at this graph, then watch the clip and consider the mentality of a human being who’d fight tooth and nail — forcing a shutdown of the entire federal government if need be — to make sure Republicans didn’t cut $61 billion from the budget this year. Using the rate at which the deficit increased in February, $61 billion would eliminate slightly more than one week of new liabilities. That was the GOP’s big “ask” — and Democrats were willing to go nuclear even over that. And now she wants a thank you for it. It’s cute how Paul Ryan thinks this country is still salvageable, despite overwhelming evidence like this to the contrary, isn’t it?

This is what the Democratic “brain trust” was thinking about today. To see what some of the rank and file were up to, read this. Click the image to watch.

Coming up: a Senate vote on ObamaCare April 11, 2011

Posted by seeineye in : Politics , add a comment

by Barry Carr

Markers…

One of the more intriguing parts of the budget deal announced late last night was a commitment from Harry Reid to allow two floor votes on Republican legislative priorities, both of which would never have otherwise seen in the Senate chamber before 2013.  The first is the effort to defund Planned Parenthood, a rider that got stripped out of last night’s final compromise, which would have an uncertain future in the Senate anyway.   The second, though, holds a great deal more promise, and a great deal of political risk for Democrats:

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed to remove the Planned Parenthood provision in exchange for an agreement that would allow Congress to take up the funding issue separately.The Republicans also won inclusion of a provision that will require the Senate to vote on a bill to de-fund the health care reform law.

This codicil didn’t even get a mention in other news reports, but could be one of the more significant aspects of the agreement.  The House has already worked on a bill to repeal ObamaCare, which before now had absolutely no chance of consideration while Harry Reid ran the Senate.  As we repeatedly pointed out during the election, repeal of ObamaCare will be impossible until at least 2013, when we have an opportunity to elect and install a new President who will sign such a bill, even had we won control of the Senate.

So this isn’t important because it holds some new hope for a quicker repeal.  Rather, it forces Democrats to defend the massive government expansion of control yet again, this time closer to the 2012 election.  Democrats didn’t run on ObamaCare in 2010, except in reliably liberal districts for House races, and the last thing they need in an already-difficult cycle is another reminder to voters of the unpopular program.  By forcing a floor vote in this agreement, Reid will have to get his caucus — now reduced to 53 rather than 59 — to entirely back ObamaCare in a new vote.

That means Senators like Bill Nelson in Florida will have to back it, even with the latest Quinnipiac poll showing voters there opposing it 41/49 more than a year after its rollout.  Jon Tester in Montana will have to explain yet again to his constituents why he wants the IRS to be health-insurance cops.  Claire McCaskill already has enough problems in Missouri, as does Ben Nelson in Nebraska.  Even Democrats running for re-election in 2014 — like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor in Arkansas — will have to go back on the record to support it in order to keep the repeal from passing Congress, and that comes after the clear expression of voter disapproval in last year’s midterms.

Of course, even if that happened, Obama would veto it, but that creates problems for him as well.  If Democrats peel away from ObamaCare and he has to veto it to keep it in place, he suddenly looks very extreme and out of touch.  He’d have to explain why his only real legislative accomplishment has become so toxic that his own party doesn’t back it any more, which would put him even further on the defensive and eliminate the “GOP used scare tactics” defense of ObamaCare that he’ll undoubtedly use on the campaign trail.

Frankly, I’m surprised Reid and Obama agreed to this.  This has zero upside for Democrats heading into 2012, and looks like a political trap.

Many believe Reid will renege on his promise, but that would also be political suicide.  Reid already has proven inept in budgeting matters, and if he breaks an agreement now, there will be hell to pay on the campaign trail in 2012 for it.  That will be an NRSC ad in every Senate race, asking voters whether they want to send a Democrat to the Senate and leave a lying welcher in charge.

Who won the budget fight? April 9, 2011

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by Barry Carr

Round One…

As everyone knows by now, the Great Government Shutdown of 2011 has been called off … or at least postponed.  Republicans finished what the Democrats wouldn’t by clinching a budget deal late last night, finishing up the FY2011 budget with a total reduction in spending of $49 billion:

Under the terms of the agreement, the six-month bill will slash $38.5 billion from current spending levels, which is $23 billion less than the reductions Republicans originally demanded but $30 billion more than what Democrats had initially offered to cut.

President Obama praised the budget compromise and the prevention of a shutdown. He warned the cuts would affect services and infrastructure work, even as he acknowledged the need for spending reductions. “I would not have made these cuts in better circumstances,” Obama said.

