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Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

Question: What are the House Republicans getting at with this payroll tax thing?

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If you follow the politics of US variety, you know something about the payroll tax cut extension vote and the ensuing madness. If you do not, here is the quickest rundown ever:

There is currently a payroll tax cut, and the serious people say it saves the average middle class taxpayer about $1K a year. It expires this year. The Democrats wanted to extend it, and to pay for it, they wanted to increase taxes on Richie Richersons of America.

The Republicans want to extend it, too, kind of, because not doing so is basically increasing taxes on the middle class. Never popular. So they said, ‘sure, if Obama will make a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline in 60 days, we will extend the payroll tax cut 60 days. And also, no tax increase on the Job Creators (GOP speak for Richie Richersons)’.

The Dems were like: ‘No Way, Jose’, and the GOP were all: ‘Oh yes way you pricks’. Then the Democrats said, ‘OK, then, we won’t increase taxes on the Richersons’. The GOP were all ‘Sweet news Mr. Reid, but the Prez still only gets 60 days on that pipe thing because, you know, jobs and oil are words we love, also we are still only extending it 60 days’.

To which Harry Reid said, ‘You assholes we’ll never accept such terms, but now that you mention it, okay we will do anything you want, as usual.’

So this proposal became a bill in the Senate, and it was passed overwhelmingly. Like 89-10 overwhelming. They probably agreed because, hey, not doing at least this is not good for anyone. So they passed a 60-day extension of the payroll tax cut, and they passed a provision that moves the KXL pipeline to a decision in 60 days (WHAT The FUCK?) and everyone was happy, especially Republicans because as usual, the Dems gave them everything they wanted.

Then the very serious people, also known as cry-baby children, that are the House GOP threw a tantrum. Probably Boehner cried and Cantor said the Senate only cares about Christmas Vacation. Then they rejected the bill. And now there is a fight between not the GOP and Dems as one would assume, but the House Republicans and everyone in the Senate. The Senate, like the grown ups, passed a terrible (TERRIBLE) bill to get  a compromise to protect the paychecks of the middle class (or at least it can be spun this way) and the Boehner team in the House responded: “I hate you Dad! You never listen to ME! I’m leaving”

So, tell me, what is going on? Anyone?

Written by Christopher ZF

December 20, 2011 at 16:03

Rand Paul, Senator and no fan of polar bears

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Conservative Firebrand and US Senator Rand Paul doesn’t think climate change is a big deal. And he is sick and tired of the EPA trying to protect humans and animals from pollution and the dangers of a warming climate. Sick and tired.

Today, the US Senate held a vote brought to the floor by Rand Paul, using the the Congressional Review Act. The purpose was to overrule the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. TRC has discussed this vote previously.

Well, the vote failed to pass in the Senate, 41-56. The move to repeal the regulation gained the support of 2 Democrats, while 6 Republicans voted against the measure. It wasn’t actually going to pass, despite the reporting of some optimistic Conservatives, who, like Paul, saw the vote as a chance to embarrass Democrats so badly that they couldn’t possibly uphold EPA regulation in the face of a recession, which, to say the least, just shows how myopic and tone-deaf Rand Paul’s political world is.

It’s worth reading how Paul addresses the issue. Some of what Paul cites is true, which he then uses to support blatantly false statements. This is the kind of thing that makes for a popular, and dangerous, politician. Here’s Paul:

“To have clean air and jobs, we must have balance,” Paul argued, contending that the EPA is wrong when it says 34,000 people will die prematurely every year if the cross-state air pollution rule does not go into effect, and that statistics show the air has already gotten much cleaner over the years.
And he slammed environmental advocates for ignoring such improvements.
“If you listen to the hysterics, you would think otherwise,” Paul said. “You would think that the Statue of Liberty will shortly be under water and the polar bears are all drowning, and that we’re dying from pollution. It’s absolutely and utterly untrue.”
“All of the statistics from the government — and these are statistics from the EPA — all of the statistics from the EPA show declining pollution,” he said...“I’m afraid what’s happened is we’ve opened up the White House and this administration to environmental extremists — the kind of people who say, ‘Well, the polar bears are drowning.’ “

Two quick notes to Paul.

  1.  Many many people are dying from pollution. I would not pretend otherwise.
  2. The claim “we’ve opened up the White House and this administration to environmental extremists” is so off the mark that it is almost adorable. The Obama Administration is much more inclined towards environmental concerns than, say, the Bush Administration. But that doesn’t take much. They are no extremists.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 10, 2011 at 13:18

CO2 emissions are going up. Fast. And Rand Paul wants to keep it that way.

