A big part of the story of the fiscal cliff negotiations, now half-resolved and half-postponed, was that the populist wing of the Republican Party couldn’t quite figure what it wanted to actually achieve, or how. The broad goals of less spending and lower taxes were clear enough, but on anything more specific the politicians and activists on the grassroots right seemed confused about what they thought the party should to be negotiating toward, or what they expected that their calls for harder hardball and/or cliff-diving would actually win in the end. (The scenarios being spun out...
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Republicans in Congress who took the politically risky step of voting this week to raise taxes now find themselves trying to fend off potential primary challenges next year from angry conservatives.
These lawmakers wasted little time in attempting to deliver an explanation that would be acceptable to the tea party and the GOP's right flank, and, perhaps, insulate themselves from a re-election battle against a fellow Republican. They've started defending the vote as one that preserves tax cuts for most Americans, while promising to fight for spending cuts in upcoming legislative debates over raising the nation's borrowing limit.
"In the end, he ensured that over 99 percent of Kentuckians will not pay higher income taxes," Mitch McConnell's campaign wrote in an email message to Kentucky voters the day after the Senate Republican leader supported the measure.
It was the first time in two decades that a significant number of Republicans voted for a tax increase; 33 Senate Republicans did so and 85 House members who broke with their GOP majority to support the bill that avoided the nation going over the so-called fiscal cliff but that also raises taxes on upper incomes.
"The ones that voted for it, I think they will rue the day," Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby proclaimed after opposing the bill. And Amy Kremer, chairman of the Tea Party Express, put it this way: "It's not too early to be looking at 2014. I think there are going to be a lot of primary challenges. People are fed up."
Most if not all of these Republicans who voted to raise taxes are likely mindful of their party's recent history of nasty primary battles that have pitted incumbents against tea party-backed insurgents. And none of them is likely to be immune to the scrutiny – rising stars, powerful committee chairmen and Republicans in reliably Republican seats – expected to confront them when they return to their districts to stand for re-election in November 2014.
The vote was a dilemma for Republicans, who have pledged for decades not to raise taxes, but faced being blamed with raising taxes on all Americans, had Congress and the White House not reached a deal on legislative to avert the scheduled increases on most Americans. The party got some cover from Grover Norquist, a leading anti-tax figure who described the bill, which preserved a series of tax cuts for most incomes, as "clearly a tax cut."
Even so, the tea party wasn't on board. Neither were many of the party's most conservative lawmakers in Washington.
"It's a really tough vote. And it's a really tough vote to explain to Republicans," Michigan Republican consultant Stu Sandler said.
Lawmakers who could be vulnerable to a challenge include Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek and South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, who bucked her tea party base and backed the bill, calling it "damage control."
"This makes her vulnerable and there will be discussion that she should have a primary challenge," former South Dakota Republican chairman Joel Rosenthal said. "Whether it materializes depends on votes down the road."
Some Democrats who opposed the deal also might be called to account by their own liberal bases for voting for spurning President Barack Obama and refusing to go along with his election-year pledge to raise taxes on America's top earners.
Among those who voted "nay," were liberals like Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. He sharply criticized the bill as overly generous to wealthy Americans, and had supported Obama's original proposal to raise taxes on people earning at least $250,000 a year.
Harkin has not ruled out seeking a sixth term in 2014. And while his vote would likely prevent a primary challenge, it could be tricky for him in a general election.
Republicans – and specifically in the House, where tea party fervor is strong – seem more vulnerable.
While House Republican delegations, such as New York's and Pennsylvania's voted for the bill, they did so likely with impunity because the GOP bases in their states aren't nearly as ideologically conservative as those in other parts of the country.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, also voted for the measure. It won't likely be an obstacle to his re-election in his swing-voting district, but it could cause him trouble with conservative primary voters, should he run for president in 2016.
Rep. Steve Womack, in just his second term representing heavily conservative northwest Arkansas, could be forced to answer to tea party concerns over his yes vote if he seeks a third term. And he will almost certainly face questions about it should he run for U.S. Senate or governor, the subject of GOP speculation on which Womack has been silent.
Michigan Rep. Fred Upton's backing of the measure might rile up conservatives enough in his right-leaning district in the western part of the state that he could face a challenger. But his stature may be enough to prevent a serious one: he has easily fought off recent primary opponents and, as chairman of the Energy and Commerce commission, would likely have the fundraising edge.
Upton's Michigan colleague, Benishek, also voted for the bill and could have a bigger concern. He eked out re-election to a second term in November, carrying less than 50 percent of the vote in his northern district, and spurning tea party activists there could invite a threat from an opponent.
Among Senate Republicans, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia backed the measure and may have further agitated conservatives who were already cranky with him over his participation last year in the so-called "Gang of Six," a bipartisan group that discussed fiscal plans including tax increases and changes to entitlement programs.
After the vote, Chambliss pointed quickly to the next phase of the fiscal fight as the place for redemption for what he called a flawed but necessary measure.
Chambliss and others say they will press for tying dramatically lower spending to support for raising the nation's debt limit.
