Tuesday, April 27, 2010

G.O.P. Blocks Debate on Financial Oversight Bill

From the New York Times:
Senate Republicans, united in opposition to the Democrats’ legislation to tighten regulation of the financial system, voted on Monday to block the bill from reaching the floor for debate. As both sides dug in, the battle has huge ramifications for the economy and for their political prospects in this year’s midterm elections.

Republicans said they were intent on winning substantive changes to the bill and accused the Democrats of rushing the most far-reaching overhaul of the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression. Both sides say they expect the overhaul eventually will be approved.

Democrats charged that Republicans were leaving the country at risk of another financial calamity and siding with wealthy corporate interests. The chief executive of one such firm, Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street powerhouse accused of fraud by federal regulators, is to testify Tuesday before a Senate committee.

Sensing political momentum at a time of deep public anger at Wall Street, Democratic leaders said they would keep the regulatory bill on the floor — and delay the rest of their busy legislative agenda — to ratchet up the pressure on the Republicans.

For a good roundup of political analysis on the financial reform battle, see this post on the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire. As usual, the latest news bulletins can be found on the TalkingPointsMemo Financial Reform Wire.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Poll Shows Most Americans Support Stricter Financial Regulation

From the Washington Post:

About two-thirds of Americans support stricter regulations on the way banks and other financial institutions conduct their business, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Majorities also back two main components of legislation congressional Democrats plan to bring to a vote in the Senate this week: greater federal oversight of consumer loans and a company-paid fund that would cover the costs of dismantling failed firms that put the broader economy at risk.

A third pillar of the reform effort draws a more even split: 43 percent support federal regulation of the derivatives market; 41 percent are opposed. Nearly one in five - 17 percent - express no opinion on this complicated topic.

President Obama, who traveled to New York last week to deliver his case for sweeping changes to the financial system gets an even-up review of his performance on the issue, with 48 percent of those polled approving of his handling of financial regulation and 48 percent disapproving.

But compared with congressional Republicans, Obama has a clear advantage. A slim majority - 52 percent - of all Americans says they trust Obama over the GOP on the issue, while 35 percent favor the Republicans in Congress. Independents prefer Obama 47 to 35 percent, with 16 percent trusting neither side on the issue.

An Interview with Senator Dodd

In the Washington Post, Ezra Klein has a fascinating interview with Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), in which they discuss the causes of the financial crisis, how close the system came to a total meltdown, and how the Senate bill seeks to reimpose regulation on Wall Street.

Democrats, Pressuring G.O.P., Unite on Finance Bill

From the New York Times:
Senate Democrats said Sunday that they had bridged internal party differences and coalesced around a plan to tighten regulation of derivatives, the complex financial instruments that were a major factor in the 2008 economic crisis.

The proposed derivatives rules are an important part of the effort to strengthen regulation of the nation’s financial system, and seem certain to anger some of Wall Street’s biggest players.

The agreement among Democrats would combine overlapping proposals on derivatives by the banking and agriculture committees, and it raised the pressure on Senate Republicans, who said that they were still fighting for changes to the bill and planned to block the start of floor debate in a first procedural vote on Monday.

For more on this afternoon's showdown over financial reform, see this item from the Times's Caucus blog and this story from The Washington Post. TalkingPointsMemo will be following all of the day's developments on its Financial Reform Wire.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Financial Reform Deal: Close But No Cigar (Yet)

TalkingPointsMemo reports:

Despite round-the-clock talks between Sen. Chris Dodd and Sen. Richard Shelby there's no bipartisan deal on financial regulatory reform, but leaders on both sides said Sunday they are hopeful they can come together.

In a sharp contrast from the rancorous tone on last week's Sunday shows, Republicans and Democrats alike said today there is good momentum to agree on legislation soon, even though everyone agreed they aren't there "yet."

Sens. Schumer and McConnell Go Head-to-Head in Filibuster Reform Fight

From The Hill:
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Thursday launched a high-profile fight in a committee hearing on changing the Senate's filibuster rules.

Schumer opened a scheduled hearing on the 200-year history of the legislative tactic by serving notice that he intends to strongly consider some kind of change to the chamber's rules in order to prevent legislation continuing to be blocked by small numbers of senators.