The bill does not include a Republican provision to de-fund Planned Parenthood, which provides health care services for women, including abortion. The Planned Parenthood provision was one of the main sticking points during the negotiations, with the GOP insisting it remain in the bill.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, agreed to remove the Planned Parenthood provision in exchange for an agreement that would allow Congress to take up the funding issue separately.The Republicans also won inclusion of a provision that will require the Senate to vote on a bill to de-fund the health care reform law.

Another provision won by Republicans would prohibit the District of Columbia from spending local or federal funds on abortion services.

This looks less like a victory for either side and more of a five-month truce.  The fight to cut just a tiny slice of the overall budget took months to resolve, and all of these issue will arise again in September when Congress has to pass the FY2012 budget.  Don’t expect the fight to get any easier, at least not on discretionary spending.

But that’s not the big problem anyway.  The big problem in the budget is entitlement spending, which will require months to review for reform.  The only proposal on the table for that at the moment is Ryan’s plan.  The other option would be to consider the Bowles-Simpson plan, but since Bowles and Simpson both gave at least praise for Ryan’s proposal, Ryan has the momentum.  Now, with FY2011 off the table, the House can move forward on serious entitlement reform that will give an actual opportunity to get significant reductions to the deficit and start us on the path of fiscal sanity.

We’ll see who won in September, but Republicans have achieved one major accomplishment.  Not only did they force the first actual reductions in government spending in ages, but they have changed the political paradigm from whether to cut to how much and where to cut.  That’s a pretty impressive victory for a party that only controls one chamber of Congress.

Democrats have spent the last four months arguing that Republicans were too radical to govern and wanted to destroy government.  Instead, Republicans fashioned a deal on their own terms and passed a budget deal — something Democrats couldn’t or wouldn’t do when they had all the power in DC.

 This gives the GOP a lot of credibility on leadership and governance, and all of it at the expense of Harry Reid and Barack Obama.

Ryan’s budget plan “brave, radical, and smart,” says … Jacob Weisberg? April 7, 2011

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by Barry Carr

Let’s face it: we all expected liberals and Democrats to call Paul Ryan’s new budget proposal “radical.”  We just didn’t expect it to be a compliment.  Not only does the reliably liberal columnist unexpectedly praise Ryan’s long-term budget plans, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg wrote that it gives the Republican Party the banner of intellectualism.

Yes, he means that as a compliment, too:

The Wisconsin Republican’s genuinely radical plan goes where Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich never did by sterminating the entitlement status of Medicare and Medicaid. (It doesn’t touch the third major entitlement, Social Security, though Ryan has elsewhere argued for extending its life by gradually raising the retirement age to 70.) Ryan changes Medicare into a voucher, which would be used to purchase private health insurance. He turns Medicaid into a block grant for states to spend as they choose. Though his budget committee isn’t responsible for taxes, Ryan includes the boldest tax reform proposal since the 1980s, proposing to lower top individual and corporate rates to 25 percent and end deductions. While he’s at it, Ryan caps domestic spending, repeals Obamacare, slashes farm subsidies, and more.

If the GOP gets behind his proposals in a serious way, it will become for the first time in modern memory an intellectually serious party—one with a coherent vision to match its rhetoric of limited government. Democrats are within their rights to point out the negative effects of Ryan’s proposed cuts on future retirees, working families, and the poor. He was not specific about many of his cuts, and Democrats have a political opportunity in filling in the blanks. But the ball is now in their court, and it will be hard to take them seriously if they don’t respond with their own alternative path to debt reduction and long-term solvency.

His continuing Bushisms aside, I like reading Weisberg, but I’m under no illusions about his policy preferences.  He’s normally a fair partisan, but he is a partisan, so when I read this much praise for a “radical” Republican reform effort from Weisberg, I’m wondering where the catch is.  And here it is:

And before they reject everything in Ryan’s plan, liberals might want to consider whether some of what he proposes doesn’t in fact serve their own ultimate goals. Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher provides an easy political target. But it’s hard to make a principled liberal case for the program in its current form. To do so, you have to argue that government-paid health care should be a right only for people over the age of 65, and for no one else. Medicare covers doctor and hospital bills at 100 percent, regardless of income. This gives doctors and patients an incentive to maximize their use of the system and waste public resources. Choosing to pay 100 percent of Warren Buffett’s medical bills while cutting Head Start reflects a strange set of social priorities, to say the least. …