"This is just the first step in a major, major fight," Chambliss' senior adviser Tom Perdue said.
The swift defense from those who backed the increases is a response to GOP primary challenges from conservatives last year that proved costly to Republican members seen as dealmakers. Six-term Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar lost his primary to tea party favorite Richard Mourdock, and House Republicans Jeanne Schmidt of Ohio and John Sullivan of Oklahoma lost in primaries last year, attacked in part for voting to raise the debt ceiling.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.
FreedomWorks, the national conservative group that helped launch the tea party movement, sells itself as a genuine grassroots operation, and for years, it has battled accusations of "astroturfing"--posing as a populist organization while doing the bidding of big-money donors. Yet internal documents obtained by Mother Jones show that FreedomWorks has indeed become dependent on wealthy individual donors to finance its growing operation.
TAMPA -- Florida's congressional delegation split along political lines, but not strictly party lines, in the vote on the "fiscal cliff" budget compromise.
At least some Florida Republicans may have cast their votes with an eye to the 2014 election, hoping to avoid either a primary challenge from the right or a tough general election battle with a Democrat, political experts say.
All six Florida Democratic House members, including Kathy Castor of Tampa, voted for the deal backed by President Barack Obama and by Senate and House leaders of both parties.
They were joined by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and five House Republicans, including C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores and Vern Buchanan of Sarasota.
Among Republicans, 14 Florida House members voted against the deal, bucking their party's leadership. So did GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. The House members included Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Richard Nugent of Brooksville and Dennis Ross of Lakeland.
Democrats and the yes-voting Republicans focused on tax fairness for the middle class, while no-voters focused on a need to cut government spending.
Young, in a statement, called the measure "a less than perfect solution," but said it "avoided a pending fiscal cliff that would have raised federal income taxes on millions of American families and small businesses," and "temporarily delays the across-the-board sequestration that would harm our national defense."
Castor called it "a balanced plan" and said, "Greater tax fairness is the hallmark of the bipartisan compromise."
Ross, on the other hand, said in a release, "Our country is going bankrupt ... This proposal does nothing to address our biggest problem, which is the out-of-control spending that runs rampant in Washington."
Bilirakis said the bill "did not include the spending reforms our country desperately needs" to fix a debt that "places a heavier burden on our children and grandchildren."
Retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican, said the legislators may also have been keeping an eye on demographics and the 2014 election.
The no-voting Republicans, he said, are more likely to be from rural or suburban districts, and could fear a primary challenge from a tea party-style conservative.
Outgoing Rep. Cliff Stearns of Ocala, with a rural-suburban district stretching north from Leesburg to Interstate 10, is leaving office because he lost such a challenge to tea party-backed challenger Ted Yoho in this year's primary, Paulson noted.
The yes-voting Republicans "all represent primarily big-city districts," Paulson said. "In the 2012 election, all the big urban counties voted for Obama."
They may have more to fear from a Democrat in the general election, Paulson said.
University of Florida political scientist Stephen Craig, who's politically neutral, said primary challenges pose the greatest threat to most Florida Republican legislators.
"Some (Congress members) might have been willing to support this deal," Craig said, "but the environment of Republican primaries has become frightening if you are not on board with the conservative wing of the party."
Craig said Rubio, who ran and won in 2010 as a tea party champion, has been taking "baby steps" toward moderation with an eye to a 2016 run for president, but probably viewed the debt ceiling vote with an eye to a Republican presidential primary.
"It's a balancing act for him -- maybe what it takes to win the nomination isn't what it takes to win in November," Craig said. "He may be willing to go so far toward moderation, but no further."
Here's how the vote went among Florida's 25 House members:
* Yes-voting Republicans: Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami; Buchanan and Young.
* No-voting Republicans: Sandy Adams of Orlando; Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers; Jeff Miller of Chumuckla; John Mica of Winter Park; Bill Posey of Rockledge; David Rivera of Miami; Tom Rooney of Tequesta; Steve Southerland of Panama City; Dan Webster of Winter Garden; Allen West of Palm Beach Gardens; Bilirakis, Nugent, Ross and Stearns.
* Democrats, all voting yes: Corinne Brown of Jacksonville, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Debbie Wasserman Schulz of Weston; Frederica Wilson of Miami; Castor. ___
The 113th Congress will convene for the first time at noon today, and barring an unforeseen morning development, it will in one of its first act elect John Boehner as speaker.Boehner has been an unusually weak speaker, one who has little power to bend his own party's rank-and-file to his will and little space to cut deals with the other party. That's not about to change, as his handling of the fiscal cliff showdown demonstrated, which is why I wondered a few weeks ago why he'd want to sign up for two more years. But he evidently is willing to pay the price, and we saw on...
A highly polarized country. A savagely partisan Congress. A brutal presidential race, which ended with the Democratic incumbent defeating his Republican challenger, an ex-businessman.
