Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category
In the flurry of intra-Republican Party warfare last week, there was one clearly positive development. That was the decision by 40-plus House Republicans to break away from the Tea Partiers and “Freedom Caucus” members now blowing up the GOP, and instead join Democrats in backing a “discharge petition” that will force an up-or-down vote on reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.
From the beginning of this standoff, all sides have understood that ExIm has strong majority support in the House, and probably greater than two-thirds support in the Senate. This is in keeping with its status as a mainstay element of U.S. foreign-economic policy from the FDR era onward, until the recent wave of intense minority opposition from libertarian purists and Tea Party anti-government groups. The goal for these opponents has been to keep its re-authorization from ever coming up for a vote (which they knew supporters would win). This, in turn, is why supporters finally resorted to the “discharge petition.”
Bi-partisan agreement on anything is novel enough these days that the discharge effect deserves mention on its own. In this case, the move also represents a small but significant step against anti-governance nihilism, in two ways.
Procedurally, it represents a triumph over the hostage-taking strategy that has become the Congressional right wing’s m.o. (Hostage taking as in, “Give us everything we want on our most polarizing issues, or we’ll refuse to pass a budget / honor the national debt / let the government operate / cooperate at all.”) Andon the substance, it is a rebuff to the theory-driven, reality-blind ideological purism that conservatives used to mock liberals for. . .
Early this month Michael Lindenberger of the Dallas Morning News had the story about leaders of several dozen Texas companies who sent a joint letter to Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a Tea Party Republican from Texas. They said that his crusade against the Export-Import Bank might sound like a blow against Big Government but actually was costing them sales and jobs and could put some out of business. It’s very similar in tone to the letter from more than half the nation’s governors—Jerry Brown to Nikki Haley, Kate Brown to Paul LePage—urging re-authorization of the bank. The headline on the story was “Texas businesses to Jeb Hensarling: You’re killing us.”
Last week Lindenberger had a fascinating letter from the CEO of a small South African airline called Comair. It gives a small but vivid illustration of the damage that purists from the Ayn Rand Debating Club can do.
The Comair company has signed a contract to buy 16 Boeing airliners and has taken delivery on 5. But it says it may have to cancel the rest unless ExIm comes back to life. The details are in the letter below, but they revolve around something obvious in the real world but ignored in the Ayn Rand theories. This is the role of government guarantees in allowing private commerce to proceed.
Short version of what’s in the letter: Because Comair’s revenues are all in South African Rand, it needs to arrange financing for new planes in Rands rather than U.S. dollars, so as not to expose itself to impossible currency risk. But precisely because of those currency risks, foreign banks won’t lend in Rands. Banks in South Africa can and will — but for reasons the letter spells out, the Rand-based local South African financial community is too small to finance the purchase itself without violating technical “Basel III” regulations for disproportionate exposure.
Much as the FDIC can prevent bank panics by guaranteeing to cover the losses should one occur, ExIm can allow sales to proceed by guaranteeing the financing — and in the real world, the loans it backs fail so rarely that, year in and year out, ExIm earns rather than loses money for the government. In that same real world, in companies like this one in South Africa can’t get ExIm financing, either they won’t buy planes from anyone, or they’ll cancel the Boeing contract and instead buy from Airbus, whose European credit agency is happy to back the sale.
Here’s the letter spelling out the story.
I can actually remember back to a time when liberals were derided for knowing or caring so little about real-world practicalities that they came up with cockamamie schemes that screwed up real businesses, jobs, and lives. . .
To get an even better and more immediate understanding of the problem that is the GOP today, watch this 2 minute video of two Republican Representative have a “constructive” discussion about their disagreement on this issue.
Wow! Noam Scheiber and Michael Schmidt report in the NY Times:
The Republican leaders of a House committee who have been in a bitter partisan battle with Democrats are enmeshed in a new fight with one of the committee’s former staff members.
A former investigator for the Republicans on theHouse Select Committee on Benghazi plans to file a complaint in federal court next month alleging that he was fired unlawfully in part because his superiors opposed his efforts to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic mission in the Libyan city rather than focus primarily on the role of the State Department and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The former investigator, Bradley F. Podliska, a major in the Air Force Reserve who is on active duty in Germany, also claims that the committee’s majority staff retaliated against him for taking leave for several weeks to go on active duty. If true, the retaliation would violate the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which Major Podliska plans to invoke in his complaint, according to a draft that was made available to the New York Times.
The committee firmly disputed Major Podliska’s allegations, saying Saturday that he had been “terminated for cause.”