Effectively constraining the growth of Medicare could make it possible for Democrats to do a lot else that’s important to them in the future. In 2010, Medicare spending was $519 billion, as compared with $666 billion for all nondefense domestic discretionary spending. Growing at more than 7 percent a year, Medicare is projected to eventually consume nearly all federal tax revenues. It is crowding out everything else that Washington does or might want to do. Conversely, cutting Medicare’s growth rate to near the overall rate of the economy would do more than anything else to enable the kind of activist government liberals support—investment in kids, education, jobs, and infrastructure. Ryan’s goal isn’t to empower the federal government. But if your goal is a more interventionist public sector, you might find yourself on Ryan’s side of the Medicare debate.

In other words, Weisberg likes Ryan’s proposal not because it means that government will spend less, but because it means that government will have more money to spend elsewhere.  I’m tempted to leave that assumption alone if it means that progressives get behind Ryan’s plan.  Why quibble, after all?

Of course, it won’t work that way in practice for one reason — Congress won’t have the political support to create massive deficits in discretionary spending.  The only reason that we’ve arrived at the debt and spending levels we have now is because two-thirds of it occurs on autopilot.  In order to spend in the manner Weisberg suggests, Congress would have to either explicitly spend money we don’t have, or raise taxes to cover it.  Either would be political suicide once entitlement spending was brought under control.

That’s Ryan’s point anyway.  We don’t have the money to write these checks in the first place, and we need to quit pretending that we do.  Even under Ryan’s plan, we will go for several years before we get back to a point where we finally can cover the checks we do write.

Weisberg’s final point is his best.  If Democrats don’t like Ryan’s plan, then they need to come up with one of their own that addresses that reality.  Until they do, they have effectively conceded their position as the party of fiscal and intellectual bankruptcy.

Can the House “deem” a bill into law? April 4, 2011

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by Barry Carr

Er … no.

Republicans screeched when Louise Slaughter attempted to push a “deem and pass” strategy for ObamaCare a little over a year ago, arguing that the notion of deeming the bill as passed in the House without a direct floor vote was an affront to democracy and the Constitution.  Democrats agreed — in 2003, when Republicans tried the same thing on a tax-credit measure.  In the end, Democrats abandoned “deem and pass” as a strategy after less than a week and held a floor vote on ObamaCare instead, which passed.

Republicans swore to restore Constitutional processes if returned to the majority in the House.  They’re not off to a great start.  They have revived deem and pass, with a twist — instead of claiming that a bill has passed, the GOP voted that a House bill would be deemed as effective law if the Senate failed to act (via David Brauer):

The House narrowly passed legislation on Friday that calls for a House-passed FY 2011 spending bill to become law should the Senate fail to approve a spending bill by April 6. It would also prevent members of Congress from being paid during a government shutdown.

The bill, H.R. 1255, was approved over bitter Democratic opposition in a 221-202 vote in which no Democrats supported it, and 15 Republicans opposed it.

Several Democrats argued that the measure is unconstitutional, charging that it would “deem” that the 2011 spending bill, H.R. 1, has the force of law if the Senate fails to act. Some Democrats seized on the floor comments from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who broke with his party and said on the floor that this aspect of the bill “violates my conscious and the Constitution, and I cannot vote for it.”

Gohmert’s right.  The process of making law under the Constitution isn’t exactly a secret.  Article I, Section 7 clearly states in unequivocal language that bills do not have the force of law until either a President signs a bill passed in both chambers, or both chambers override a Presidential veto by two-thirds majorities in both chambers, emphases mine:

Section 7 – Revenue Bills, Legislative Process, Presidential Veto

All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

In other words, a House bill has no legal effect whatsoever, unless the Senate also passes it.  A lack of action by the Senate does not allow the House to declare that a bill has suddenly acquired the status of law.  For a party that promised that every bill under its majority would have attached to it an avowal of constitutionality, this is an egregious mistake.

Still, there’s no small amount of irony in hearing Nancy “you have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it” Pelosi and former deem-and-pass defender Steny Hoyer complain about this new twist on the old racket:

“What you see on the floor today is no example of Democracy in action,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “It’s silly. The Republican leadership is asking its members to make a silly vote.”

“April Fools, America,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “This is a joke, America. This is not real, America.”

No, it’s not real at all.  Republicans need to stop the foolishness and act in accordance with the Constitution.

Here’s the roll call vote.