"The filibuster used to be the exception to the rule. In today’s Senate, it’s becoming a straightjacket," Schumer said. "The truth is, both parties have had a love-hate relationship with the filibuster, depending on if you are in the majority or the minority at the time. But this is not healthy for the Senate as an institution."

McConnell was resistant, saying that Democrats are simply frustrated they cannot amass 60 votes to move legislation, and blaming Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for the situation by blocking Republicans from offering amendments.

“I submit that the effort to change the rules is not about democracy. It is not about doing what a majority of the American people want. It is about power,” McConnell said.
For more on the issue of Senate reform, see this post from Washington Monthly.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Democratic Governor Vetoes Two Oklahoma Abortion Bills

The Associated Press reports:
Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry vetoed two abortion bills Friday that he said are an unconstitutional attempt by the Legislature to insert government into the private lives and decisions of citizens.

One measure would have required women to undergo an intrusive ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting abortions. Henry said that legislation is flawed because it does not allow rape and incest victims to be exempted.

Lawmakers who supported the vetoed measures promised an override vote in the House and Senate as early as next week. A national abortion rights group has said the ultrasound bill would have been among the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country if it had been signed into law.

Friday, April 23, 2010

U.S.’s Toughest Immigration Law Is Signed in Arizona, Sparking Bitter Debate

From the New York Times:
Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country on Friday, aimed at identifying, prosecuting and deporting illegal immigrants. The governor’s move unleashed immediate protests and reignited the divisive battle over immigration reform nationally.

Even before Governor Brewer signed the law at a 4:30 p.m. news conference here, President Obama strongly criticized it.

* * * * *

The law, which opponents and critics alike said was the broadest and strictest immigration measure in the country in generations, would make the failure to carry immigration documents a crime. It would also give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. Opponents have decried it as an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.

The political debate leading up to Governor Brewer’s decision, and Mr. Obama’s criticism of the law — presidents very rarely weigh in on state legislation — underscored the power of the immigration debate in states along the Mexican border. It presaged the polarizing arguments that await the president and Congress as they take up the issue nationally.

Obama Criticizes Wall Street in Push for Reform

From the New York Times:

President Obama took his rhetoric of reform on Thursday to the nation’s financial capital in a high-profile foray to chide Wall Street bankers for their “reckless practices” and to press for tighter regulations meant to avert another financial crisis.

Addressing leaders of New York’s financial giants, including Goldman Sachs, Mr. Obama described himself as a champion of change battling “battalions of financial industry lobbyists” and the “withering forces” of the economic elite. With his poll numbers sagging, the choreographed confrontation seemed aimed at tapping the nation’s antiestablishment mood as well as muscling financial regulation legislation through Congress.

But the president also struck a note of conciliation with an industry that has contributed generously to his party, beseeching bankers to work with him to forge a new regulatory structure. While he spoke, his Democratic allies in Washington moved to force a showdown in the Senate on Monday, scheduling a procedural vote that will test the prospects for bipartisan compromise and Republican resolve to block the president’s plans.

On Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to begin debate on the bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a vote on Monday at 5:15 p.m. on whether to take up the measure. In the meantime, the two sides are negotiating to see whether it is possible to come up with a bipartisan agreement.

Here is video of the President's speech; a transcript can be found here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Financial Reform Bill Advances in Senate

From the New York Times:
Senate Republicans and Democrats predicted on Wednesday that Congress would soon pass a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s financial regulatory system, indicating a potentially swift resolution of the latest partisan firefight on Capitol Hill.

But the sides offered starkly different reasons for their optimism. Republicans said that they had forced Democrats back to the bargaining table to negotiate a bipartisan accord, while Democrats said that Republicans were hastily abandoning their opposition in fear of a public outcry.

With President Obama headed to New York City on Thursday to press the case for tougher rules for Wall Street, a first crack appeared in the Republican wall of opposition.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, voted with Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee in favor of imposing tougher rules for derivatives, the complex securities that were at the heart of the 2008 financial crisis.