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Here are two trends that should really, actually worry people who are concerned about life, the future, the planet, business growth, economic growth, global equity, health and public safety, etc.

First, the headline from Yahoo News reporting on the DoE Co2 report: Biggest Jump ever seen in global warming gasses. It begins:

The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated, a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming…The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

Higher than the worst case scenario.

Meanwhile. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is using a rule known as the Congressional Review Act which allows congress to  bypass leadership to overturn regulations with an up or down vote, and does not allow a filibuster. The Paul move would throw out the EPA regulation created under the authority of the Clean Air Act known as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, finalized in July of this year, essentially halting the only steps that the US Government has been able to take this year towards cleaner air. Whether this will pass or not remains to be seen, but it will be close.

As of today, the Clean Air Act is pretty much the only tool that the United States Government has to address climate change. And the Cross-State Rule has been about the only rule that EPA has made that has not been completely delayed (see CO2 Rule, Fracking Rule, Air Toxics, you get the point). Congress most certainly will do nothing (NOTHING) to address climate change–even when a majority of congress wants to, it doesn’t happen. But the EPA has the right and obligation to regulate US industry in order to keep our air clean. And this means taking action on climate change and CO2–as the Supreme Court made clear. But allowing the Clean Air Act  and EPA to help requires ‘very serious people’ to step outside of one’s stubbornness to engage in even an elementary overview of the science, and the danger. Which is not likely.

The DoE story reminds those of us who do care: We’re losing the battle against climate change. Big time. And Rand Paul, and his friends, are helping to ensure that we do.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 4, 2011 at 10:19

Senate ‘Funds’ JWST

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A rare piece of good funding news came from Washington, D.C. yesterday. The Senate will continue funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, according to the mark-ups made for the 2012 budget bill. Which means that the program will be funded through to its completion and launch in 2018, assuming the funding is able to continue through the appropriations committee, pass a floor vote, be reconciled with the House budget, and passed again, then signed by President Obama. But we’ll take it as a positive.

There was much concern, expressed here previously, that the JWST would not receive the appropriations necessary to see it through to completion, due to a myriad of reasons (including NASA’s running far over-budget and extending the program years beyond deadline).

But much had been invested already, and the telescope, it is said, is 75% complete (what that means is open for discussion). It would be a great shame to have the successor to Hubble scrapped, and be left without an eye to the universe’s deepest secrets.

The scientific community galvanized around the issue, and made the funding of the JWST a priority. When the JWST is complete, astronomers and astrophysicists will see things we’ve never seen before, and learn what we don’t even know that we don’t know, or, as the saying goes discover ‘unknown unknowns.’

So congratulations to the Senate, even at this early stage, for looking beyond to the budget woes of today, and for funding science, knowledge, and the future. Keep moving it through the process, one step at a time.

Written by Christopher ZF

September 15, 2011 at 10:02

The odd circumstance of Debt Ceiling negotiations

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It seems to TRC that the debt ceiling talks are taking a very unusual pattern of negotiating. A normal negotiation would start with two parties staking out claims that are far apart from one another. Each side has a list of negotiating tools, and those things are slowly whittled away until a couple of the things that each side can live with remain, and a compromise is reached. This could be visualized like this:


This does not seem to reflect the debt ceiling negotiations. Here, both sides staked out their positions and made their list of priorities. Then President Obama moved directly to the middle and offered what by many accounts was a very good deal for the Republicans. This was rejected by the Republicans, and ever since things got very strange. Because negotiating ceased. What resulted was the Democrats giving up more and more of their priorities, while the Republicans moved further and further away from their original position.  This looks more like this:

So, what’s going on here? Since when can anything that looks like the bottom be considered negotiations? Turns out it is not negotiating. Because the GOP must work with the Tea Party, and the Tea Party does not want to negotiate with the President. Compromising with the Enemy is a sign of weakness. And yes, President Obama is the capital-E Enemy. Glenn Thrush at Politico gets at the problem: “There’s no guarantee Boehner can get anything through his conference, so skeptical are rank-and-file members of anything Obama could possibly approve.”

