The GOP Strategy from Day One

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DDOn day one, the new GOP-led Congress has inserted a House rule making a technical change in the way funds for Social Security disability are allocated. On day one, in its first act, before any legislation is introduced, in the very procedures of its operation, the GOP House has set dead aim, targeted, and is going after the nation’s cripples. I use the word “cripple” to reflect the GOP pejorative world view—their insensitivity and demeaning, brutish, lowered standard of human virtues and afflictions, their harsh, punitive, belittling, angry, mocking, power-mad oppression of the weak.

So on day one, the nation’s 8,956,000 disabled, along with 1,825,000 children of the disabled, will find their benefits at peril. What the new rule does is separate Social Security as retirement income from its function as disability income. The rule no longer permits the reallocation of monies from one fund to the other without Congressional approval. Right now, the disability trust fund is underfunded. It is at risk of expiring within the next year. The GOP rule blocked its automatic save; the retirement trust funds can keep both programs solvent, with no changes, until 2033.

So we see the unveiling of the GOP strategy: create and advance crises by using Congressional authority to squeeze and micro-manage safety net program funds. Use the same authority to eliminate regulations that control the greed of big business and the rich. Finally, expose the country to the pillage and theft of resources and end broad family prosperity by creating a government that both gives away and takes away benefits that increase growth, income, freedom, security and opportunity for individuals.

Reporter Michael Hiltzik writes in the Los Angeles Times about the social security rule change:

The rule change reflects the burgeoning demonization of disability recipients, a trend we’ve reported on in the past. it’s been fomented by conservative Republicans and abetted by sloppy reporting by institutions such as NPR and 60 Minutes.

Disability recipients are easily caricatured as malingering layabouts by politicians, academics and journalists too lazy to do their homework. They’ll say disability benefits are easy to obtain, so lavish they discourage work, and convenient substitutes for welfare payments. None of that is true.

Hiltzik’s article explains who receives benefits and how they qualify, dissembling the characteristic stereotypes the GOP desperately seeks to protect as it pretends to defend the retirement benefit.

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On the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate chamber, on day one Republicans introduced a bill to change the definition of “full-time worker” in the Affordable Care Act (ACA, widely known as Obamacare) from 35 hours to 40 hours a week. The bill quickly received loud criticism from arch-conservative pundits, including Bill Kristof. But the 40-hour redefinition will make it easier for businesses to exempt their employee’s from coverage without lowering productivity—by cutting just one hour a week from their labor schedule! This technical workaround is an example of the kind that will become common in the 114th Congress over the next two years. Continue reading The GOP Strategy from Day One

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Stormy Monday, 12/8/14

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StormyMondayThe 113th Congress, having covered itself with neither dust nor glory, holds its last session Friday. Members have a whopping five days to try and figure out how to keep the government funded, along with all sorts of other pending measures that – darn the luck! – they were just too busy to get to sooner. Ironically, the only thing that might keep the 113th out of the history books as a singular national disgrace is the incoming 114th; with Republicans running the show in both chambers, nothing good can possibly come out of it.

MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who recently made controversial remarks about the crafting of the Affordable Care Act (a process in which he participated as a consultant) will sit down with Darrell Issa and the rest of the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday. Committee Republicans are desperate to leverage Gruber’s remarks to prove that the White House used deception to win passage of the bill. And if that effort fails, they can just go back to squawking about Benghazi. To that end, the Select Committee on Benghazi holds its second hearing on Wednesday. Beats working, I guess.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will testify Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on efforts to halt the Ebola epidemic. Just in time, too. Come January when Republicans become the majority in the chamber, the loftiest discussion will probably be restricted to topics like whether to reintroduce Freedom Fries in the Capitol cafeterias.

Rain in New York City over the weekend temporarily quieted ongoing protests over police violence in the aftermath of a grand jury failing to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo for killing Eric Garner. In contrast, weekend demonstrations in Berkeley and Seattle, goaded by the response of law enforcement officers, turned violently confrontational.

Kings County DA Kenneth Thompson has started the process of impaneling a grand jury to weigh charges against rookie NYPD officer Peter Liang, who killed Akai Gurley, another unarmed African-American man, on November 20. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 12/8/14

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Gloom and Doom in the Senate

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Grumpy2Grumpy: Ya know, Mouse, I’m actually not exactly grumpy today. Now that the post-election fog has lifted and I can get a clear picture of what the next two years are going to look like, my grumpiness has been replaced by unmitigated terror. The havoc that the Teapublicans could cause on every aspect of American society and economy has me ready to crawl under a rock until sanity is restored. The reality is that if we all did that then the insanity would continue and only get worse.

Mouse: I’d crawl under a rock too but they’re kinda uncomfortable and don’t provide near enough protection from the elements and cats, snakes, owls, and, well… you get the idea.