This was America in 1940 and early 1941 -- a period that the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr would later label "those angry days" and one that bears striking parallels to today's poisonous political climate. Just as now, Americans were engaged in a bitter debate over the future direction of their country. World War II had just begun, and the question was: Should the traditionally isolationist U.S. come to the aid of Britain, the last European nation holding out against Hitler? President Roosevelt and other interventionists said yes, believing that Britain's survival was crucial to America's economic and physical security. The country's isolationists, a predominant force in the Republican party, argued that the United States was in no danger and must focus only on its own defense. Just as today, the president's re-election made no difference to his Republican congressional foes, who steadfastly refused to cooperate with him and his policies.
There was, however, one vital difference between then and now. In the midst of all the polarization and gridlock, a few prominent Republicans stepped up to do what they thought was right, defying their party and putting the interests of their nation and its people ahead of political ambition and partisan advantage.
The chief rebel was none other than Wendell Willkie, the 1940 GOP candidate for president. Instead of pulling a Mitt Romney-like disappearing act after the election, Willkie went on the radio to announce to the American people: "We have elected Franklin Roosevelt president. He is your president. He is my president... We will support him."
To the fury of the Republican old guard, Willkie endorsed 1941 legislation creating the Lend Lease program, sending aid to Britain, as well as backing the first peacetime draft, which made possible the huge U.S. Army and Air Force that took the field after Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt, who would later describe his former foe as "a godsend to this country when we needed him most," acknowledged that Willkie's support for those measures, both of which were crucial in winning the war, might well have made the difference between congressional victory and defeat.
Joining Willkie as GOP apostates were Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, the country's two most respected Republican senior statesmen, who became members of Roosevelt's cabinet and who, like Willkie, were essentially read out of their party. Neither much cared. As Knox told his friends, "I am an American first, and a Republican afterward."
Like Stimson and Knox, Wendell Willkie has disappeared into the mists of history, recalled, if at all, merely as one of FDR's defeated rivals. He deserves much more. Noting Willkie's moral courage and political leadership, MSNBC's Chris Matthews recently wrote, "I long for such a leader today."
How ironic: 150 years after emancipation, a party that abolished slavery is dedicated to saving wealthy Americans from taxesSo the United States went over the fiscal cliff.This was about as surprising a development as when the boat sank at the end of Titanic (the movie). Instead, it is yet further evidence of the extraordinary, almost mind-boggling level of dysfunction that exists at the highest level of the US government.
Fiscal cliff negotiations between House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reportedly got heated last Friday.
According to Politico, several sources claimed to have overheard a verbal altercation between the two men in the White House lobby.
With no bipartisan agreement about the debt ceiling, spending cuts and tax increases in sight, Boehner reportedly pointed at Reid and said, "Go fuck yourself."
"What are you talking about?" Reid asked.
And Boehner again said, "Go fuck yourself."
The encounter occurred soon after Reid took to the Senate floor and argued that Boehner could have ended the fiscal cliff standoff by bringing up legislation passed by the Senate for a vote. Reid also accused Boehner of catering to members of his party rather than serving the country.
"The American people I don't think understand the House of Representatives is operating without the House of Representatives," Reid said. "It's being operated by a dictatorship of the speaker, not allowing the vast majority of the House of Representatives to get what they want."
Despite the name-calling and angry rhetoric, a deal on the fiscal cliff was approved by both houses of Congress on Jan. 1. The Senate passed the bill at 2 a.m. and the House followed suit 20 hours later.
Michael Bennet was supposed to be going off a cliff in Vail.But instead of his usual New Year’s trip to a ski lodge with his wife and three daughters, the Colorado senator found himself in a strange, unfamiliar place in the middle of the night: breaking with the president and his party to become one of only three Democratic senators and eight senators total to vote against President Obama’s fiscal deal.
As the year comes to an end, dysfunctional Congressional politics continues to dominate the headlines, and rightly so.
Our politicians are scrambling to deal with a mess that they created all on their own -- a fiscal cliff that risks pushing the country into recession. And while a last minute "micro deal" is still possible, there will be little celebration, nor should there be.
Whatever transpires in the next few days, look for politicians to point fingers at each other. By diverting your attention to those in the other party on Capitol Hill, their hope is, of course, to influence your assessment of who is to blame for taking the country so close to the edge.
I argued in a prior post that the fiscal cliff is the result of a monumental Congressional political miscalculation back in the summer of 2011 -- one that a "game theorist" could have predicted based on an analytical assessment of the conditions under which politicians cooperate.
Yesterday, Jon Horne, a PIMCO colleague, pointed me to a column by Nate Silver which takes the analysis an important step further. And Mr. Silver's findings are quite depressing.
An anchor for Mr. Silver's analysis is the view that "one of the firmest conclusions of academic research into the behavior of Congress is that what motivates members first and foremost is winning elections." By combining this with realities on the ground, his analysis makes a strong case for continued political polarization going forward.
Mr. Silver's conclusion is stark: "As partisanship continues to increase, a divided government may increasingly mean a dysfunctional one."
It was once fashionable to argue that a divided government was good for the economy. The view then was that politicians would be too busy with political brinkmanship to get in the way of a dynamic private sector. As a result, unfettered by government interference, the private sector was more likely to invest, hire and prosper.
