Sunday, February 28, 2010

Was the Health Care Summit Worthwhile?

In the New York Times, Michael Kinsley says that viewers saw "a largely serious discussion" that reflected "honest disagreement" between Republicans and Democrats. By contrast, Ross Douthat writes that it was "six hours of hot air": "Not since Sarah Palin’s ill-starred interview with Katie Couric has a political event so perfectly anticipated a 'Saturday Night Live' satire."

The Cost of Doing Nothing on Health Care

Writing in the New York Times, Reed Abelson says that if Congress fails to pass a health care overhaul, that doesn't mean that the status quo will continue -- instead, "[t]he unrelenting rise in medical costs is likely to wreak havoc within the system and beyond it, and pretty much everyone will be affected, directly or indirectly."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Obama Ready to Move Forward on Health-Care Reform

From the Washington Post:

Declaring that it is "time for us to act" on health-care reform, President Obama said Saturday that he is willing to compromise with Republicans to strike a deal -- but signaled again that he will support Democratic efforts to move forward on their own if necessary.

* * * * *

Obama's remarks were the latest sign that Democrats are preparing to move forward on their own using a maneuver known as reconciliation to pass health-care reform along party lines. Although winning support from even enough Democrats will be a challenge, party leaders have concluded that components of their 10-year, $1 trillion bill can be effectively sold to the public in time for the midterm election this fall.

Citizens United Decision Could Allow Anonymous Political Contributions by Businesses

From the New York Times:

The Supreme Court decision last month allowing corporations to spend unlimited money on behalf of political candidates left a loophole that campaign finance lawyers say could allow companies to pay for extensive political advertising while avoiding the disclosure requirements the court appeared to leave intact.

Experts say the ruling, along with a pair of earlier Supreme Court cases, makes it possible for corporations and unions to donate anonymously to nonprofit civic leagues and trade associations. The groups can then use the money to finance the types of political advertisements that were at the heart of last month’s ruling, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Pelosi's Difficult Challenge in the House

The New York Times explores the uphill struggle that Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces in rounding up enough votes to pass President Obama's health care reform bill -- especially votes from fiscal conservatives and abortion opponents -- at a time when Democrats are increasingly worried about reelection.

When Push Comes to Shove in the Senate

According to the New York Times, conflict in the U.S. Senate may get even messier, as Democrats begin to call out their opponents for obstructionism, as they did on Friday when Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky singlehandly blocked a bill to extend unemployment benefits.

Is It Ethical for Lawmakers to Steer Government Contracts to Large Campaign Contributors?

As the Washington Post reports, a House committee says yes:

The House ethics committee ruled Friday that seven lawmakers who steered hundreds of millions of dollars in largely no-bid contracts to clients of a lobbying firm had not violated any rules or laws by also collecting large campaign donations from those contractors.

In a 305-page report, the ethics committee declared that lawmakers are free to raise campaign money from the very companies they are benefiting so long as the deciding factors in granting those “earmarks” are "criteria independent" of the contributions. The report served as a blunt rejection of ethics watchdogs and a different group of congressional investigators, who have contended that in some instances the connection between donations and earmarks was so close that it had to be inappropriate.
However, the matter is also currently before a federal grand jury, which is investigating whether the donations violated federal law.

Congressional Approval Ratings Hit Record Low

On the basis of a recent poll, Rasmussen Reports writes:

Voter unhappiness with Congress has reached the highest level ever recorded by Rasmussen Reports as 71% now say the legislature is doing a poor job.

* * * * *

Only 10% of voters say Congress is doing a good or excellent job.

Nearly half of Democratic voters (48%) now give Congress a poor rating, up 17 points since January. The vast majority of Republicans and voters not affiliated with either party also give Congress poor ratings.

Although Rasmussen's polling methodology tends to skew its results toward the conservative side, it is a highly respected polling organization, and its result undoubtedly captures the extremely low regard in which Americans now hold Congress.

National Journal Finds That Partisan Divisions Have Persisted and Even Deepened in Obama's Washington

National Journal has issued its congressional vote ratings for 2009, and concludes:
Liberals, moderates, and conservatives stuck to their guns in 2009, whether for ideological, partisan, parochial, or electoral reasons, stymieing much of Obama's agenda. National Journal's annual vote ratings, which have ranked members of Congress on a conservative-to-liberal scale since 1981, found telling consistency in the long-standing ideological divides that define legislative battles on Capitol Hill. Some of those gulfs even deepened as the decades-long partisan sorting of liberals and conservatives into opposing camps continued apace last year.
The web site has extremely cool interactive rankings for all members of the House and Senate, from the most liberal (Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Ronald Burris of Illinois, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island were tied in the Senate) to the most conservative (led by Republican Senators James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, and Jim Bunning of Kentucky).