Grumpy: I don’t think we have time in this discussion for touching on all the areas of dread, so I’ll bring up a few on the Senate side of things as they relate to defense and “homeland security” (I really do hate that phrase but I guess we are stuck with it).

Mouse:Homeland security” reminds me of the Bush Jr. years. That’s yet another thought to curdle the milk on your breakfast cereal.

Grumpy: The Senate Armed Services Committee will now be chaired by John McCain. That fact alone sends me into spasms. On the plus side though, Sen. McCain has made noises about going after cost overruns. Don’t get too hopeful, however. He has made no mention of going after programs and projects that even the military doesn’t want. Another sobering example of his “leadership” is that he wants to modify the Teapublican darling of sequestration but only so far as he thinks it takes too much away from our military budget. I suppose his “pay-for” will be to cut more programs for the poor and middle class.

Mouse: McCain is proof that the people of Arizona have really poor taste in Senators. But don’t look at me, I voted for the other guy. At least we can be thankful that McCain wasn’t elected President, and he can’t declare war on anyone as a committee chairman.

Grumpy: Oh, Lord, the thought of McCain as President just sent a shiver up my spine. The man with such good judgement he would have put Palin a heartbeat away from the nuclear button? Can’t you just hear Palin’s screechy voice as she runs through the White House yelling, “John? Johhhnnnnn? You can’t hide John, I want that nucular football, John, ‘cuz I’s kin see Poootin from me house.” Yikes!

But enough about Teapublican terror fantasies that will never come true, back to reality which is scary enough.

If your looking for answers or openness on matters relating to the CIA or NSA, you’re in for a big disappointment. The Senate Intelligence Committee will now be chaired by Sen. Richard Burr (said to be the CIA’s favorite Senator). Here is what the Senator recently said about the killing of bin Laden and the use of “enhanced interrogation” (torture) in getting him:

“The information that eventually led us to this compound was the direct result of enhanced interrogations; one can conclude if we had not used enhanced interrogations, we would not have come to yesterday’s action.”

Even the CIA admitted that the torture — sorry, “enhanced interrogation” didn’t work. How “intelligent” is it to keep repeating easily proven lies?

Mouse: Yet another effort by a Republican to rewrite history.

Grumpy: Just these two committees in the Senate have the power to disrupt our military and procurement, increase an already oversized military budget, let the intelligence agencies run around or crash through what little Senate oversight is left, and pass more of the costly burdens of our nation’s adventurism to those least able to pay for it. Continue reading Gloom and Doom in the Senate

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A Time To Act

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DDThe next Republican step will be to force President Obama to use the veto in a way that tanks Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the Presidency. The GOP-led Senate will not be interested in passing any useful legislation. The Senate will function only as a political wedge, driving bills that the President will veto, but that will also be loaded with riders affixed to the GOP agenda.

With the McConnell Senate, President Obama will be consistently faced with the lesser of two evils, between which there won’t be a dime’s worth of difference. The Senate will turn his vetoes into a political wedge, often pointing to the issues from both sides, to create a circle of confusion.

Remember, the House rarely sent up a clean bill, whether on the debt or a continuing resolution—which is what led to the government shutdown in 2013—surprisingly never mentioned by Democratic candidates, who gave the GOP a free pass on one of the worst of its legislative disasters domestically and internationally, damaging US standing in every world capital. Expect no less from Democrats, nor any more from Republicans with their win in the Senate.

It seems throughout the election Democrats were thinking about offices; Republicans were thinking about power. Republicans used the very shadows they created (a do-nothing Congress, Obama!) and pretended to oppose it by feigning substance, taking even tougher stands on waste, debt, red tape and intrusion—all of which they created in the shadows, all of which had been reduced in the light. But no one among the Democrats attached this darkness to Republican names.

Only dark money was attached. Russ Choma, at NoOpenSecrets.org (part of the Center for Responsive Politics) writes:

The real story of the election’s campaign finance chapter was not which side had more resources, but that such a large chunk of the cost was paid for by a small group of ultra-wealthy donors using outside groups to bury voters with an avalanche of spending.”

OpenSecrets further noted:

Spending by outside groups fall in three categories: independent expenditureselectioneering communications and communication costs. The 2004 election marked a watershed moment in the use of independent expenditure to sway voters, with most of the new spending coming from the national party committees. The 2010 election marks the rise of a new political committee, dubbed “super PACs,” and officially known as “independent-expenditure only committees,” which can raise unlimited sums from corporations, unions and other groups, as well as wealthy individuals.

The center issued this chart that looks at combined totals: Continue reading A Time to Act

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Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

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StormyMondayAlready a month overdue, the President’s budget proposal is expected to drop Tuesday. Various House committees are already poised to posture, pontificate and proclaim their dismay, disgust and dudgeon, or – as it’s known in Washington – hold hearings.