Is that where we are now? Where any kind of agreement is a sign of not good enough. If the GOP makes an offer, and Obama takes that offer, well then, it must not have been asking for enough cuts, enough sacred cows, enough hardship for the President. Whatever he will agree to, the Tea Party must have more.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 25, 2011 at 14:43

A Government of the People, unfortunately

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Hopefully this won’t turn into a rant.
We have a political circus that is overflowing past the aisles, out the entrance, and into the streets. Why? Because raising the debt ceiling can only occur now if spending cuts are attached. That’s where we are, better or worse. And on the issue no one will back down, it seems, and no one will retreat, only advance. Two sides with advance only modes leads to, what? Mutual destruction? The rhetorical  destruction alone is getting seriously out of hand. These may just be editorials, but they are a dime a thousand, decrying the end of American days. I’m not always a reasonable political person, but there are limits.

Roger Simon, over at Politico, has a pretty damning article up today, calling out both sides on this debate, claiming a lack of patriotism, and too much hatred in our politicians. Serious accusations, but unfortunately, not all that hard to understand.

That’s right. Too many Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the rich, no matter what happens to this country.
And too many Democrats refuse to consider cuts in entitlement spending, no matter what happens to this country.
That’s the extremism crisis, which makes people willing to follow their ideologies off a cliff. Are the two sides equally to blame? No, I don’t think so.
But it really doesn’t matter because it has led to a paralysis that has brought us to an economic abyss. Talk to lawmakers about economic theory? Heck, some of them don’t even believe in evolution.

Simon’s last paragraph gets at the heart of TRC’s exhaustion, rage, disbelief and madness over this whole debt ceiling standoff. We have somehow created an environment where in all capacities and on all issues, there is a choice  to believe something or not, regardless of fact or experience. It may be true that we do not know what is going to happen if we pass Aug. 2 without getting a deal done on the debt ceiling. But one of the options seems to be pretty catastrophic.  Why risk that based on the fact that you don’t believe that will happen? That’s a pretty big risk. Especially if, as some believers say, the doomsayers are wrong because no one knows what will happen?

A friend of mine yesterday compared this situation to a man having tingling in his left arm, and chest pain and dizziness. He thinks about these feelings and says: I don’t believe I’m having a heart attack so I’m going to just sit this one out instead of going to the hospital just in case. And by the way, the hospital is across the street and you have free health care and there is a doctor waiting to see you. But, maybe its nothing, so I’m not going. We’ll wait and see what happens. In this case, you believe wrong. Your belief does not matter, your symptoms warrant a trip across the street.

So why can’t our nation cross the street? How did we get to such intransigence? Where belief in one’s own knowledge and rightness can trump anything anyone might say? Roger Simon reminds us:

They scream because they are afraid of losing their jobs. They don’t want to compromise, even if compromise would be best for this country and would avert a financial catastrophe.
And who elected these bozos? We did.

We elected a divided government filled with politicians convinced they know what’s best. And we expect those politicians to stand firm in their values, because in today’s USA, compromise is for the weak. How this happened, I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t new at all. But there is something different in the air now that the circus has taken over the streets. Something smells different now, and pretty soon it will reach a point where it won’t matter who is “right” on the issues, or what one “believes.” It will just be a disaster. This disaster is not inevitable. But it seems more possible every day.

So what should we make of this? I have political values, strong ones that I believe should be upheld at almost any cost. But only almost. There is no purpose in holding on to political principle to the point of government failure. Extended government paralysis doesn’t serve anyone’s political vision. This is why compromise is also a virtue, and should be considered as such.

In the debt ceiling argument you have two political visions: that of President Obama and that of the Republican Party (I know the GOP have about 14 political visions, but for simplicity’s sake…).  The political analysis of Relative Comment has determined that a truly substantive victory for either side is not likely, since both parties are pretty much infuriated at the failure of of the opposition to see how clearly the light shines on their side. So the most Obama or Boehner & co. can strive for is a largely political victory; and if they are lucky, it will be accompanied by a few substantive points.

There may even be a way for both sides to get political victories out this mess. But remember: our government, on some level, has failed by putting itself in a position where political victories are the most we can hope for. I hope my side of the political spectrum wins the political fight. Because losing the political fight yields the ability to move the nation towards one’s vision for government. You may have to compromise the substance on this fight, President Obama or Eric Cantor, but if you do not, and you lose the political fight as well, and lose the Presidency in 2012, you didn’t just lose this fight, you gave away a chance to move the country towards your political vision. This is the kind of cold political calculus that I abhor. But we as a voting nation put ourselves here. We shouldn’t forget that we elected these stalwarts to represent us, and we have to live with the results. Unfortunately, we are mostly a government of the people, and this is us.