The Fall of David Paterson

From the New York Times:

Gov. David A. Paterson ended his campaign for election on Friday amid crumbling support from his party and an uproar over his administration’s intervention in a domestic violence case involving a close aide.

The announcement came less than a week after Mr. Paterson formally announced his candidacy.

The governor acknowledged that the episode involving his longtime aide David W. Johnson had become a distraction, but he vowed to serve out the remaining 308 days of his term and remain focused on his work.

The Times has accompanying stories that provide an inside account of the decision and retrospective on Paterson's career and a look at the political situation now facing state attorney general Andrew M. Cuomo, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor.

GOP Senator Blocks Extension of Unemployment Benefits

As Politico reports, Senate Democratic and Republican leaders had agreed to quickly pass a bill extending unemployment benefits for thousands of Americans suffering from long-term unemployment. But on Friday, a single Republican Senator, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, blocked the bill, and breached Senate decorum by shouting "tough s---" when a Democrat pleaded with him to allow the bill to go forward. The Senate, and especially Senate Republicans, are now in a quandary as to how to proceed.

Democrats to Press Health Bill With Simple Majority

The New York Times reports:

Seeing no prospect of a bipartisan agreement on health care, Congressional Democrats said Friday that they would make another effort to pass sweeping health care legislation on their own.

If anything, Democrats said, their seven-hour meeting with President Obama and Republicans on Thursday confirmed their belief that it was futile to try to work with Republicans on a major health care bill because the philosophical differences between the parties were too profound.
The Democrats hope to send the bill to the President's desk by March 26, but deadlines like this have slipped many times before.

It is not clear, however, whether Democratic leaders will be able to obtain the votes necessary to pass the package, especially in the House. Supporters saw some glimmers of hope yesterday, but as the Associated Press reports, it may be an uphill climb.

On the other hand, The Hill says that the summit "has altered the political landscape" and "accomplished many of Obama's goals" by putting Democrats back on offense after the beating they took after the Masschusetts Senate election.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Day After the Health Care Summit

This morning's newspapers and web sites are full of analyses and reactions to yesterday's dramatic summit on health care reform. In The New York Times, David Herszenhorn says that since Obama did not win over any Republicans, the question is whether he can persuade skittish Democrats to pass the bill on their own. A Times editorial urges the Democrats to pass the legislation, as does Paul Krugman. David Brooks found the summit "Not as Dull as Expected!"

Over at the Washington Post, Ezra Klein says the message of the summit is that Obama has doubled down on health care reform and is committed to pushing for it. The Fix discusses the ways that both parties are spinning the summit. Conservative Michael Gerson and liberal E.J. Dionne offer contrasting views of what emerged from the summit. And in a piece written just before the summit, Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery explore the disagreements that House and Senate Democrats still need to resolve among themselves if the bill is to pass.

In the Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Strassel says that the summit was an unsuccessful attempt by Obama to turn the clock back before the Massachusetts election.

At The New Republic web site, Jonathan Cohn has two posts about why the summit matters and where things should go from here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Health Care Reform Summit Wraps Up

President Obama and key legislators have finished their marathon 7.5 hour summit on health care reform. Here are the reports on the meeting from the New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Washington Post.

Senate Approves $15 Billion Jobs Bill

From the New York Times:

In what Democrats hope is the first in a series of legislative victories, the Senate on Wednesday easily approved a $15 billion plan to spur job creation, a vote that lawmakers hoped would show that they were taking steps to improve the nation’s employment outlook.

The coalition that passed the relatively modest measure by 70 to 28 included 55 Democrats, 2 independents and 13 Republicans, a show of bipartisan consensus that has been rare on Capitol Hill in recent months. Democratic leaders said they hoped to follow up with other measures that would encourage small businesses to expand and would provide assistance to those who remain out of work.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Democrats Planning to Move Ahead on Jobs Agenda

From the New York Times:

Senior Democrats say the House is preparing to quickly pass a $15 billion job-creating measure once it is approved by the Senate [which may happen as early as today], illustrating new urgency on the part of Democrats to show they are taking steps to improve the national employment picture.

Though House Democrats late last year passed a more sweeping $154 billion jobs and economic recovery package, senior aides and top lawmakers said the House was eager to send President Obama the Senate measure — perhaps by the end of the week — to secure an immediate victory on jobs. Democrats would then try to pass other initiatives intended to produce new employment opportunities.