The Agriculture Committee, which deals with derivatives because it oversees commodities futures trading, voted 13 to 8 to approve the bill, which was sponsored by Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas, the panel’s chairwoman. The bill is expected to be part of the wider regulatory overhaul put forward by the banking committee, though Democrats are still figuring out how to combine the proposals.

TalkingPointsMemo has an account on what led to the breakthrough and the likelihood of a deal.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is a Breakthrough Close on Financial Reform?

TalkingPointsMemo reports:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee who's been in financial reform talks with chairman Chris Dodd, tells TPMDC's Brian Beutler that an agreement is close at hand.

"We're very close to a deal and there will be a substantial number of Republicans that go along with it," Shelby said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he expects to bring the bill to the Senate floor at the end of this week or early next week.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), another financial reform negotiator who had dinner last night with Shelby, said today he expects all 100 senators to vote to begin debate on the bill. Corker guessed the final bill would be able to pass with 70 or 80 votes.

Another component to reform, a derivatives regulation bill, was approved by the Agriculture Committee this afternoon [by a vote of 13 to 8, with the support of Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa] and will be integrated into the banking bill.

Similarly, a story in this morning's Washington Post reports that "[k]ey Senate Republicans * * * [have begun] to back away from their sharp criticism of proposed new financial regulations and [have] expressed optimism that a bipartisan deal on a bill that would drastically change the way Wall Street operates could emerge in the coming days."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

White House: Obama Won't Make Cautious Court Pick Because GOP Will Oppose Whoever He Nominates

TalkingPointsMemo reports:

President Obama thinks Republicans will engage in a full battle over his Supreme Court nominee regardless of the person's ideological leanings, and in some ways "that realization is liberating for the president" to choose whomever he pleases, an administration official told TPMDC.

In comments that are at odds with the conventional wisdom about what Obama needs to do to make sure the Senate confirms his nominee to replace John Paul Stevens, a White House official involved in the confirmation process tells TPMDC that the President isn't taking a cautious approach to selecting a nominee. Despite having one less Democrat in the Senate than when Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed last year, the administration isn't limiting itself to reviewing only centrist candidates for the court vacancy, the official said.

"It doesn't matter who he chooses, there is going to be a big 'ol fight over it. So he doesn't have to get sidetracked by those sorts of concerns," the official told me. The GOP has attempted to obstruct "anything of consequence" put forth by the Obama administration since he took office, the official said. "The president is making this decision with a pretty clear view that whoever he chooses is going to provoke a strong reaction on the right," the official added.

According to The Hill, Obama will make his nomination by May 26 (the day that he nominated Sonia Sotomayor last year), and probably "well before that."

Jockeying Continues on Financial Reform

Today's New York Times has two interesting stories about the battle over financial reform. The first discusses the flood of lobbying that is going on over the legislation. The second discusses the jockeying between Democrats and Republicans over the bill, as each seeks to gain the upper hand in a Senate battle that will play out in the coming weeks.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Distrust Of Government Undermines Obama's Support

From National Public Radio:

For a Democratic administration that wants to do big things with government, the severe erosion of trust in government is a real problem -- and President Obama knows it.

"We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now," he said during this year's State of the Union address. "We face a deficit of trust -- deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years."

What the president calls a deficit of trust has been impossible for him to surmount -- and it's undermining support for him and his policies, says Andrew Kohut, the director of the Pew Research Center that just completed a big survey looking at Americans' growing distrust of government.

Reid Promises Showdown on Judicial Nominees

From the Blog of the Legal Times:

So far, the Obama presidency has lacked the high-profile battles over lower-court judicial nominees that frequently marked the previous eight years. But senators are preparing for a skirmish that could tie up the chamber for days.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today that he plans to stay in session “around the clock” until there are votes on five presidential nominees, including three for judicial vacancies, one for the Justice Department, and one for the Treasury Department. While senators aren’t yet breaking out the cots for late-night votes, the threat signals a renewed effort to push nominees to confirmation.

How to Follow the Battle Over Financial Reform

President Obama and Senate Minority Leader McConnell and their respective parties seem headed for a major showdown over Democratic proposals to regulate Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis. During the health care reform battle, TalkingPointsMemo had live updates on the debate, and now it is doing the same thing for financial reform. You can find the new Financial Reform Wire here or by clinking the link at the left (at the bottom of the Legislative News Sites). Other good sources are the legislation news sites of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, which also have links at left.