In a written statement, the committee cited Major Podliska’s “repeated efforts, of his own volition, to develop and direct committee resources to a PowerPoint ‘hit piece’ on members of the Obama administration, including Secretary Clinton, that bore no relationship whatsoever to the committee’s current investigative tone, focus or investigative plan.”
“Thus, directly contrary to his brand-new assertion, the employee actually was terminated, in part, because he himself manifested improper partiality and animus in his investigative work,” the statement said. “The committee vigorously denies all of his allegations. Moreover, once legally permitted to do, the committee stands ready to prove his termination was legal, justified and warranted — on multiple levels.”
In countering the complaints, the statement said Major Podliska had “never previously raised any allegation with respect to his work involving Secretary Clinton (other than that he was not allowed to do it) throughout.”
In his complaint, Major Podliska, 41, acknowledges that he was told that he was being fired for three infractions, . . .
Note that each side accuses the other of baseless attacks on Democrats. So apparently something was going on.
Elizabeth Drew has an excellent article in the NY Review of Books:
The House Republican Caucus is coming to resemble an animal that devours itself. (Such creatures exist.) Time after time, one highly conservative subgroup of the House Republican party is swallowed up by another more radical one. The mayhem that has ensued since the not-as-startling-as-it-seemed decision of Speaker John Boehner to resign is the illogical result of the Party’s relentless move to the right and toward an increasingly rejectionist view of the existing powers. That this bears a close resemblance to what’s happening in the Republican presidential contest is of course no coincidence. Both present the dangers of anger at the status quo run amok.
It’s not difficult to understand why, on Thursday, shortly before the House Republicans were to meet to decide on Boehner’s successor, Kevin McCarthy took himself out of the race (even if no other reasons emerge): Whoever became the new Speaker was likely to face the same forces that took down Boehner. McCarthy had seen up close the agonies that Boehner suffered at the hands of a new radical force in the House, the Freedom Caucus. But in case he hadn’t noticed the difficulties it would have presented him, the members of the Freedom Caucus made them clear by deciding Wednesday night that they would oppose him en bloc and favor their own candidate, Daniel Webster of Florida, in the party meeting the next day. This alone could have blocked McCarthy from becoming Speaker. The Capitol was of course awash with rumors that McCarthy had been having an affair—this was becoming a tradition. In 1998 Bob Livingston, suddenly abandoned his promotion to the Speakership, acknowledging that he’d had an affair. Livingston was also next in line to Speaker, in this case Newt Gingrich, who was being thrown out of his job for costing the Republicans House seats for his reckless pursuit of the impeachment of Bill Clinton and because of his own well known extra-marital affair with a Hill staffer (whom he later married and is still married to).
How did the House Republicans get here? Still in formation, the Freedom Caucus is the newest and most conservative group yet, and though its membership is relatively small it has in effect a veto on whatever the rest of the party wants to do. The Republican Conference (House Republican caucus) has 247 members, and this rump group now counts about forty members—sizable enough to prevent the Republican leadership from having the requisite 218 votes, the majority of the House required to do almost anything. Which also raises the question, Can this party govern? (A question that also applies to many of the candidates in the presidential race.)
The Freedom Caucus is the latest iteration of the Republican congressional right wing, which is more prevalent in the House than the Senate, just as the Tea Party has been. This is because of the far greater number of members of the “lower body” and the fact that Senators by definition represent a more heterogeneous constituency – though there have been some suggestions, mainly from outside the Senate, that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should watch his step. But—one hesitates to make any such statement these days—McConnell is under no immediate threat.
The Freedom Caucus has supplanted and largely absorbed the Tea Party, . . .
Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:
So Representative Kevin McCarthy, who was supposed to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, won’t be pursuing the job after all. He would have faced a rough ride both winning the post and handling it under the best of circumstances, thanks to the doomsday caucus — the fairly large bloc of Republicans demanding that the party cut off funds to Planned Parenthood, or kill Obamacare, or anyway damage something liberals like, by shutting down the government and forcing it into default.
Still, he finished off his chances by admitting — boasting, actually — that the endless House hearings on Benghazi had nothing to do with national security, that they were all about inflicting political damage on Hillary Clinton.
But we all knew that, didn’t we?
I often wonder about commentators who write about things like those hearings as if there were some real issue involved, who keep going on about the Clinton email controversy as if all these months of scrutiny had produced any evidence of wrongdoing, as opposed to sloppiness.