Senate Sitting on 290 Bills Already Passed by House

According to The Hill:

Exasperated House Democratic leaders have compiled a list showing that they have passed 290 bills that have stalled in the Senate.

The list is the latest sign that Democrats in the lower chamber are frustrated with their Senate counterparts.

The HCR Summit Pregame Show

The New York Times has several stories about tomorrow's make-or-break summit on health care reform: a short piece on how the 6-hour session with be organized, a Q-and-A guide to the policy and politics, an article on the GOP strategy, and a reflection on whether President Obama's "gentle, consensus-building style" will be enough to get Congress to pass the bill. The Times's Prescriptions blog provides continuing coverage of the health care debate.

Update: TalkingPointsMemo has a good piece about the strategies that the two parties will be bringing to tomorrow's summit.

Monday, February 22, 2010

With G.O.P. Help, Senate Advances Jobs Bill

In breaking news, the New York Times reports:

In a rare bipartisan breakthrough, the Senate pushed a $15 billion measure intended to spur job creation over a crucial preliminary obstacle Monday night after five Senate Republicans [led by newly elected Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts] broke ranks to back consideration of the Democratic leadership initiative.

The test vote of 62-30 makes it likely the Senate will approve the measure that Democrats said would create tens of thousands of new jobs, improving the struggling national employment market. But whether the House will go along with the legislation without making substantial changes remains to be seen.

Is There Life in Health Care Reform?

Elizabeth Drew has a very interesting and important article on this question in the current issue of the New York Review of Books. Drew discusses the Senate's consideration of the bill last fall -- with the ugly dealmaking that turned off much of the public -- as well as the Democrats' loss of confidence following the Massachusetts Senate election. The article is dated February 9, so it does not take account of the renewed effort for reform over the past two weeks. But Drew provides essential background for understanding what has been going on recently -- and the obstacles that President Obama and the congressional leadership will have to overcome if the bill is to be passed.

Obama Posts His Health Care Reform Plan

The New York Times reports:
President Obama on Monday laid out for the first time a detailed legislative proposal for overhauling health care, largely sticking with the approach passed by the Senate with unified Democratic support in December but making concessions to the House version as well.

Mr. Obama’s proposal is the opening act to a week of high drama around health care that will culminate on Thursday, when the president convenes Democrats and Republicans at an all-day televised health care “summit” at Blair House. The White House is hoping the session can jump start the stalled health bill.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Americans Overwhelmingly Believe That Government is Broken

A new CNN poll shows that Americans believe our system of government is broken by a margin of 86 to 14 percent. But only 5 percent believe that it is beyond repair.

Previewing the Health Care Reform Summit

This Thursday President Obama is holding a health care reform summit which will be broadcast live on C-SPAN. As the Washington Post explains, the event "could prove a pivotal moment in the year-long struggle to overhaul the health-care system." The New York Times also previews the the meeting and the competing Democratic and Republican strategies, in a pair of articles that can be found here and here.

Does Washington Need to Be Fixed?

In this morning's New York Times, John Harwood discusses the ongoing debate about whether the national government is working as it was designed to -- with checks and balances preventing precipitate and ill-considered action -- or whether it is badly broken, with "partisan polarization, special-interest money, snarling news outlets and public disaffection ensur[ing] gridlock into the indefinite future."

Why he's leaving the Senate

Senator Evan Bayh authored a lengthy op-ed in the New York Times this morning, explaining why he has chosen to leave the Senate. The senator cites legislative dysfunction as the main cause of his decision but quickly proceeds to a discussion of various ways to improve the legislative process. His suggestions for reform include changing the campaign finance laws to increase the power of small donors to counter corporate interests; revising the filibuster rules so that senators who want to filibuster must pledge to actually engage in continuous debate, not just threaten it, and requiring only 55 votes to break a filibuster; and inviting fellow senators over for dinner. This last suggestion may not seem as serious as some of the others, but Senator Bayh offers a strong counter to that claim: "It is much harder to demonize someone when you know his family or have visited his home." How very true.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Obama to Offer Health Bill to Ease Impasse as Bipartisan Meeting Approaches

From the New York Times:

President Obama will put forward comprehensive health care legislation intended to bridge differences between Senate and House Democrats ahead of a summit meeting with Republicans next week, senior administration officials and Congressional aides said Thursday.