Democrats Seize on Financial Oversight After Goldman Suit

The New York Times reports:
With the Senate scheduled to begin debate on a financial overhaul bill this week, the fraud suit against the Wall Street titan Goldman Sachs has emboldened Democrats to ratchet up pressure on Republicans who oppose the Obama administration’s proposal.

In a sign of the Democrats’ increasing confidence that they have the better of the argument in an election year defined by voter anger at big banks and bailouts, White House officials said Sunday that President Obama would take his campaign for a regulatory overhaul on the road in coming weeks.

That campaign will resemble his push that helped the health care bill past its final hurdles.

Mr. Obama in effect has made the measure’s fate a highly personal showdown with the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Over the last 15 months, Mr. McConnell has sought to defeat each of the Democratic president’s domestic priorities in turn.

A companion story explores the message that the SEC's lawsuit against Goldman is sending Wall Street.

Reduction Is Theme Of President’s Next Act

From the New York Times:

As President Obama approaches the end of his administration’s opening chapter, his advisers have begun a backstage debate over Chapter 2, which will be fundamentally different in tone, aspiration and political complexity.

For his first 15 months, Mr. Obama has pounded away at four domestic initiatives. All four — economic stimulus, health care, Wall Street regulations and energy policy — reflected priorities of important Democratic constituencies. The next phase, which Mr. Obama set in motion by appointing a bipartisan panel on reducing the nation’s debt, will not.

Instead of extending government benefits (through federal stimulus aid and health insurance coverage), Chapter 2 will revolve around budget austerity.

Instead of shifting patterns of energy consumption, it will aim to reduce consumption across the economy.

Instead of confronting the unpopular denizens of Wall Street, it will challenge average Americans to accept reduced services or increased taxes — or, probably, both.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Democrats to Forge Ahead on Wall Street Reform Despite GOP Resistance

The Hill reports:
Senate Democrats plan to forge ahead with a Wall Street reform bill this week, despite unified opposition from Senate Republicans.

A Democratic aide predicted that lawmakers could vote on a motion to proceed to the bill as soon as Wednesday and as late as Friday.
The story adds that Democrats believe that as pressure builds, some Republicans will start to defect, but that Democrats also need to deal with some doubts from pro-business members of their own caucus.

Poll Shows Deep Mistrust of Federal Government

The Associated Press reports:

Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they can't [trust Washington] and they have little faith that the massive federal bureaucracy can solve the nation's ills, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center that shows public confidence in the federal government at one of the lowest points in a half-century.

The poll released Sunday illustrates the ominous situation facing President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party as they struggle to maintain their comfortable congressional majorities in this fall's elections. Midterm prospects are typically tough for the party in power. Add a toxic environment like this and lots of incumbent Democrats could be out of work.

* * * * *

Majorities in the survey call Washington too big and too powerful, and say it's interfering too much in state and local matters. The public is split over whether the government should be responsible for dealing with critical problems or scaled back to reduce its power, presumably in favor of personal responsibility.

* * * * *

About half say they want a smaller government with fewer services, compared with roughly 40 percent who want a bigger government providing more. The public was evenly divided on those questions long before Obama was elected. Still, a majority supported the Obama administration exerting greater control over the economy during the recession.

"Trust in government rarely gets this low," said Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan center that conducted the survey. "Some of it's backlash against Obama. But there are a lot of other things going on."

And, he added: "Politics has poisoned the well."

British General Election Briefing

Britons go to the polls on May 10 to elect a new Parliament. The New York Times has an excellent primer on the campaign, as well as a story about the first-ever British debate between the candidates for Prime Minister.

Tea Party Supporters Doing Fine, but Angry Nonetheless

From the New York Times:

It makes sense that people would take to the streets to protest government spending and enormous deficits during the Great Recession, when they are feeling economic pain most acutely.

But the Tea Party supporters now taking to the streets aren’t the ones feeling the pain.