The Senate will follow suit, and the liveliest of its proceedings will probably be the Wednesday appearance before the Armed Services Committee of Defense Secretary Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chair Dempsey. The witness panel will have the “best” seats in town at the pathetic spectacle of Republican committee members snuffling about that uppity President trying to destroy America’s ability to defend itself. Any day now, James Inhofe or Saxby Chambliss will realize that the President’s proposed cuts could leave the nation wide open to invasion… by Kenya.

Benjamin Netanyahu comes to Washington this week. His Monday schedule includes meetings with President Obama and with Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, plus a meeting and press conference with Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner. Netanyahu’s standard call for a hard line against the supposedly grave and gathering threat of Iran might not garner much enthusiasm from American politicians suddenly more concerned with reality in Ukraine than hypotheticals in the Middle East. Tuesday, though, Netanyahu addresses this year’s AIPAC conference, where he’ll undoubtedly find plenty of people very, very enthused.

Work is slated to begin Monday morning on a two-year, $60-million restoration of the Capitol Dome, the first such work there since 1960. A covered walkway in the Rotunda during renovations will ensure safe passage into and out of the Senate and House, which will themselves remain broken indefinitely.

However, DC is expected to receive between five and eight inches of snow this particular Stormy Monday, so the restoration schedule could be off to a rough start. Weather has already been cited for the postponement of a planned Monday evening Senate cloture vote in the confirmation proceedings of controversial nominee Debo P. Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/3/14

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Stormy Monday, 2/3/14

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StormyMondayFor what it’s worth, Punxsutawney Phil’s outrageous prediction of six more weeks of this vile winter ensures that Broncos fans aren’t the only people shocked and saddened this week. It would cheer me up greatly if the Administration responded this week to the 242,995 signatories on a White House petition to revoke Justin Bieber’s green card and ship the insufferable little brat back over the Peace Bridge. Sadly, Press Secretary Jay Carney would go no further than saying an official response will be issued “relatively soon.” Stay tuned, and keep the signatures coming.

Tuesday, Bill Nye heads for Kentucky’s Creation Museum to debate Ken Ham, the museum’s founder, on the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?” You can watch the debate live online, but I’m going ahead and calling it right now. Nye will win, Ham will claim otherwise, and nobody’s mind will be changed.

The President will “deliver remarks” at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday at the Washington Hilton. If he’s stuck for material, one remark that would suit the occasion is the famous quote from Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association:

… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/3/14

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Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

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StormyMondayThe most compelling evidence yet for the non-existence of God was revealed earlier this month by Roll Call, which announced that Darrell Issa is now the richest member of Congress. Flush with his undeserved success, Issa flew to Libya yesterday, breaking an Oversight and Government Reform Committee rule he himself instituted that mandates all committee-sanctioned foreign junkets be bipartisan. While Issa frantically searches under every couch cushion in Benghazi for a smoking gun that will destroy the Obama Presidency, it sure would be a fine time to revoke his passport.

A government shutdown on October 1 remains a distinct possibility following last Friday’s passage by the House of a continuing resolution that would fund government operations through mid-December, but also defund Obamacare. Despite Ted Cruz huffing and puffing about a filibuster, the Senate will no doubt remove the provisions related to the Affordable Care Act and punt the bill back to the House, probably this week. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but assuming the worst seems an increasingly safe bet.

The House resolution includes a “death gratuity” payable to the widow of Senator Frank Lautenberg in the sum of $174,000, a common though not automatic Congressional perk. If the gratuity makes it into a bicamerally-approved version of the resolution, I expect Mrs. Lautenberg will probably steer the money to some worthy cause or another. She certainly doesn’t need it; her late husband’s net worth has been estimated at $57 million.

Having botched the continuing resolution, the House might also hork up a debt ceiling bill this week, according to reptilian Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor is on record as saying it will include a provision to “delay” the implementation of Obamacare for one year, and another to ensure completion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Plus a bunch more provisions to do other bad things. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/23/13

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Stormy Monday, 9/16/13

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StormyMondayNow that Congressional Republicans have slunk back from their extended and entirely undeserved late summer holidays, they have a lot of catching up to do in their continuing efforts to make pretty much everything worse for everybody except the wealthy, and eventually even for them. Look for a bill to be introduced this week that would double the $20 billion in SNAP cuts over 10 years previously endorsed by the House Agriculture Committee and reintroduce work requirements for eligibility in an economy where the official jobless rate is still north of 7.5%. Look for renewed efforts to kill federal nutrition programs. Look for a measure to erode federal standards and increase timber harvesting in national forests. Look for more blather about a spending resolution, and a possible government shutdown. Listen for exploding irony meters across DC on Wednesday when the Joint Economic Committee convenes a hearing titled, “The Economic Costs of Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship.”