It is hard -- very hard -- to make this argument today; and for at least three reasons.
First, even diehard conservatives would admit that, since the 2008 global financial crisis, the country still has to overcome certain market failures. And for that, enlightened government policies are needed, including in clarifying property rights in segments still suffering from post financial bubble disorder.
Second, it is hard to deny the extent to which America has experienced a worsening in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunities in recent years. If we are not careful, this will tear at the social fabric that underpins a dynamic and prospering private sector.
Then there is the international evidence and related comparisons.
America has fallen behind several other countries when it comes to enhancing our human and physical capital. In many cases this is not something that the private sector can (and will) -- remedy fully. In particular, some of the slippages in education and infrastructure need (and should be solved via) public-private partnerships; others involve (indeed, urgently require) more active government reform efforts.
The bottom line is simple and consequential: Our self-inflicted fiscal cliff drama may be the most visible illustration of Congressional political dysfunction but it is unlikely to be the last one or the most challenging.
Judging from Mr, Silver's analysis, we could well experience several iteration of the analytical equivalent of the fiscal cliff in the months ahead. And we would do so with declining policy flexibility.
If left to fester, the related inability of Congress to step up to economic responsibilities would risk being associated with more than just sluggish growth, persistently high unemployment, and a growing sense of financial discomfort.
It would also undermine the country's longer-term growth potential and, with that, the ability of many citizens to realize the American dream.
Forget the fiscal cliff. The real threat to the U.S. economy is not political stalemate in Washington but the Republican party itself.
From the time that President Obama first took office in 2009 through the elections in 2012, the GOP has been running on the platform of economic despair, and in fact, seems to have bet its entire future on it.
In the beginning it was easy, since the president had just inherited a massive financial crisis and a shattered economy that would take years to rebuild; all the Republicans had to do was stonewall any initiatives that would hasten a recovery, and wait. That gave them the edge they needed to rout the Democrats in the midterm elections. Following that, they adopted the strategy of blaming the financial stimulus package and Dodd-Frank for the continuing softness in the economy, which kept the pressure up on Obama and, more importantly, kept him on the defensive.
But now the landscape is different. Obama has four more years to do his thing, the disastrous Mitt Romney campaign has damaged the Republican party immeasurably, and the economy is visibly recovering, so the Republicans cannot just sit back and hope that everything will go wrong anymore. If the economy continues to grow, the president's second term will be a victory, period. That means the Republicans actually have to make sure it goes wrong -- or any hopes that they have of making meaningful gains in future elections will be dashed.
Which is why their new strategy is to actively derail the economy.
Think of it as the Republican long game -- if the U.S. falls back into a recession, the president's promises of a better future will be perceived as empty rhetoric and the Democrats will lose credibility, paving the way for Republican victories in 2014 and 2016. It may be pretty devious but it is also that simple.
To accomplish this goal, the Republicans seem to have settled on two angles of attack:
Cut Spending till it Hurts
Republican posturing on the fiscal cliff has revolved mostly around lower taxes for wealthy Americans, but what they really want is deep cuts in government spending (taxes are mainly a bargaining chip). The problem, of course, is that deep cuts in spending right at the cusp of economic recovery will likely send us back into a recession. From outright unemployment for federal workers to cuts in state and local government grants, spending cuts would stifle national growth almost overnight. The setbacks would impact nearly every sphere, including infrastructure, education, healthcare, financial reform, and consumer protection, leading to "domino effect" declines in consumer confidence, spending, commercial activity, employment, and ultimately the economy.
Granted we have a trillion-dollar deficit problem but deficit reduction also requires GDP growth and an increase in the tax base, which cannot happen in a declining economy; not to mention that any action that slows our momentum at this time would be counter-productive to the deficit in the long run since we will simply have to run up a bigger tab later.
The right approach would be to phase in spending cuts slowly and time them to succeed economic growth, not precede it. But that timeline would not suit the Republicans at all since it would take us further into Obama's term and enable him to take credit for a good economy. So, regardless of the fiscal cliff outcome, you can bet that the GOP will flog this horse well into next year and keep pushing for deeper and deeper cuts until they strike bone.
Nothing pours cold water on economic growth like uncertainty. When the rules of the game are defined clearly, even if they are unfavorable, all players can strategize accordingly and aim for success; but when businesses and consumers have no idea what is going to happen next, their plans just stall in the mire of nervousness. That is what happened during the debt ceiling debate of 2011 and in painful slow motion this year on the fiscal cliff. Despite dire warnings by economists of another recession if America goes over the cliff, and despite the financial soundness of letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the rich, the Republicans have done everything in their power to prevent a compromise from being reached. The net result has been an unnecessarily prolonged period of uncertainty and market tumult.
This is a clear-cut case of obstructionism with a purpose, and it will not stop with the fiscal cliff either. Christmas may be over but for the Republicans the first half of next year is an extended holiday season, with gifts ranging from another debt ceiling fight to further arguments on tax cuts and Wall Street reform all waiting to fall into their political laps. And they will exploit it all to create as much uncertainty about the future as they can, for that is the surest way to derail our economic progress and ensure that President Obama does not preside over a prosperous country for the next four years.
