Category Archives: Politics: US

Aid for Ukraine

Today’s long-delayed House vote on aid to Ukraine reminds me of a line that I was sorry to discover Churchill may not have said, “Americans can always be trusted to do the right thing, once all other possiblities have been exhausted.”

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Democracy Takes Another One on the Chin in Tennessee

Tennessee has a bad gerrymandering problem in which cities (with black people) get cut up to be swamped by white rural districts. This produced a legislature with an even larger than natural Republican majority.

A week after the shootings in Nashville, three Democratic members of the legislature took part in a demonstration on the floor of the House in favor of better gun laws and safer schools. They made noise. No one was threatened or injured. Nothing was broken. Except democracy: the House is now voting on whether to expel the ‘Tennessee 3’ — two Black men and one White woman (one of only 11 in the state House) for “lack of decorum”. Details at the Washington Post, and some impressive short videos at Mother Jones on Twitter.

For all the weird and and unpleasant things in politics this week, this one bothers me the most.

Update: Lots of info at The Tennessean web site. Among the facts I learned – Rep. Jones was expelled but not Rep. Johnson. The difference might be because he’s Black and she’s White — indeed Johnson herself raised the possibility. Or it might be because he had a megaphone and she did not; the megaphone may have been due to the fact that, as Rep. Sam McKenzie, explained, “Republican leadership has repeatedly cut off Democrats’ microphones during debate”.

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Somebody is Having a Good Week

An amazing barrage of good headlines for someone in the news:

  • Ukraine:
    • CNN, Biden’s trip to Kyiv delivers the starkest rebuke possible to Putin:

      “One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” he declared. “The Americans stand with you and the world stands with you.”

      Biden’s words might have lacked the poetry of “Ich bin ein Berliner,” or “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” But Biden’s visit instantly went down in history alongside two defining trips to divided Berlin by Presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan that were flashpoints of the Cold War and each of which sent their own image of US resolve to the Kremlin.

    • The Atlantic, Biden Just Destroyed Putin’s Last Hope:

      “Simply by taking the hazardous trip to Kyiv, Biden made a strategic move of cardinal importance.” […]

      This is a gut punch to Russia’s leader. The Russians received word of the trip, we are informed—and presumably the threat, stated or implied, that they would get a violent and overwhelming response if they attempted to interfere with it. For a leader obsessed with strength, like Putin, that is a blow. His own people will quietly or openly ask, “Why could we not prevent this?” And the answer, unstated, will have to be, “Because we were afraid.”

      The visual contrast between an American president with his signature aviator sunglasses walking in sunny downtown Kyiv with the pugnacious and eloquent president of Ukraine and a Russian president who has yet to visit the war zone is also striking.

    • CNN, Biden’s Ukraine visit upstages Putin and leaves Moscow’s military pundits raging: “‘Biden in [Kyiv]. Demonstrative humiliation of Russia,’ Russian journalist Sergey Mardan wrote in a snarky response on his Telegram channel.”
  • The Border Crisis: Daily Beast, Biden’s Plan to End the Border Crisis Is Already Working:

    [C]haos is already dramatically on the decline, as President Biden’s Jan. 5 immigration actions were the first major step in decades to get the border under control.

  • Domestic Policy: NYT, Rick Scott Drops Social Security From Plan as G.O.P. Retreats From Entitlement Cuts:

    Senator Rick Scott of Florida finally recognized this week what leading figures in his party had been telling him for a year: Most Republicans no longer wish to discuss cutting Social Security and Medicare as a way to balance the federal budget and bring down the soaring debt.

    After decades of talk of scaling back the popular — and increasingly expensive — federal entitlement programs for older Americans, Republicans have for now abandoned that approach. It is an acknowledgment of the political risks of shrinking benefits relied on by millions of voters.

    The capitulation by Mr. Scott, who on Friday relented and explicitly walled off Social Security and Medicare from his proposal to terminate all federal programs every five years and subject them to congressional review, was the latest evidence that Republicans would be looking elsewhere for savings in a coming showdown with the White House and congressional Democrats.

The guy just might be tough to beat in 2024…

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Read it and Prepare to Weep

The proposed rules for the new session of the House of Representatives are something else indeed.

Yes, they do the headline stuff you likely heard about, but there are real devils in the details.

At least one of the changes is a good one: requiring 72 hours advance notice for spending bills instead of dropping giant documents on members with a take-it-or leave it vote.

