Friday, January 30, 2015

Oy, What a Shande

The invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress without consulting with the White House was an obvious attempt to embarrass President Obama and his negotiations with Iran to halt their nuclear program.

But it is not going exactly as planned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has been reaching out to leading Capitol Hill Democrats to try to ease criticism over his coming address to Congress, but has made little progress.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said Thursday that Mr. Netanyahu had called him the previous afternoon to explain why he had accepted an invitation to speak to Congress without first notifying the White House. The prime minister has also called Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat.

[…]

“It’s hurting you,” Mr. Reid said he told Mr. Netanyahu. “I said: ‘You have to understand this. I’m not telling you what to do or what not to do, but you have to understand the background here from my perspective.’ ”

“It would have been wrong for me to say, ‘Don’t come,’ ” said Mr. Reid, who is recovering at his home in Washington from a serious exercise accident he sustained Jan. 1. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Ms. Pelosi said late Wednesday that when she spoke with the prime minister, she had stressed that the speech “could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance.”

There have been partisan recriminations in Washington and Israel over the speech, with accusations that Speaker John A. Boehner, who extended the invitation, and Mr. Netanyahu were exploiting the situation for political gain. Mr. Netanyahu faces voters on March 17 in a contest in which national security and Iran could be significant factors. Democrats in Congress have said Mr. Boehner is trying to undermine Mr. Obama and weaken his ability to govern, a charge that Mr. Boehner disputes.

Not only is Bibi bombing out with the Democrats, the invitation is actually working for the president:

For months, the issue of imposing sanctions on Iran split many Democrats from the president, as they feared his posture was emboldening the government in Tehran to further develop its nuclear program. But Mr. Netanyahu’s planned speech, a provocation of the president that many Democrats found distasteful and undiplomatic, has helped shift the political dynamic.

I expect that in the next couple of days we’re going to hear that Mr. Netanyahu suddenly remembered that he has a dental appointment on the very day of the speech and has to cancel the trip.

Then What?

If, by some logic that escapes an awful lot of people, the Supreme Court guts out Obamacare via this bullshit case King vs. Burwell, it will leave millions of people without the ability to buy healthcare.  But never fear, citizens; the Republicans will rush to the rescue and fix it.

Oh, what a relief. But with what?

“It’s an opportunity that we’ve failed at for two decades. We’ve not been particularly close to being on the same page on this subject for two decades,” said a congressional Republican health policy aide who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “So this idea — we’re ready to go? Actually no, we’re not.”

Republican leaders recognize the dilemma. In King v. Burwell, they roundly claim the court ought to invalidate insurance subsidies in some three-dozen states, and that Congress must be ready with a response once they do. But conversations with more than a dozen GOP lawmakers and aides indicate that the party is nowhere close to a solution. Outside health policy experts consulted by the Republicans are also at odds on how the party should respond.

The party that has failed to unify behind an alternative to Obamacare for many years now has five months to reach an agreement. It’s an unenviable predicament, especially for the congressional Republicans leading the effort to devise a response — all of whom hail from states that could lose their subsidies.

“There are a lot of ideas,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told TPM on Tuesday. “If the case goes the way I think it should go … then we’ve gotta come up with a way of resolving the problems we’re in. We’re quietly looking at all that and trying to do that.”

For now, the GOP’s goal is to “make the world safe for [Chief Justice John] Roberts to overturn” the Obamacare subsidies, said one prominent outside conservative close to Republican lawmakers and the case, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “What I worry about is — the goal is to not let our guys look like they’re going crazy and letting the world spin into chaos.” In other words, Republicans must show they’re willing and able to deal with the issue.

The upside is that it will provide hours of sardonic mockery of a party that claims to be the adults in the room and can’t do anything; but at the loss of critical care for millions of people who will struggle and suffer because of their incompetence.

“And if I laugh at any mortal thing, ’tis that I may not weep.” — Lord Byron.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Short Takes

Hezbollah launches attack against Israeli soldiers near the Lebanese border.

Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch had her first day of confirmation hearings in the Senate.

Jordan agreed to terms to trade a prisoner for a hostage held by ISIS.

The Fed cites solid job growth in the economy.

Eight lives left: a cat that was believed to be dead rises from the grave.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015

Are We Having Fun Yet?

The Republicans in Congress are finding out that winning elections was the easy part.  Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA):

“Week one, we had a Speaker election that didn’t go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we spent a lot of time talking about deporting children, a conversation a lot of us didn’t want to have. Week three, we’re debating reportable rape and incest — again, not an issue a lot of us wanted to have a conversation about,” the Republican congressman said. “I just can’t wait for week four.”

No wonder they were so cranky when President Obama threw them some shade Tuesday night.  As for the fun part, I’m busting a gut.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama laid out a big agenda in the SOTU.  Video.

ISIS released a video of two Japanese hostages and demanded ransom.

The presidential palace in Yemen is under rebel control.

Pipeline break leaks thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana.

Paris mayor plans to sue Fox News for “inaccurate” reporting.

Report: 11 footballs underinflated in Patriots’ game.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rite of No Passage

Tonight’s the annual ritual of the president coming to the Capitol to deliver the annual address.  It’s a big production number, and we all pretty much know how it goes: the president will make a few self-deprecating jokes, he’ll point out a guest in the audience, and then he’ll propose a list of ideas and policies that will get polite applause, and then we’ll all go watch the talking heads until the Republican rebuttal comes along.