Compromise might help the Republican party regain its credibility with American voters but then Republicans have never been good at fighting from a positive place. They are much more comfortable playing offense, and that is why they will kill our economy if they can -- because it is their last, desperate, hope for survival.
So how will it stop?
It won't, unless the American public pulls their support of the party completely. Even if you agree with the Republicans ideologically, you should ask yourself whether a party that is willing to destroy your livelihood for political gain should be allowed to represent you at all... and then vote the opportunists out of office before they ruin the country!
SANJAY SANGHOEE has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein as well as at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund. He has an MBA from Columbia Business School and is the author of two financial thrillers, including "Merger" which Chicago Tribune called "Timely, Gripping, and Original". Please visit his Facebook page for more information.
All sanity seems to have left the ranks of those in charge of the GOP. Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the party is against everything and for nothing. That's not governing. That's just lobbing hand grenades. And the GOP is shrinking daily before our eyes.But those aren't my words. That stinging assessment comes courtesy of Mark McKinnon, a Texas-based Republican consultant and adviser to George W. Bush.At this point in the fiscal-cliff crisis, with House Republican ideologues seemingly so willing to plunge America over the precipice, there is indeed no need for me to...
The 2012 election cycle saw the greatest rollback on voting rights since the post-Reconstruction era. Largely driven by a spate of new laws and policies, including new restrictions on the type of ID that voters can use and flawed voter purges, conservative legislatures stopped at nothing to make it harder to register to vote, harder to cast a ballot, and harder to have a vote counted.
But there was another story this year, a story of voter protection and democracy advocates who fought back -- and won.
10. Missouri tries to sell voter suppression as "voter protection."
Hoping to get a piece of the photo ID pie, Missouri legislators introduced a photo ID ballot initiative under the misleading name "Voter Protection Act." Advancement Project and co-counsel challenged the measure in 2011, arguing that there is nothing "protective" about placing unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote -- restrictions that could disenfranchise up to 250,000 Missouri voters.
This year a judge agreed that the initiative's deceptive language failed to inform citizens of what, exactly, they'd be voting on. It was removed from the 2012 ballot.
9. Ohio meddles with its wildly successful early voting period.
Ohio lawmakers got to planning back in 2010 when, for no legitimate reason, they eliminated the last three days of early voting (except for active-duty military or voting overseas). It's no coincidence that African-American voters are more likely to cast early ballots, and in 2008, when Obama won the state, nearly 100,000 Ohioans voted during those last three days of early voting.
This year the Obama campaign filed a lawsuit to restore the early voting period for all Ohio voters. Despite attempts from the right to mischaracterize the suit as trying to revoke voting rights from military members, a judge agreed with the Obama campaign that a two-tiered voting system is unconstitutional - -and the last three days of early voting were reinstated for everybody.
8. Wisconsin and Ohio get ominous billboards in communities of color.
During the final weeks before Election Day, we saw a wave of intimidation tactics. In Wisconsin and Ohio, billboards popped up in primarily African-American neighborhoods, depicting a gavel and ominously threatening, "Voter Fraud is a Felony! Up to 3 1/2 yrs and a $10,000 Fine" -- clearly designed to intimidate and confuse people of color away from voting.
After a national outcry, letters and petitions, the billboards (the work of the Einhorn Family Foundation, a conservative Milwaukee nonprofit) were removed from both states. To let voters know that we had their back, a coalition of groups, including Advancement Project, placed our own billboards in the same neighborhoods with the empowering messages: "When We Vote, We Are All Equal" and "Stand Up and Have Your Say. VOTE!"
7. Ohio to voters: If election officials make a mistake, too bad.
Previously under Ohio law, election officials threw out all provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, even if a voter was following a poll worker's instructions- - and even if the voter was in the right polling place but in the wrong line! This affected thousands of black voters, whose communities are more likely to have several precincts grouped together in a single polling place. These voters were going to the right location, but poll workers sometimes directed them to the wrong table or provided the wrong ballot.
Reasoning that voters shouldn't be disenfranchised for a poll worker's error, Advancement Project took Ohio to court. A judge had the common sense to order that those ballots be counted.
6. Florida targets "Souls to the Polls."
The Florida legislature reduced the state's early voting window from two weeks to eight days. The move expressly took out the Sunday before Election Day, the date when black churches organized successful statewide "Souls to the Polls" campaigns encouraging their congregants to vote. Coincidence?
Not according to former Florida Republican Party Chair Jim Greer, who admitted the party held meetings about strategies (including reductions in early voting) for "keeping blacks from voting." Former Governor Charlie Crist also said that during his term, GOP leaders approached him about changing early voting in an effort to weaken Democratic turnout. But the plan backfired, as Florida's Black voter turnout exceeded 2008's historic levels.