In the results of the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, they are better educated and wealthier than the general public. They are just as likely to be employed, and more likely to describe their economic situation as very or fairly good.

Yet they are disproportionately pessimistic about the economy and the nation. A breathtaking 92 percent said the country is on the wrong track.

What accounts for this gap between how they are faring and how they feel the country is faring? History offers some lessons. The poll reveals a deep conviction among Tea Party supporters that the country is being run by people who do not share their values, for the benefit of people who are not like them. That is a recurring theme of the previous half-century — conservatives in liberal eras declaring the imperative to “Take America Back.”

Obama v. Roberts: Clash of the Titans

From the New York Times:
They are two of the smartest men of their generation, both magna cum laude products of Harvard Law School, both cerebral and charming and ambitious. They vaulted to the highest offices in the land after just short stints at the next level down, and each was seen initially as a conciliator only to lead on the strength of his own majority.

Many years after their campus days in Cambridge, Mass., President Obama and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. have emerged as the intellectual gladiators in a great struggle over the role of government in American society. In this moment of churning uncertainty and ideological ferment, it is a struggle that is already defining the selection of the next Supreme Court justice and could easily help shape the course of the nation for years to come.

Much more so than last year, when he made his first nomination to the court, Mr. Obama has Chief Justice Roberts on his mind as he mulls his second, according to Democrats close to the White House. For an activist president, the chief justice has emerged clearly in recent months as a potentially formidable obstacle, and Mr. Obama has signaled that he plans to use the political arena and his appointment power to counter the direction of the Roberts court.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Battle Over Financial Regulation Heats Up

On Friday, the battle over financial regulation heated up, with President Obama vowing to veto any financial reform bill that did not regulate derivatives (complex financial instruments which were partly responsible for the financial crisis), and all 41 Senate Republicans declaring their opposition to the bill in its current form. Today, the President devoted his weekly address to the reform issue, vowing to press ahead with the legislation and accusing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of making "cynical and deceptive" statements against it in an effort to protect Wall Street from regulation.

Friday, April 16, 2010

GOP Senators Lay into Liu

From the National Law Journal:
In what has become the most contentious lower-court nomination of the Obama presidency, Republican senators on Friday picked apart the academic writings and public statements of law professor Goodwin Liu, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Liu faces the possibility of united GOP opposition after receiving intense criticism and little sympathy from Republicans during more than three hours of testimony. While he is likely to win the backing of the Senate Judiciary Committee within weeks, possibly along partisan lines, the ideological division could force a showdown in the Senate over a potential filibuster. That might happen at the same time the Senate is considering a successor to Justice John Paul Stevens.

During his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Liu faced skeptical questioning about whether he supports racial quotas, whether the Constitution guarantees access to welfare, and whether the 10th Amendment is a dead letter. In each of those cases, he answered no.

Goodwin Liu Confirmation Hearing: Liberal Court Pick Ready For Senate GOP Grilling

From the Associated Press:
California law professor Goodwin Liu will be a test case of President Barack Obama's ability to win confirmation for a liberal appeals court nominee.

Round One is Friday, when Liu – nominated for a San Francisco-based appeals court – appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee to face Republicans staunchly opposed to his liberal views.

The nomination also will test Republican muscle to block Obama's court picks, now that Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.

Republicans have marked Liu as a liberal judicial activist. Democrats describe the former Rhodes Scholar, former Supreme Court clerk and assistant dean at the University of California, Berkeley, as a brilliant law professor.

Depending on Obama's pick to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the nomination could be a forerunner of a partisan fight over the next Supreme Court nominee.

Obama Orders Hospital Visitation Rights For Gay, Lesbian Couples

The Associated Press reports:
In a move hailed as a step toward fairness for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama is ordering that nearly all hospitals allow patients to say who has visitation rights and who can help make medical decisions, including gay and lesbian partners.

The White House on Thursday released a statement by Obama instructing his Health and Human Services secretary to draft rules requiring hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid payments to grant all patients the right to designate people who can visit and consult with them at crucial moments.