Democratic officials said the president’s proposal was being written so that it could be attached to a budget bill as a way of averting a Republican filibuster in the Senate. The procedure, known as budget reconciliation, would let Democrats advance the bill with a simple majority rather than a 60-vote supermajority.

The Times cautions, however, that congressional Democrats have not yet seen or signed on to the proposal, and that it is not clear whether the votes will be there to pass it.

Update: Huffington Post reports that "Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced on Friday afternoon that he would work with other Democrats and the White House to pass a public option through reconciliation if that's the legislative path the party chooses," and notes that "[t]his represents a major breakthrough for those Senators and activists who are pushing to get a public option considered via an up or down vote."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Poll Shows That Americans Overwhelmingly Oppose Citizens United Ruling

From the Washington Post:

Americans of both parties overwhelmingly oppose a Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on political campaigns, and most favor new limits on such spending, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court's Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent "strongly" opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

New Hampshire House Affirms Same Sex Marriage

The Manchester Union Leader reports:
New Hampshire's House has rejected a bill that would have repealed the state's 6-week-old gay marriage law.

The House voted 210-109 to kill the bill -- almost the same margin it defeated a proposed constitutional amendment about an hour earlier that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Will Congress Pass a Health Care Reform Bill Soon?

From TalkingPointsMemo:
Key House Democrats said today they think the White House health care summit [on February 25] will yield some sort of final agreement allowing Congress to pass a compromise reform measure and get it to President Obama's desk.

When and how remain large outstanding questions, but lawmakers stressed Obama's invitation to bipartisan members to the televised summit is among the last steps on the long road to reform.

But Huffington Post reports that House and Senate Democrats still have some fierce internal disagreements over parts of the bill, and that a final version may not be ready in time for the summit, contrary to the White House's promise to post the final version online before the meeting takes place.

The Stimulus Bill One Year Later

One year after signing the stimulus bill -- his major legislative achievement so far -- President Obama is arguing that the bill has been a success, creating or saving up to 2 million jobs and preventing a second Depression. In the New York Times, David Leonardt contends that the data back up the President's claim and discusses the implications for the jobs bill that Congress is now considering.

Will the GOP Retake the Senate in 2010?

As Adam Nagourney of the New York Times reports, the retirement of Sen. Evan Bayh is raising Republican hopes for the fall elections, but recapturing a Senate majority will still be a daunting task.

Partisan Gridlock Threatens the Nation's Financial Future

In a front-page story, the New York Times reports:

After decades of warnings that budgetary profligacy, escalating health care costs and an aging population would lead to a day of fiscal reckoning, economists and the nation’s foreign creditors say that moment is approaching faster than expected, hastened by a deep recession that cost trillions of dollars in lost tax revenues and higher spending for safety-net programs.

Yet rarely has the political system seemed more polarized and less able to solve big problems that involve trust, tough choices and little short-term gain. The main urgency for both parties seems to be about pinning blame on the other, before November’s elections, for deficits now averaging $1 trillion a year, the largest since World War II relative to the size of the economy.

Bayh's Departure Sparks Debate Over Congressional Partisanship

The Washington Post reports on the political fallout from Indiana Democrat Evan Bayh's announcement that he will not seek reelection, and what it says about the state of partisanship on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Leading Democratic Centrist Senator Calls It Quits

From the New York Times:
Senator Evan Bayh Indiana announced on Monday that he would not seek re-election, sending a wave of distress over his fellow Democrats and focusing new attention on the view that unyielding partisanship had left Congress all but paralyzed.

Mr. Bayh, a centrist and the son of a former senator, used the announcement that he would not seek a third term to lambaste a Senate that he described as frozen by partisan politics and incapable of passing even basic legislation.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

With Agenda Stalled in Congress, Obama Plans to Use Executive Authority

From this morning's New York Times:

With much of his legislative agenda stalled in Congress, President Obama and his team are preparing an array of actions using his executive power to advance energy, environmental, fiscal and other domestic policy priorities.

Mr. Obama has not given up hope of progress on Capitol Hill, aides said, and has scheduled a session with Republican leaders on health care later this month. But in the aftermath of a special election in Massachusetts that cost Democrats unilateral control of the Senate, the White House is getting ready to act on its own in the face of partisan gridlock heading into the midterm campaign.

Which State Has the Worst Political Culture?