Surely they have to know better, whether they admit it to themselves or not. And surely the long history of Clinton nonscandals and retracted allegations — remember, there never was anything to the Whitewater accusations — should serve as a cautionary tale.
Somehow, though, politicians who pretend to be concerned about issues, but are obviously just milking those issues for political gain, keep getting a free pass. And it’s not just a Clinton story.
Consider the example of an issue that might seem completely different, one that dominated much of our political discourse just a few years ago: federal debt.
Many prominent politicians made warnings about the dangers posed by U.S. debt, especially debt owned by China, a central part of their political image. Paul Ryan, when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee, portrayed himself as a heroic crusader against deficits. Mitt Romney madedenunciations of borrowing from China a centerpiece of his campaign for president. And by and large, commentators treated this posturing as if it were serious. But it wasn’t.
I don’t mean that it was bad economics, although it was. Remember all the dire warnings about what would happen if China stopped buying our debt, or worse yet, started selling it? Remember how interest rates would soar and America would find itself in crisis?
Well, don’t tell anyone, but the much feared event has happened: China isno longer buying our debt, and is in fact selling tens of billions of dollars in U.S. debt every month as it tries to support its troubled currency. And what has happened is what serious economic analysis always told us would happen: nothing. It was always a false alarm.
Beyond that, however, it was a fake alarm.
If you looked at all closely at the plans and proposals released by politicians who claimed to be deeply worried about deficits, it soon became obvious that they were just pretending to care about fiscal responsibility. People who really worry about government debt don’t propose huge tax cuts for the rich, only partly offset by savage cuts in aid to the poor and middle class, and base all claims of debt reduction on unspecified savings to be announced on some future occasion.
And once fiscal scare tactics started to lose political traction, even the pretense went away. Just look at the people seeking the Republican presidential nomination. One after another, they have been proposing giant tax cuts that would add trillions to the deficit. . .
A good example of government failing to its job of “ensuring the general welfare”: Why Student Debtors Go Unrescued
A vast majority of the more than 10 million Americans who have defaulted on or are behind on repaying their student loans could have benefited from income-driven repayment plans that are intended to ease pressure on distressed borrowers and keep them from defaulting on their federal loans.
These plans can allow borrowers with low income or high debt — or both — to pay less each month, or even nothing, until their finances improve without being penalized or going into default. But many borrowers never even hear about these payment plans, thanks to poor customer service by the companies that are paid more than $600 million a year by the government to manage these accounts, process monthly payments and enroll distressed borrowers in alternative repayment plans.
As a result, borrowers who could easily have been spared slip into default. The government needs to demand more from these companies, which have operated with little oversight and have clearly been failing borrowers for a long time.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has primary authority over the industry, has now issued a disturbing report on this problem. It can’t delay and should get the ball rolling by suing companies that violate the law and writing consumer-friendly rules that loan servicing companies would be legally required to follow.
The bureau’s report — drawn from 30,000 public comments filed with the agency from May to July — suggests that some servicers are actually pushing struggling borrowers toward default by giving them misinformation, by making it difficult for them to refinance at lower rates and by withholding valuable information about affordable payment plans that are in the struggling borrower’s best interest.
Instead of explaining how income-based payment plans protect the borrower’s credit, loan servicers sometimes tell people that their only options are to pay the full amount due or go into forbearance — a process in which the person can stop paying for a specified time, though the interest generally continues to accrue and the loan balance grows.
In some cases, borrowers reported, servicers chose to . . .
Continue reading. Definitely keep reading.
Think what this accumulated educational debt is doing: wringing money from those barely able to pay, blighting them with constant finacial worry. That has a real 19th Century sound, doesn’t it? (Think Scrooge (financial institutions) and Bob Cratchit—only our Scrooge is unvisited by ghosts.)
But of course that burden is exactly what is being imposed by student loan debt—and the government does nothing to help. Those struggling most with the debt and payments? They’re virtually all of voting age. If they networked, using the things available now: email, hangouts, Skype, private forums, and so on, they would be a very substantial voting bloc—particularly if they actually all vote: since most people do not vote these days, the power of each individual vote—each vote actually cast—is magnified. Thus the voting block of highly-indebted young adults (who, BTW, are pushed by the debt to struggle to be highly compensated, since it’s the only solution in sight), IF it organizations and acts, could exert quite a bit of political pressure—perhaps enough to push the government to do its job and work on behalf of the people and their general welfare, as it’s supposed to do (not helping business clamp down harder—but that seems to be a strong tendency, almost as if the politicians in question were heavily funded by the interests they protect.