5. Florida takes on the Boy Scouts and League of Women Voters.
Not content with just making it harder to vote, Florida legislators also made it harder to register to vote. A 2011 law placed onerous requirements and penalties on voter registration drives. All completed registration forms, for example, had to be submitted to election officials within 48 hours or face a fine of $1,000 per application. The law had its intended effect: many groups, including the Boy Scouts and the League of Women Voters, shut down their voter registration operations in Florida as a result.
Although damage was done during the 12 months that the law stood (registration dropped by a staggering 14 percent), in 2012 a federal court struck it down for disproportionately affecting voters of color, who are more likely to register from voter registration drives. Despite this setback, in the end, Black and Latino voters still came out in record-breaking numbers.
4. Ohio: No convenient voting hours for anybody!
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted decided to further chip away at voting in the state by denying expanded early voting hours in only Democratic-leaning urban counties -- just as hours were expanded in solidly Republican rural and suburban ones.
After public outcry over the flagrant disparity, Secretary Husted ordered that all Ohio counties must vote by the same standard. But rather than extending voting days and hours in urban districts, he eliminated weekend voting and slashed hours in all districts across the state. Although voting got less convenient under the new rules, Black voters in Ohio came out in historic numbers, making up 15 percent of the state's electorate.
3. Pennsylvania's voter ID plan (or lack thereof) falls apart.
Less than eight months before Election Day, Pennsylvania passed one of the nation's strictest photo ID laws -- despite the state's admission that there had never been a single instance of voter impersonation in the state, even though more than 750,000 registered voters in the state lacked the required forms of identification, and the state had no plan for issuing enough ID cards in time. If there were any doubts of the partisan motive, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai put them to rest after boasting that the law would "allow Governor Romney to win."
After a lawsuit brought by Advancement Project and partners, a court concurred that Pennsylvania officials were in over their heads, and that the law would disenfranchise voters. It was blocked for the 2012 elections.
2. Florida plots an embarrassingly flawed, error-ridden voter purge.
Apparently unsatisfied by the extent of their other suppression efforts, this year Florida threatened to purge thousands of registered voters from the voter rolls based on suspicion of their citizenship status. Using flawed data, the state sent letters to more than 2,600 registered voters (mostly of color -- many of whom were citizens) saying they'd be kicked off the rolls unless they provided proof of citizenship within 30 days. In Miami, where most of the targeted voters live, more than 98 percent of 562 people who responded proved that they were in fact eligible citizens.
When a coalition of groups, including Advancement Project, sued, the state backed down. Officials agreed to restore to the rolls anyone who was removed without proof of their being a non-citizen, and to inform those voters that they were indeed registered.
1. Texas gets rejected - -twice -- over blatantly discriminatory voting changes.
The Lone Star State geared up for a number of voting changes beginning in 2011, designed to make voting harder in 2012. First, state lawmakers passed a strict photo ID law that made only five documents acceptable for voting: a state-issued driver's license or identification card, a military photo ID, a passport, a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo, or a concealed-carry handgun license. They followed up with a redistricting plan that changed districts belonging to incumbents of color, while making no such alterations to districts represented by White incumbents. Fortunately, these plans never saw the light of day.
After concluding this year that both policies would reduce the voting power of people of color and the poor, a federal court struck them down. The state's redistricting map was so blatant, in fact, the court said lawmakers had intentionally discriminated against Latino voters.
The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.
The Tea Party might not be over, but it is increasingly clear that the election last month significantly weakened the once-surging movement, which nearly captured control of the Republican Party through a potent combination of populism and fury.
The Tea Party might not be over, but it is increasingly clear that the election last month significantly weakened the once-surging movement, which nearly captured control of the Republican Party through a potent combination of populism and fury.
Last week, Republicans proved they are not a governing party. Next week we will see whether Democrats are. A governing party would have, reluctantly, passed Speaker John Boehner's Plan B, which would have preserved the current tax rates on everyone with incomes under $1 million.Passage would have put Senate Democrats on the spot, since they voted for a similar measure in 2010. They might have engaged in negotiations with Boehner that could have been more productive than his negotiations with Barack Obama this month and in the summer of 2011.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin spoke with Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz at 92Y on November 16, 2012. In this clip, Toobin talks about whether the Supreme Court is political. Toobin says "you tell me who gets elected President and I'll tell you how a Supreme Court's going to decide a case...so yes, it's very political."
Toobin also points to how the Supreme Court illustrates a larger phenomena in American politics--the evolution of the Republican Party. To Toobin, "moderate Republicans do not exist anymore."
Do you think the Supreme Court is too political? Leave a comment below.
A legal probe is launched, and FreedomWorks' president accuses ex-chairman Dick Armey of trying to subvert the group.
SOUTH CAROLINA'S conservative Republican governor, Nikki Haley, is the daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab. US Representative Tim Scott of Charleston, a Tea Party hero who was raised in poverty by a divorced single mother, is South Carolina's first black Republican lawmaker in more than a century. To anyone who shares the ideals that animate modern conservatism "“ limited government, economic liberty, color-blind equality "“ it stands to reason that Haley and Scott are conservatives. And their Republican affiliation should surprise no one familiar...