In a recent column, Gail Collins narrowly awarded the honor to Illinois over New York, citing the misadventures of Rod Blagojevich and Scott Lee Cohen, the Chicago pawnbroker who relinquished the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor after accusations of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. In today's column, outraged readers from around the country make the case for their own states.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Under Pressure, Senate Confirms 27 Obama Nominees

The New York Times reports:

Before leaving for the President’s Day break, the Senate tonight confirmed — by unanimous consent — 27 of President Obama's nominees to federal positions, under a threat made earlier this week by the president that he might make recess appointments not requiring Senate votes. None of these seemed controversial; the senators approved these amid a backlog of presidential nominations and holds on some.

It's tough to write a good piece of legislation

First health care and now jobs . . . . Congress is having a hard time putting together a passable bill to stimulate job recovery. The House passed a modest bill and the Senate tried a slightly more ambitious one. Support for the Senate bill is low, in large part, because many of the larger provisions, while helpful, are not job related. Check out this recent New York Times op-ed for more.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An Effort at Filibuster Reform

Two Democratic Senators, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, have introduced a proposal to reform the filibuster, which allows 41 Senators to prevent a bill or a Presidential nomination from coming to a vote. As the Washington Monthly explains:

If approved, the measure would not do away with extended debate altogether. Harkin proposes a new procedural model: the first go-around, the minority could demand a 60-vote majority, as is the case now. But if 60 votes aren't there to end debate, a week or so later, 57 votes could bring the bill to the floor for a vote. If 57 votes aren't there, it drops again and again, and after a month or so, a bare majority could approve cloture.
Because adopting this proposal would itself require 67 votes, the chances of passage seem remote. But the proposal may provide a focus for the ongoing debate over gridlock in the Senate.

Update: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the assistant majority leader, has endorsed the Harkin-Shaheen effort. A new poll shows that most Americans also would like to scrap the filibuster. But Majority Leader Harry Reid has poured cold water on the idea. Republicans, who supported reform in 2005 when they were in the majority, are also opposed, calling the proposal a "dumb" idea.

Bipartisan Agreement on Jobs Bill is Announced, and Immediately Falls Apart

Earlier today, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee announced agreement on a bill to promote jobs. But as TalkingPointsMemo reports, the agreement lasted only a few hours before it fell apart, showing once again the great obstacles to bipartisan cooperation in the current political climate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Prospects for Bipartisanship on Capitol Hill

President Obama met with the congressional Republican leadership yesterday, and the two sides identified some areas where it may be possible to work together, including "trade policy, environmentally conscious jobs, nuclear power and offshore drilling." As soon as the meeting was over, however, both sides came out with partisan statements, and the Senate Republicans blocked the nomination of Craig Becker, a prolabor lawyer Obama wants to appoint to the National Labor Relations Board. For a very interesting discussion of the prospects for bipartisanship in Washington, see this exchange between New York Times reporters Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny.

Update: A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that Americans blame both sides for the gridlock in Washington and want them to continue working on issues like health care reform.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Down Medical Malpractice Law

Last Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a state law that imposes limits on recovery in medical malpractice cases. By a 4 to 3 vote, the court ruled that the law violated separation of powers by invading the right of the jury to determine damages. The decision has some indirect bearing on the national debate over health care reform, since President Obama and the congressional Democrats have signaled that they may be willing to compromise with Republicans who are seeking a cap on medical malpractice liability as part of any comprehensive health care reform bill. A Chicago Tribune story about the case may be found here, and the full text of the decision is here.

The White House Seeks to Make the Filibuster a Campaign Issue

Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post reports that the Obama Administration has shown signs that it will make the Republicans' use of the filibuster to obstruct its agenda an issue in the 2010 elections, but that it is unclear how much political impact this will have.

Obama to Hold Bipartisan Healthcare Summit

In an interview during the Superbowl pregame show, President Obama announced that he would hold a live, televised, bipartisan summit on February 25, in which Democrats and Republicans would put forward ideas for reforming the nation's health care system. The White House hopes that this event will promote public support for its health care reform initiative and boost its chances for passage.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Is the United States Heading for a Constitutional Crisis?

In a post entitled Senator Shelby and the Emerging Constitutional Crisis of our Time, Jack Balkin writes that Sen. Shelby's blanket holds,

together with Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, should be a wake up call to President Obama that he faces a political and legal crisis of the first order. The Senate's rules, which are not required by the Constitution, need to be reformed immediately or else day-to-day governance threatens to become impossible.

This crisis is not yet technically a constitutional crisis, because the Senate's rules are not constitutionally required. But if the President does nothing, and argues that there is nothing he can do to persuade the Senate to change its mind because the Senate gets to determine its own rules under Article I, section 5, we face what Sandy Levinson and I have called a Type Two constitutional crisis -- in which acceptance of the political rules of the game sends the country over a cliff.