Finally.
The Relative Comment is not in the business of making political predictions, so we’ll just say this to our political leaders: Don’t give up on fighting for a country in which you believe. But don’t fight for that vision to the point of destroying the chance to bring that vision to fruition. That would truly be a loss.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 14, 2011 at 15:33

How do you compromise against the Truth?

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What does it mean to be unwilling to compromise? At any cost, it seems, the GOP in the  US Legislature are simply not going to waiver on their demands, and it might have some serious consequences. Maybe. Possibly. This wasn’t always the case and it hasn’t always been a GOP problem, but something has changed this time around with the GOP. David Brooks wonders what’s happened to the Republican Party:

Moreover, many important Democrats are open to a truly large budget deal. President Obama has a strong incentive to reach a deal so he can campaign in 2012 as a moderate. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has talked about supporting a debt reduction measure of $3 trillion or even $4 trillion if the Republicans meet him part way. There are Democrats in the White House and elsewhere who would be willing to accept Medicare cuts if the Republicans would be willing to increase revenues.
If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.
The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.
This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

This is pretty spot-on, in my opinion. The Democrats are in a position of willingness to compromise–for whatever reason, political weakness or political savvy or just wanting to be done with this to move on to their issues, who knows–and the Republicans can really get incredible sacrifices from the Democratic Sanctuary of Holy Welfare Programs. So why won’t they do it? Brooks offers several reasons that may be behind the stubbornness: refusal to accept the logic of compromise, a willingness to disregard scholars and experts for no reason at all, a lack of moral decency in the casual flaunting of enormous national risk. These are all reasonable arguments, and there is something to each of them in this debate. But they are applicable to any debate such as this. There must be another reason.

I think the real nature of the problem is much more simple. The GOP has realized it is on the upswing in the past two years or so. The Tea-Partiers, or whatever we are calling this new firebrand of conservatism, have evangelized the party and turned its political values into cocksure capital T Truth. Why would anyone compromise if they know, know with a certainty that is without fail, that what they are doing is right in the eternal sense of the word? For example, why would Michele Bachmann compromise on her plans, when God clearly lays out the appropriate plan right there in Chronicles? There’s no incentive to negotiate against God’s Will. There have always been religious conservatives in the US Government. And being a religious conservative is not the problem. The problem is when the Truth of say, the Bible, becomes the Truth of Debt Ceiling Limits in the US in 2011 and Why This Vote on the Debt Ceiling is Unlike Any Other Debt Ceiling Vote in US History. There is no equivalence.

When we talk about the debt ceiling and cutting spending and raising taxes, our politicians should worry about doing what is right, but being Right is not something our elected officials should claim, on either side. The reality of governing in a divided government is such that one should try to compromise, but in doing so try to gain more concessions from your opponents than you give up to them. The GOP could truly, utterly transform the US Government by taking advantage of Obama’s willingness to stay in the role of moderate and moderator to the parties and to compromise (like they did on the Bush tax cuts) and change the shape of the national government towards their political vision–whatever that might be. But digging in their heels in the face of all compromise, well, what good does anyone see coming from that?

As Brooks concludes: Over the past week, Democrats have stopped making concessions. They are coming to the conclusion that if the Republicans are fanatics then they better be fanatics, too.

This is the worst possible outcome, when extremism takes over both sides of a government, and the few people left in the middle, willing to work together, become the ridiculous ones. We can see the results of this in Minnesota, where my state government has decided that compromise would be weak, and that it is better to let the state shutdown, lay off thousands of workers, jeopardize health and safety, and ruin a whole lot of summer vacations, because when one is cocksure of the truth, there can be no compromise. It’s not about being weak politically–I would love to see Dayton’s plan emerge over the Republican one in Minnesota, and I think it will–but there comes a time when compromise is necessary.

The opportunity is still there for the new conservatism to learn something about how government really operates. And if they don’t learn that soon, they might lose their chance to participate in the conversation at all.

*Update
David Brooks has been widely (widely!) criticized for his editorial today, mostly for taking the Republicans to task for rejecting a deal that does not exist and calling conservatives anti-intellectuals and morally deficient, etc,. I think this is  fair criticism of Brooks, because the White House and Reid have not actually made a specific deal to the Republicans, and the other things.

I do not, however, think that this criticism defeats the argument Brooks is making, nor is it relevant to the point Relative Comment is making. Here, we are concerned not with whether some budget deal has been made, or the intellectual nature of GOPers, but rather how the new brand of Tea-Party Conservatism requires a faithfulness to political values that equates with religious fervor and thus makes compromise nearly impossible. Just wanted to make a note.

Written by Christopher ZF

July 5, 2011 at 11:34