Really, what is to be done about this Republican Party? What force can change it—can stop Republicans from being ideological saboteurs and convert at least a workable minority of them into people interested in governing rather than sabotage? With the failed Plan B vote, we have reached the undeniable crisis point. Actually we’ve been at a crisis point for years, but this is really the all-upper-case Undeniable Crisis Point. They are a direct threat to the economy, which could slip back into recession next year if the government doesn’t, well, govern.
WASHINGTON -- John Boehner is a bloodied House speaker following the startling setback that his own fractious Republican troops dealt him in their "fiscal cliff" struggle against President Barack Obama.
There's plenty of internal grumbling about the Ohio Republican, especially among conservatives, and lots of buzzing about whether his leadership post is in jeopardy. But it's uncertain whether any other House Republican has the broad appeal to seize the job from Boehner or whether his embarrassing inability to pass his own bill preventing tax increases on everyone but millionaires is enough to topple him.
"No one will be challenging John Boehner as speaker," predicted John Feehery, a consultant and former aide to House GOP leaders. "No one else can right now do the job of bringing everyone together" and unifying House Republicans.
The morning after he yanked the tax-cutting bill from the House floor to prevent certain defeat, Boehner told reporters he wasn't worried about losing his job when the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.
"They weren't taking that out on me," he said Friday of rank-and-file GOP lawmakers, who despite pleading from Boehner and his lieutenants were shy of providing the 217 votes needed for passage. "They were dealing with the perception that somebody might accuse them of raising taxes."
That "somebody" was a number of outside conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America, which openly pressured lawmakers to reject Boehner's bill. Such organizations often oppose GOP lawmakers they consider too moderate and have been headaches for Boehner in the past.
This time, his retreat on the tax measure was an unmistakable blow to the clout of the 22-year House veteran known for an amiable style, a willingness to make deals and a perpetual tan.
Congressional leaders amass power partly by their ability to command votes, especially in showdowns. His failure to do so Thursday stands to weaken his muscle with Obama and among House Republicans.
"It's very hard for him to negotiate now," said Sarah Binder, a George Washington University political scientist, adding that it's premature to judge if Boehner's hold on the speakership is in peril. "No one can trust him because it's very hard for him to produce votes."
She said the loss weakens his ability to summon support in the future because "you know the last time he came to you like this, others didn't step in line."
Boehner, 63, faces unvarnished hostility from some conservatives.
"We clearly can't have a speaker operate well outside" what Republicans want to do, said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.
Huelskamp is one of four GOP lawmakers who lost prized committee assignments following previous clashes with party leaders. That punishment was an anomaly for Boehner, who is known more for friendly persuasion than arm-twisting.
He said Boehner's job would depend on whether the speaker is "willing to sit and listen to Republicans first, or march off" and negotiate with Obama.
Conservative Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said one of the tea party's lasting impacts would be if Boehner struggled to retain his speakership due to the fight over the fiscal cliff, which is the combination of deep tax increases and spending cuts that start in early January without a bipartisan deal to avert them.
"If there's a major defeat delivered here, it could make it tough on him," King said. "He's in a tough spot."
Defenders say Boehner has been dealt a difficult hand. They say that in nearly two years as speaker, he's been field general over an unruly GOP majority confronting a Democratic president and Senate, steering them to the best outcomes possible.
House Republicans won some spending cuts early on. But they were faulted by the public for nearly causing a federal default in a 2011 fight over extending the government's debt limit, and lost a later battle over renewing a payroll tax cut.
This year, they've suffered in the polls for resisting the extension of wide-ranging tax cuts unless the wealthiest earners were included, which Obama opposes. They saw their House majority whittled by eight seats in last month's elections.
"He's doing a good job in a tough situation," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a Boehner friend. He said the speaker's challenges include "independent individuals" among House Republicans and the increased willingness of outside conservatives to pressure GOP leaders, not defer to them.
Portman said he didn't know if Boehner's tax bill debacle would weaken him.
"It proved to the president what he's been saying, that there are limits to how far he can go" in making concessions in fiscal cliff bargaining, said Portman. "But a win would have improved chances for an agreement" by demonstrating that Boehner could deliver votes.
"His own Republican team let him down and that always hurts a leader," said veteran Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga.
Republicans watching closely for overt or subtle moves by would-be challengers to Boehner said Friday they'd detected none, though such moves are notoriously secretive.
The entire House elects its speaker by majority vote on the first day of the new session. Because the 201 Democrats will probably all back Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for the job, a GOP effort to depose Boehner would have to occur internally and before the full House votes so Republicans – with 234 seats – elect one of their own as speaker.
Possible candidates to replace Boehner, according to GOP lawmakers and aides, include Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, third-ranking Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.
Cantor was at Boehner's side Friday as both men met with reporters. Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan lobbied colleagues for Boehner's tax-cut bill, giving Republicans angry over the measure little reason to turn to them as alternatives.
"I recognize why these questions are getting asked," conservative freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., said about whether Boehner was in trouble. "I see nothing giving any evidence to that end. It was not a vote of no confidence on John Boehner. It was a legislative defeat, not a personal defeat."
Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.
Howard Barbanel: Joie de Vivre vs. Pursuit of Happiness: The GOP Needs to Help Make the Good Times Roll or Have No Future
In France most of the cows are white. I know this because I was just there two weeks ago, rambling around the countryside. Their horses look different than ours, too. So do their houses, their toilets, their trains, their cars and even their sandwiches.
On their highways they have no toll collectors. If you don't have exact change, you need to insert money or a credit card into a kind of ATM. When they have crews out doing road construction and need to block off a lane, they don't have flagmen, they have automated lights that count down the time before you can proceed. At many train stations you have to pay to use the facilities.
In France it's really next to impossible to get fired from a job, yet the current unemployment rate is 10.3 percent. Most Frenchmen get four to five weeks of paid vacation a year and if you've been on the job for 20-plus years you could even qualify for six weeks of vacation. They have a legalized 35-hour work week. French people actually take lunch -- they go out not for 10 minutes or eat at their desks like Americans, they're out for the full hour. Alcohol is still consumed at lunch over there.
Yet with all this supposed lollygagging about, France still has the fifth highest GDP according to the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank and the CIA World Fact Book. When it comes to per-capita income, France ranks only 23rd, according to the World Bank, at about $35,000 a year -- and this is heavily taxed. The U.S., by comparison, is ranked eighth at $48,442. We have the pursuit of happiness. They have joie de vivre. Therein lies the rub.
In an election analogous to our own recent contest for the White House, in 2012 the French chose the Socialist Francois Hollande by 51.64 percent versus 48.36 percent for the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. Mr. Sarkozy was a fiscal and immigration conservative. He upped the retirement age, he cut the number of public sector employees, he advocated cutting immigration by half and instituting tighter border controls, promoted workfare, opposed gay marriage. The majority of Frenchmen weren't buying it.
In our own tight presidential race the American people were presented with a similar choice -- a whole lot of budget slashing, belt-tightening and smaller government from Mitt Romney wasn't as appetizing to most Americans. The Republican menu also included a whole lot of moralizing on gay marriage, abortion and the like. Despite the profusion of diet commercials on TV and the popularity of shows like The Biggest Loser, most Americans want to loosen their belts, not tighten them, no matter what the doctor tells you and no matter if the doctor is right.
One of the mantras intoned endlessly by GOP candidates and pundits was the warning that we would soon become like Greece or Spain. Most folks have little comprehension of trillions in budgetary dollars, but they do know about the quality of their lives and, from where a lot of Americans are sitting, Europe and the European way of life doesn't look too bad.
While we're busy chasing and pursuing happiness, many Europeans (especially the French) seem to have it enshrined by law with their plethora of vacations, national medical insurance, (supposed) job security, etc. We're breaking our backs for maybe two weeks of annual vacation, lunches at our desks, 50-hour weeks and inadequate health coverage, and the GOP is trying to tell us what we can do in our own bedrooms.
A couple of weeks ago I saw Florida Senator Marco Rubio on Bill O'Reilly talk about the presidential election. He couldn't explain why he and the state's GOP governor couldn't deliver the Sunshine State for Romney. It's simple: Folks don't want to be told who they can sleep or live with, what they can or can't do with their bodies or what intoxicant of choice they can use in their down time. The Republicans -- supposedly the party of smaller government, less regulation and less intrusion in your life by said government -- is paradoxically the party of religious coercion when it comes to personal status issues. This is highly inconsistent and voters see it.
One of the reasons the Spielberg film Lincoln is so popular (aside from great writing and acting) is that Lincoln, the man, heroically stood up for freedom and forward thinking. At one point the GOP was the party that freed the slaves, created the national parks and conserved the environment, the party that broke up the trusts and monopolies, the party that won the Cold War.
Where are the Republicans' big ideas today? Just saying "no" to everything does not constitute vision. Prissily interfering in people's private lives is not an ideology. Blindly supporting unrestricted gun ownership is not being on the right side of history.
There are a lot of Americans who support the notion of government living within its means, who support lower taxation and smaller government, who support a strong military and activist foreign policy, but that's not going to be enough when the GOP has got their fingers in our eyes when it comes to our private lives.
The GOP needs to say to the American people that "we just don't care who you're married to, who you sleep with and what you smoke and, by the way, those lower tax rates, we're going to finance that with taxes on legalized marijuana." There was a time when alcohol, lotteries and casinos were an anathema, now they're endemic. Times change. The GOP has got to get on the right side of change to be relevant and the GOP has got to come up with some big time ideas to improve society and people's lives so as to have a shot at being a majority party. Just voting "no" all the time is not an inspiring vision.
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R-SC): I’m leaving the Senate to work on ideas that I know work. I’ve seen them work all over our country. We can look all over our country and showcase these ideas that are working, and I know there is power in ideas, but I’ve learned one thing about the political environment: Unless there’s power behind the ideas, that they will not emerge here in the Congress. If there’s too much pressure on the outside from the status quo, or to protect some political interest, and no matter how much we show that it’s working, it...