The designated visitors should have the same rights that immediate family members now enjoy, Obama's instructions said. It said Medicare-Medicaid hospitals, which include most of the nation's facilities, may not deny visitation and consultation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The move was called a major step toward fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

President Signs Bill to Extend Jobless Aid

From the New York Times:
Congress on Thursday approved legislation that would keep unemployment checks flowing to jobless Americans, and President Obama immediately signed it.

After the Senate resolved a stubborn impasse, deciding the $18 billion cost of the measure could be added to the deficit, the House quickly followed with approval of the measure on a bipartisan vote of 289 to 112.

The measure, which would continue added unemployment benefits and other expired federal programs through May, will restore aid to thousands of Americans who had exhausted their benefits or whose eligibility was expiring. The legislation means that those out of work can receive up to 99 weeks of unemployment pay in some states. It will restore benefits to anyone who may have lost pay during a two-week interruption in the program.

In the Senate, three Republicans joined Democrats in shutting off debate on the legislation that also continues health insurance subsidies for those out of work. In the House, 49 Republicans joined 240 Democrats in backing the measure. Joining Democrats in the vote of 59 to 38 in support of the bill were Republican Senators George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Florida Gov. Crist Vetoes GOP Education Bill, May Run for Senate as an Independent

From TalkingPointsMemo:

Gov. Charlie Crist (R-FL), who has been trailing badly in his Republican primary for Senate, has just vetoed a signature Republican-backed education bill in Florida -- a sign that he could potentially break with his party and run for the Senate as an independent.

The legislation, which was passed through the Republican legislature in the face of massive protests from teachers, would have abolished tenure for new teachers and instituted strict merit pay guidelines. It was heavily supported by conservatives both inside and outside the legislature, notably former Gov. Jeb Bush.

There has been much speculation about whether Crist might abandon his GOP primary -- the TPM Poll Average gives Rubio a lead of 59.1%-27.9% -- and run as an independent. And many media reports have pointed to Crist's choice of signing or vetoing this bill as a key indicator. A Quinnipiac poll this morning suggested that Crist could potentially win a three-way race as an independent.

Republicans Preparing a New "Contract With America"

Politico reports:

Republicans are salivating over the prospect of winning back the House in November, and they’re planning to produce a new “Contract With America” in the hopes of sealing the deal.

The catch: They don’t agree yet on what should be in it.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor wants a document, akin to Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract With America, that identifies specific pieces of legislation Republicans could pass if they win back the House. He thinks Republicans should “put up or shut up,” an aide close to the process said.

* * * * *

But Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is leading the effort to craft the document, says that including specific legislation in the contract would smack of the backroom deals the GOP accuses Democrats of making, so “you won’t see it written out.”

There’s peril in both approaches.

Who Makes Up the Tea Party?

From the New York Times:

Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.”

And while most Republicans say they are “dissatisfied” with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as “angry.”

The Tea Party movement burst onto the scene a year ago in protest of the economic stimulus package, and its supporters have vowed to purge the Republican Party of officials they consider not sufficiently conservative and to block the Democratic agenda on the economy, the environment and health care. But the demographics and attitudes of those in the movement have been known largely anecdotally. The Times/CBS poll offers a detailed look at the profile and attitudes of those supporters.

White House and Democrats Join to Press Case on Financial Controls

From the New York Times:
The White House and Democratic Congressional leaders said Wednesday that they would press forward with legislation to tighten regulation of the nation’s financial system. Rebuffing Republican criticism, the Democrats effectively dared the minority party to side with Wall Street by opposing the measure.

After a contentious meeting at the White House between President Obama and Congressional leaders from both parties, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, accused Republicans of once again obstructing every effort by Democrats to govern. He expressed confidence that he could win the 60 votes needed to advance the bill.

“This is the same stall we got on health care,” Mr. Reid said after the meeting, standing on the driveway outside the West Wing.

Senior Democrats said the bill could reach the floor as soon as next week. And while Senate Republicans, if they remain united, could filibuster, Democrats said they were calculating that a number of Republicans — especially those up for re-election — would not cast a vote appearing to favor hedge funds and banks over average Americans.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

D.C. Voting Rights Bill to Be Revived in Congress

From the Washington Post:

Congressional leaders intend to revive a D.C. voting rights bill on the House floor as early as next week, despite opposition from city leaders to an amendment that would strip most of the District's gun-control laws.