Nothing will happen with the president’s plans, by the way, especially with this Congress.  They decided six years ago today that they wouldn’t do anything that President Obama asked for and that’s not going to change now that the Republicans are in the majority.

So why does he bother to ask for higher taxes on the rich, tax cuts for the middle class, infrastructure repair, and other dream ticket items for the Democrats?  He knows none of them will pass.  And doesn’t he know that even if the GOP agreed with some of the items — who can argue with free college? — they wouldn’t touch them because they’re proposed by That Man.

I think there are two reasons why President Obama is going to come out with a big list of to-do’s for the Congress that won’t go anywhere.  It will show the audience — the ones not in the chamber — that he’s still got game and ideas, and he’s not about to give up, and that he’s not going to sign whatever cockamamie stuff the Republicans have cooked up.  Oh, the president may talk nice about working with the Republicans, but they won’t work with him and so there you have it.  We’re back to the way it’s been for six years as of today.

Enjoy the show.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Good Job So Far

The first bill proposed by the GOP-controlled House was expected to sail through; they even had press releases ready to go hailing the hard work the Congress for getting something done.

Guess what.

Something surprising happened in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon: the chamber, with a large Republican majority, failed to pass a GOP-backed jobs regulation and reform bill.

The bill would have passed with plenty of votes, but since it was treated as a “suspension,” it needed 2/3 of the voting members, and it fell short.

Oops.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Off To A Great Start

The paint is still wet on the new Congress and the GOP is already at work undermining Social Security.

The incoming GOP majority approved late Tuesday a new rule that experts say could provoke an unprecedented crisis that conservatives could use as leverage in upcoming debates over entitlement reform.

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine; the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the disability insurance program “isn’t broken,” but the program has been strained by demographic trends that the reallocations are intended to address.

Who said this was going to be a “do-nothing” Congress?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Dignity of the Office

The House of Representatives takes on a frat house flavor:

Congresssman Who Owns “Blow-Me.org” Sued For Sexual Harrassment

On its own, last week’s news that Republican Texas Representative Blake Farenthold registered the domain name “Blow-me.org” when he owned a computer consulting business in the ’90s is amusing, but inconsequential. However, add that to a new lawsuit accusing the congressman of sexual harassment (plus an old photo of Farenthold wearing duckie pajamas and standing next to a lingerie model) and you’ve got one of the more colorful accusations of congressional misconduct in recent memory.

In court documents filed Monday, Lauren Greene, Farenthold’s former communications director, claims that he regularly made comments meant to “gauge whether Plaintiff was interested in a sexual relationship.” She says she was cut out of important meetings after she complained, and was then fired in July 2014.

I wondered who was going to fill the void now that Michelle Bachmann has left town.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Short Takes

The Taliban slaughter students in school in Pakistan.

Hostage situation in Sydney, Australia, ends with two of them and the gunman dead.

Newtown families plan to sue maker of the gun used in the massacre two years ago.

Supreme Court turns down Arizona abortion law case.

Senate finally approves Surgeon General nominee.

Greenland melting models may be wrong… and bad for Florida.

Frozen director apologizes for “Let It Go.”  (Too late.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Last Minute Shopping

The spending bill passed with some real turds in it.

The bill faced opposition from GOP conservatives angry that it failed to defund President Barack Obama’s immigration executive actions, and from progressive Democrats who strenuously objected to provisions that weakened rules on banks and loosened campaign finance regulations.

The $1.1 trillion spending bill passed by a vote of 219 to 206, less than three hours before a midnight deadline to avert a shutdown. Fifty-seven Democrats joined 162 Republicans in voting for the bill.

[…]

The spending bill created deep and bitter divisions among Democrats, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and allies of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) saying the party must draw a red line against provisions that help big banks if they want to be seen as credible advocates for the middle class. The progressive faction nearly scuttled the bill.

Meanwhile, the White House has been pushing for passage of the spending bill, arguing to Democrats publicly and privately that Republicans would have more leverage in the new Congress if it were to fail.

We’ve been hearing that bipartisanship and compromise is good and that the best we can hope for is that both sides have something to complain about.  Okay, fine, but somehow I don’t think that this last-minute hash-up is what James Madison and the guys envisioned back when they put this system together.  They probably compromised a bit themselves.

Then again, they didn’t have to deal with cable pundits, breaking news banners, and countdown clocks on the TV, either.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Stern Talking-To

The House Republicans are really going to let President Obama have it, according to the New York Times.

The first step would be to allow a largely symbolic vote on legislation to dismantle President Obama’s executive action last month that delayed the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants. The second would be to fund the government through the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, 2015, except for agencies that spend money to enforce Mr. Obama’s immigration action, like the Department of Homeland Security.

[…]

The resolution to undo the president’s action, however, would largely be a way for House Republicans to vent their displeasure, and could come as early as Thursday. Representative Ted Yoho of Florida, who came up with the plan, acknowledged that his measure would be a “symbolic message” if Senate Democrats did not take up his resolution — something Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the majority leader, has said he is not going to do.

However, the caucus did vote to send the president to bed without dessert.