Another change sounds good in principle, but is in fact warped to be only unhelpful.  And it is likely to be a disaster in practice.  In principle the idea of allowing any member to propose floor amendments to spending bills is a good thing. Unfortunately, the practice got corrupted by political posturing well over a decade ago. At one point, then-minority Republicans seized on the amendment process to propose various amendments designed not to succeed but cause painful sound bites for vulnerable Democrats (“Smith voted against controlling spending on {whatever} TEN times”).  Others started introducing rafts of amendments mainly designed to create delay. So the leadership of both parties started either rationing or eliminating amendments.  That’s not very democratic, and returning to ‘regular order’ might in theory be good, although the weaponization of amendments is sure to return.

The real evil here, though, is that only amendments cutting spending will be allowed.  Any amendment raising spending without an off-setting cut will be ruled out of order.  Since the new leadership also contemplates returning to the practice of having multiple spending bills divided by subject matter, I’m guessing that it will not be possible to, say, propose more money for childcare at the expense of military spending on golf courses because those come in different bills.  Even if cross-subject offsets are possible, it means that every bill that comes to the floor in effect will be a ceiling on expenditures.

The rule sets up lighting consideration for two concurrent resolutions: “(H. Con. Res. 4) expressing support for the Nation’s law enforcement agencies and condemning any efforts to defund or dismantle law enforcement agencies”  and “(H. Con. Res. 3) expressing the sense of Congress condemning the recent attacks on prolife facilities, groups, and churches.”

The rule also creates lightning procedures – no amendment, little debate – for some pet projects (hypocrisy anyone?) such as bills to allow more oil leases, cut appropriations to the IRS designed to reduce tax cheating by rich people, “(H.R. 7) to prohibit taxpayer fund-ed abortions,” and so on.

And then there are the witch hunts.  A Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic would be a great idea if it were not to be stuffed with people who think Dr. Fauci is the devil.  A Select Committee on the “Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party” just sounds weird–isn’t the competition with the People’s Republic, not the CCP? A Select Subcommittee (of the Justice Committee) on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government” — this will be Jim Jordan’s revival of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, now with more classified documents and a bonus helping of Congresspersons who are being investigated for crimes doing their best to muck up the investigations.

Fun times a-coming.

Update: Neglected to mention the trashing of the (already quite tame) House Office of Congressional Ethics.

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze, Politics: US | 1 Comment

Coalition Government in the US House — It’s Not an Analogy, It’s a Strategy

Apparently the idea we should view the House GOP as a coalition rather than a party is much more than an analogy: it’s actually a strategy outlined by one of their gurus:

The next Congress, influential activist Ed Corrigan said, could be a “European-style coalition government” run by three groups: “The Democrats, the Republicans and the Freedom Caucus.”

The forum was convened by Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and attended by several other lawmakers, including two others who helped block Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) this week from becoming House speaker: Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Victoria Spartz, R-Ind.

The strategy outlined by Corrigan went beyond just extracting concessions from House leaders — it amounted to a game plan for the House Freedom Caucus to operate as a third party in a de facto parliamentary system, essentially co-governing the chamber with mainstream Republicans. As lawmakers prepared for a seventh round of voting on Thursday, House Republicans appeared to be on the precipice of allowing that to happen.

“What would coalition government look like in practice?” Corrigan asked the group, which was filmed and livestreamed but has attracted little notice beyond conservative media. “I would recommend the Freedom Caucus would be granted a specific number of committee assignments, and committee and subcommittee chairmanships,” as well as a variety of other new powers, including putting a Freedom Caucus member as chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.

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Not Over Yet

The man of the (late) hour.

So we have a 15th-ballot Speaker, or maybe it’s a Silenced Speaker, and maybe it’s only for a while, who knows. But that isn’t what I care about: What I want to know is what is the ‘rule’ for the new Congress going to be. When things petered out in the early hours of the morning they either didn’t have a text or didn’t have the votes. (Does this mean CSPAN gets to keep actually covering the House for a bit longer?)

The rules governing the new House matter for all sorts of reasons, e.g. how much freedom members will have to propose amendments to spending bills. Critically, the rule will show how much effort will be needed to get bills to the floor in the face of the “Hastert Rule” (nothing gets to the floor without a majority of the GOP’s support), and especially what the pathways will be to pass a debt ceiling change, and a budget, over the ultra-obstruction wing of the GOP. It may also tell us how the members of what likely will be the all-important conference committees will be selected–all-important becasue differences between House and Senate bills seem likely, assuming there are House bills at all.

One of the smartest comments I’ve heard on the mess was relayed to me by a relative, so I can’t credit the source. The way to look at the House, it said, is to think of the GOP not as one party but a coalition government like Lab-Lib in the UK, or like in Italy or Israel. Indeed, Israel strikes me as a decent metaphor, in which the larger GOP faction is something radial right like Likud, and the smaller one something like Noam with dashes of Benghazi and nihilism.

Fun times a-coming.

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