The final details of the bill were still being worked out Wednesday, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he expects the legislation to clear the House and to include some version of the pro-gun language that has bogged down the measure since last year.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's non-voting House member, said she is still negotiating to try to weaken the gun amendment, but that she is unwilling to sacrifice the opportunity to win a long-sought voting seat for the District by insisting on a stand-alone bill.

Nebraska Law Sets Limits on Abortion

The New York Times reports:

Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska signed a law on Tuesday banning most abortions 20 weeks after conception or later on the theory that a fetus, by that stage in pregnancy, has the capacity to feel pain. The law, which appears nearly certain to set off legal and scientific debates, is the first in the nation to restrict abortions on the basis of fetal pain.

Abortion opponents praised the law and said it was justified by medical evidence gained since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Abortion rights advocates said that the measure was unconstitutional, and that the motive behind it was to set off a challenge to legalized abortion before the United States Supreme Court.

Obama Meets Resistance From G.O.P. on Finance Bill

From the New York Times:
In the face of stiff opposition from Senate Republicans, President Obama urged leaders of both parties in Congress to spend the next few weeks coming to terms on a financial regulation bill that would head off the need for bailouts in the future and bring the trading of complex financial instruments out of the shadows.

During a meeting with leaders of Congress from both parties in the Cabinet Room Wednesday morning, the president rejected the contention of Republicans — and notably their leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — that the measure offered by Senate Democrats would only make bailouts of gigantic, risk-laden institutions more likely.

“I am absolutely confident that the bill that emerges is going to be a bill that prevent bailouts — that’s the goal,” Mr. Obama said, with Mr. McConnell sitting impassively nearby.

Mr. Obama is fresh off his big health-care victory, and the financial reform measure will be a test of how much clout he now has on Capitol Hill. But while the president expressed confidence at the outset of the session that the two parties could work together to produce “an effective bipartisan package that assures we never have too-big-to-fail again,” the leaders did not sound nearly as confident after the nearly hour-long session.
For a good analysis of the game of chicken developing between Democrats and Republicans over financial reform, see this piece from TalkingPointsMemo. And for a piece that suggests that Sen. McConnell may not be able to keep moderate members of his caucus on board, see here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Democrats Push to Require Corporate Campaign Disclosure

The New York Times reports:
The White House and leading Democrats in Congress are close to proposing legislation that would force private companies and groups to disclose their behind-the-scenes financial involvement in political campaigns and advertising, officials involved in the discussions said Monday.

One provision would require the chief executive of any company or group that is the main backer of a campaign advertisement to personally appear in television and radio spots to acknowledge the sponsorship, the officials said.

The legislation is being developed in response to a major Supreme Court decision in January that found that the government could not ban corporations from spending in political campaigns.

Senate Advances Jobless Aid Bill

From the New York Times:
The Senate on Monday agreed to consider a temporary extension of unemployment benefits after four Republicans joined Democrats in voting to debate the proposal, which has become the focus of an intensifying fight over deficit spending.

Despite objections from conservative Republicans, the Senate voted 60 to 34 to move ahead with a measure that would keep checks flowing to jobless Americans who are exhausting their benefits and maintain federal subsidies for health insurance for the unemployed. The measure must clear other procedural hurdles, but Democrats hope to win its approval this week.

How Far Will States Go to Fight Health Care Reform?

In recent weeks, a number of states have passed legislation and filed lawsuits seeking to block the federal health care reform legislation. Now the Associated Press is reporting on a new approach that is being considered in Oklahoma:
Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.

Tea party movement leaders say they've discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.

"Is it scary? It sure is," said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. "But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?"

Thus far, the discussions have been exploratory. Even the proponents say they don't know how an armed force would be organized nor how a state-based militia could block federal mandates. Critics also asserted that the force could inflame extremism, and that the National Guard already provides for the state's military needs

Friday, April 9, 2010

Coverage of Justice Stevens's Retirement

SCOTUSblog has a good roundup of stories on the Stevens retirement and the search for a successor.