Update: In the New York Times, Paul Krugman makes a similar argument that the abuse of Senate rules for obstructionist purposes is "making the nation ungovernable."

Is Financial Reform Going the Way of Health Care Reform?

The New York Times reports:

Two months of Senate negotiations over legislation to rewrite financial regulations -- a top priority of the Obama administration -- fell apart on Friday amid wrangling over a proposal to create a consumer financial protection agency that would oversee credit cards, mortgages and other products.

The chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Christopher J. Dodd of, said that Democrats would forge ahead with their own proposal, in the absence of Republican support. That could result in a bitter partisan fight resembling the struggle over health care -- an outcome that Mr. Dodd has said for months he would try to avoid.

No Holds Barred

Gail Collins has a typically hilarious take on dysfunction on Capitol Hill, which begins:

"Washington was immobilized by snow on Friday. This is highly unusual. Normally, Washington is immobilized by senators."

The Fate of Health Care Reform

President Obama laid out a legislative and political strategy for the Democrats to pass a health care reform bill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted that they would succeed. But as the New York Times reports this morning, the difficulties are formidable.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Is Congress Fundamentally Broken?

From the filibuster to special interest money to today's story about Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, who has placed all of the President's nominations on hold until he gets federal funding for two projects in his home state, here are articles that raise the question of whether Congress is fundamentally broken and needs radical reform.

Update: The White House has blasted Senator Shelby's blanket hold on nominations:

"Roberts Gibbs, the White House press secretary, sharply criticized Mr. Shelby’s actions, calling it the best instance yet for how Washington is broken. 'I guess if you needed one example of what’s wrong with this town, it might be that one senator can hold up 70 qualified individuals to make government work better because he didn’t get his earmarks,' Mr. Gibbs told reporters today. 'If that’s not the poster child for how this town needs to change the way it works, I fear there won’t be a greater example of silliness throughout the entire year of 2010.'"

However, TalkingPointsMemo reports that several years ago, Sen. Harry Reid did something similar.

Update # 2: The AtlanticWire has a roundup of criticism of Shelby's conduct.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Supreme Court Vacancies on the Horizon?

ABC News has posted an intriguing story on whether one or two Justices are likely to announce their retirements this year. The story also speculates about who might be on President Obama's short list to replace them, and discusses the increasingly partisan and ideological character of the judicial confirmation process.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Do the Democrats Have a Plan B for Passing Health Care Reform?

Ever since the special election in Massachusetts two weeks ago, which deprived them of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, congressional Democrats have been exploring whether some way still exists to pass the health care reform bill. A report today says that House and Senate leaders have agreed to use the process known as reconciliation for this purpose. But the path is strewn with procedural pitfalls.

Update: The Plum Line reports that the White House is also privately expressing support for the reconciliation approach.

Giannoulias to Face Kirk for US Senate

Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulis beat former Chicago Inspector General David Hoffman 39 to 34 percent to win the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Barack Obama. In November Giannoulias will face 5-term North Shore Congressman Mark Kirk, who dominated the Republican field with 56 percent of the vote. The primaries for Governor finished in virtual dead heats, with incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn holding a razor-thin lead over State Comptroller Dan Hynes on the Democratic side, and State Sen. Bill Brady holding an even smaller lead over his colleague Kirk Dillard on the Republican side. Settling these races may require recounts. Full primary results can be found here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Top Pentagon Officials Call for End to "Don't Ask Don't Tell"

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen testified today at a Senate hearing and called for an end to the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, which prevents gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces. Their testimony followed President Obama's call for an end to the policy in his State of the Union address. However, the two officials said that a long review would be necessary to determine how best to bring about the change. Ending DADT will require action by Congress, which enacted the policy in 1993, rejecting President Clinton's efforts to end the ban on gays in the military.

What a Proportionate Senate Would Look Like

Under the Constitution, each state is entitled to two senators regardless of its population. As a result, there are wild disparities in the number of people that each senator represents. For example, California has about 70 times the population of Wyoming but the same number of senators. For a map that imagines what the states might look like if they were redrawn to be equal in population, see here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Perils of Legislative Dealmaking

TalkingPointsMemo reports that Democrats in Congress "are privately admitting the deal they made with Sen. Ben Nelson on Medicaid funding for Nebraska was a major factor in souring the America people on the health care reform bill" -- a statement which suggests that interest-group politics and dealmaking have their limits.