UPDATE: It’s perhaps too obvious to state, but this burden falls disproportionately on the poor: the poorer you are, the more financial help you need with college costs (in general) and so the bigger burden you carry after college. It’s like the way the police, prosecutors, and courts in St. Louis County (and elsewhere) focused their policing and arrests on poor neighborhoods, to siphon money from the poor, who lacked the financial and legal resources available to those with higher incomes.
A very interesting post at Mother Jones by Kevin Drum:
A few days ago Matt Yglesisas wrote a #Slatepitch piece arguing that Hillary Clinton “is clearly more comfortable than the average person with violating norms and operating in legal gray areas”—and that’s a good thing. In a nutshell, Democrats can’t get anything done through Congress, so they need someone willing to do whatever it takes to get things done some other way. And that’s Hillary. “More than almost anyone else around, she knows where the levers of power lie, and she is comfortable pulling them, procedural niceties be damned.”
Unsurprisingly, conservatives were shocked. Shocked! Liberals are fine with tyranny! Today Matt responded in one of his periodic newsletters:
A system of government based on the idea of compromises between two independently elected bodies will only work if the leaders of both bodies want to compromise. Congressional Republicans have rejected any form of compromise, so an effective Democratic president is going to try to govern through executive unilateralism. I don’t think this is a positive development, but it’s the only possible development.
I don’t think I’m as pessimistic as Yglesias, but put that aside for a moment. Look at this from a conservative point of view. They want things to move in a conservative direction. But compromise doesn’t do that. In practice, it always seems to move things in a more liberal direction, with a few conservative sops thrown in that eventually wither away and die. This leaves them with little choice except increasingly hard-nosed obstructionism: government shutdowns, debt ceiling fights, filibusters for everything, voter ID laws, etc. etc.
And there’s a lot of truth to this to this view. The entire Western world has been moving inexorably in a liberal direction for a couple of centuries. It’s a tide that can’t be turned back with half measures. Conservative parties in the rest of the world have mostly made their peace with this, and settle for simply slowing things down. American conservatives actually want to reverse the tide.
That’s all but impossible in the long term. It’s just not the way the arc of history is moving right now. But American conservatives are bound and determined to do it anyway.
This is the fundamental problem. British conservatives, in theory, could turn back the clock if they wanted to, but they don’t. Their parliamentary system allows them to do it, but public opinion doesn’t. If they want to retain power, there’s a limit to how far they can fight progress. If American conservatives were in the same situation, they’d probably end up in the same place. Once they actually got the power to change things, they’d very quickly moderate their agenda.
It’s in this sense that our system of governance really is at fault for our current gridlock. Not directly because of veto points or our presidential system or any of that, but because these features of our political system allow conservatives to live in a fantasy world. They dream of what they could do if only they had the political power to do it, and they really believe they’d do it all if they got the chance. Thanks to all those veto points, however, they never get the chance. Full control of the government would disabuse everyone very quickly of just how far they’re really willing to go, but it never happens.
We are living through an era in which conservatives are living a fantasy that can never be. But our system of governance denies them the chance to test that fantasy. So it continues forever. . .
Interesting development: People publishes all 535 Congressional phone numbers, asks readers to push anti-gun agenda
Take a look at this story by Jeva Lange in The Week:
Celebrity gossip rag People isn’t normally the kind of place you find political calls to action. That’s all about to change in their newest issue on the Umpqua Community College shooting, which “[pays] tribute to the nine Oregon victims, as well as 22 other men, women, and children who’ve lost their lives in mass shootings […] in the U.S. during the past 12 months.” It’s not just a tribute People is using its pages for, however. From editorial director Jess Cagle’s note:
As President Obama said, our responses to these incidents — from politicians, from the media, from nearly everyone — have become “routine.” We all ask ourselves the same questions: How could it happen again? What are we doing about gun violence in America? There are no easy answers, of course. Some argue for stricter gun laws, others say we should focus on mental health issues, some point to a culture that celebrates violence.
But this much we know: As a country we clearly aren’t doing enough, and our elected officials’ conversations about solutions usually end in political spin. [People]
Cagle goes on to urge readers to contact their representatives by devoting two entire pages of the magazine to a list of all 535 phone numbers of the voting members of the House and the Senate. That could mean a whole lot of phone calls: People is the 10th most circulated magazine in the United States, reaching 3.5 million subscribers. . .
You can find your own representative’s number here.