Picking Replacement for Stevens to Test Obama's Liberal Commitment

From The Hill, an excellent take on the politics that surround President Obama's choice of a nominee to replace Justice Stevens:

Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’s retirement will test President Barack Obama’s commitment to his liberal activist base.

Even conservatives groups recognize that Obama is likely to replace Stevens, the leader of the court’s liberal bloc, with another liberal, so the selection would not shift the ideological nature of the high court.

The question is just how far Obama will go to appease liberal legal activists, who were not completely sated by the selection of Sonia Sotomayor, the president’s first choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Obama will have a chance to name a second justice to the court in two years because of Stevens’s retirement.

Obama Nominee for Justice Post Withdraws

From the New York Times:
President Obama’s choice to lead the powerful Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department withdrew from consideration for the post on Friday, ending a troubled but high-profile nomination that had dragged on for more than a year.

In a statement released by the White House in the afternoon, the nominee, Dawn Johnsen, said she had come to realize that the strong Republican opposition to her nomination had undermined her own goal for the office, which was to restore its reputation for providing legal advice “unvarnished by politics or partisan ambition.”

Under Fire for Abortion Deal, Stupak to Retire

From the New York Times:

Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, who played a central role with fellow anti-abortion Democrats in negotiating a compromise in the final hours of debate that allowed the health care overhaul bill to pass, said on Friday that he would not seek re-election.

Mr. Stupak, a nine-term incumbent, has been under intense pressure from anti-abortion groups and others since the health care bill passed last month. At his request, President Obama signed an executive order outlining the prohibitions against the use of federal funds for abortion. But anti-abortion groups dismissed the executive order and pledged to defeat Mr. Stupak, whom they had once championed.

Justice Stevens Announces His Retirement

As the New York Times reports:

Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, leader of the liberal wing of the Supreme Court, announced on Friday that he would retire at the end of this term, setting up a confirmation battle over his replacement that is virtually certain to dominate the political scene this summer.

In a brief letter to President Obama, whom he addressed as “my dear Mr. President,” Justice Stevens said he was announcing his retirement now because he had “concluded that it would be in the best interests of the Court to have my successor appointed and confirmed well in advance of the commencement of the Court’s next term” in October.

* * * * *

The White House has been quietly evaluating potential nominees for months. Among those rumored to be in contention for the nomination are Solicitor General Elena Kagan and several appeals court judges, including Diane Wood and Merrick Garland.

Justice Stevens recently gave interesting interviews to Adam Liptak of the Times and Robert Barnes of the Washington Post. An excellent profile of Stevens by Jeffrey Toobin appears in a recent issue of the New Yorker. For a story on the White House search for a nominee to replace Justice Stevens, see here.

Update: Huffington Post has an interactive feature that describes some of the leading potential nominees and allows you to rate them.

Update 2: Here is video of a statement that Obama made on Justice Stevens's retirement.

Anger over Health-Care Reform Spurs Rise in Threats Against Congress Members

The Washington Post reports:

Anger over the health-care overhaul has led to a nearly threefold increase in recent months in the number of serious threats against members of Congress, federal law enforcement officials said.

The lawmakers reported 42 threats in the first three months of this year, compared with 15 in last three months of 2009, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who had information about threats involving both chambers.

"The incidents ranged from very vulgar to serious threats, including death threats," Gainer said. "The ability to carry them out is another question and part of an investigation to determine what, if any, appropriate steps to take."

Nearly all of the recent threats appear to come from opponents of the health-care overhaul, said Gainer, who also served four years as chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. And, he said, there have been "significantly more" threats against House members than against senators.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

D.C. Circuit Holds That FCC Lacks Statutory Authority to Impose "Net Neutrality"

In an important decision yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held the the Federal Communications Commission lacks statutory authority to mandate "net neutrality," a principle that requires Internet service providers to treat all content providers equally. The decision could allow ISPs like Comcast to favor their own content or to charge content providers a fee for high-speed transmission, while relegating less-wealthy providers to the "slow lane." A New York Times report on the decision and its implications can be found here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What is Wrong with the Senate?

New York Magazine has a very interesting piece on how the Senate became such a frustrating and strife-torn institution, and why so few senators are happy there.