Sunday, February 28, 2010
Saturday, February 27, 2010
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.
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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.
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.
However, the matter is also currently before a federal grand jury, which is investigating whether the donations violated federal law.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
National Journal Finds That Partisan Divisions Have Persisted and Even Deepened in Obama's Washington
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 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.
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 Democrats hope to send the bill to the President's desk by March 26, but deadlines like this have slipped many times before.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
Update: TalkingPointsMemo has a good piece about the strategies that the two parties will be bringing to tomorrow's summit.
Monday, February 22, 2010
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.
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
Friday, February 19, 2010
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.
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.
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
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
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 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.
Friday, February 12, 2010
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.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
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.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
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
Saturday, February 6, 2010
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."
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.
Friday, February 5, 2010
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
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Update: The Plum Line reports that the White House is also privately expressing support for the reconciliation approach.