Sybrina Fulton, mother of murder victim Trayvon Martin, will testify Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights on “stand your ground” laws. Senators will offer condolences to Ms. Fulton, listen politely to her remarks, ask a few questions, make sympathetic noises, then head for the nearest Capitol Hill steakhouse to try and forget, over Wagyu medallions and merlot, just how heartrending their jobs can be sometimes.

Lest newer and even more egregiously contrived pseudo-scandals fail to hobble the Obama Administration, this week the House GOP also revisits – wait for it – Benghazigate, with exciting new hearings by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The former is designed to ferret out previously unidentified State Department scapegoats, while the theme of the latter is “unanswered questions,” although really the only unanswered question still remaining is how much longer Boehner’s Complainers can keep up this obsessive/compulsive inquisition.

Speaking of scandals, you might have noticed that this column didn’t appear last week. I was busy buying duct tape and plastic sheeting in advance of a world war triggered by Barack W. Obama and John Kerry, his bumbling rube of a Secretary of State. Miraculously, after their bellicose mishandling of the Syrian crisis exposed the United States as a bloodthirsty rogue state and international pariah, that nice Mr. Putin came along and insisted on a diplomatic solution, thereby pulling Obama’s incompetent ass out of the deep fryer. Thank God we have the internet to keep us all informed, huh?

Back on Earth, the details of a chemical weapons agreement were finalized in Geneva on Saturday. Kerry then visited Israel over the weekend, eliciting a statement of support for the deal from the Netanyahu government, and will meet Monday in Paris with top diplomats from France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UK.

Meanwhile, some Republican Congressional grandees are already rushing to proclaim that the US/Russia accord over Syria sucks ostrich eggs and needs to be toughened, while still others are magically rebranding themselves as principled peaceniks. And the Wall Street Journal weighed in Saturday with a cheery analysis of the deal’s probability of failure. Guess I’ll keep the duct tape handy. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/16/13

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Stormy Monday, 9/2/13

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StormyMondayHandily enough, September is National Preparedness Month, so let’s brace ourselves. Whatever happens – and any number of things could – it could be just all kinds of ugly.

On Saturday, the President committed to seeking Congressional approval for military strikes against the Syrian regime. The same day, Speaker Boehner and the rest of the House “leadership” issued a joint statement resisting calls to reconvene before the scheduled end of their recess, claiming that waiting until September 9 to convene gives President Obama “time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”

Not incidentally, it also provides time for Boehner’s caucus to sit on their entitled asses for a few more precious late-summer days, squeeze in a few last rounds of being influence-peddled over pulled pork and/or Peruvian flake, and strategize how they’re going to defund Obamacare, shut down the government over another manufactured debt ceiling crisis, and cement the reputation of the 113th Congress as the worst and least productive in modern times, all while somehow finding time to turn their minds to this whole – ugh! – Syria thing the White House keeps talking about, whatever the hell that’s all about. Hooray for National Preparedness Month.

Pending Congress doing much of anything, Syria’s state-run newspaper, Al-Thawra, crowed in a front-page editorial Sunday about recourse to Congressional approval being “the start of the historic American retreat,” even as the USS Nimitz and its strike group headed for the Red Sea and five US destroyers armed with 200 cruise missiles patrolled the eastern Mediterranean.

Invitations have gone out to chairs and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Foreign Relations Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee for a Tuesday confab about Syria at the White House. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/2/13

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Stormy Monday, 7/15/13

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Will Harry Reid go nuclear to stop Senate filibusters of executive branch nominees? We’ll probably find out Tuesday, when a series of votes will be held to end debate on Richard Cordray (for CFPB chief), Thomas Perez (for Secretary of Labor), and five other stalled nominees. Unsurprisingly, Reid and Mitch McConnell have been rattling their sabers about this for days now; I’d love to see Reid do it because it’s the right thing to do, but the very best part would be seeing McConnell’s apoplectic reaction. Here’s hoping.

The House, meanwhile, continues to do what it does best, which is to struggle mightily to avoid actually doing much of anything. In keeping with that theme, Majority Leader Eric Cantor has announced pointless votes this week to repeal both the employer and individual mandates of Obamacare, and possible consideration of a bill that would revisit No Child Left Behind.

And the uselessness continues on the micro level as well as the macro; House committees will also spend the week spinning their wheels and flapping their gums. The Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on – wait for it – Benghazi, while Darrell Issa and his Oversight & Government Reform Committee compadres will throw a little bash they’re calling “The IRS’ Systematic Delay and Scrutiny of Tea Party Applications.” Good times.

Will the Justice Department consider a civil rights case against George Zimmerman following Saturday’s infuriating verdict? The NAACP, Harry Reid and others are urging it to do just that. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 7/15/13

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