Browsing the archives for the Congress category.

I’m Back

Congress, Obama Administration

Brought the Mahalaptop home today. The geeks had to do a factory restore, meaning it was pretty much wiped, and I’m having to reinstall software now. The problem apparently was caused by the Windows 10 upgrade I did a few weeks ago, so if you haven’t done that yet, hold off until they get more bugs fixed.

I see Canada has nixied Stephen Harper in favor of the more progressive and also more handsome Justin Trudeau. Yay.

Let’s look at what’s going on with Obamacare, starting with the newest effort by Republicans to repeal it.

The repeal legislation, Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Ac, is being brought through a legislative procedure known as budget reconciliation, which only requires a simple majority to advance in the Senate and thus could overcome Democratic opposition to land on President Obama’s desk. However, the maneuver is only workable, under parliamentary rules, if it reduces the deficit and a full-on Obamacare repeal would add $353 billion to the deficit, the Congressional Budget Office has found. So Republicans are targeting only certain aspects of the law — such as the individual and employer mandates — that, if repealed, would reduce the deficit. It would also almost certainly be vetoed by the president.

However, according to Heritage Action, this is not good enough.

Heritage Action for America — the lobbying arm of the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation – issued a statement threatening to consider the vote on the House bill, expected Friday, a key vote for conservative members.

In the statement, communications director Dan Holler accused GOP leadership of “putting their members in a terrible position,” as the legislation leaves in place some aspects of Obamacare, and argued that by voting in favor of the bill, Republicans are “undermining any serious effort to repeal the law in 2017.”

Actually repealing it would require Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, plus the White House. Well, they’re going to keep the House for awhile. However, my understanding is that the Dems are in pretty good shape to take back the Senate. And I sincerely think the White House is out of reach for Republicans. So good luck with that, Heritage Action.

Heritage Action is complaining because the partial repeal bill leaves the exchanges and medicaid expansion intact. If Heritage Action had half a brain, it would know that ending the individual mandate all by itself would kill the exchanges, and the rest of Obamacare as well, but we’re talking about wingnuts here.

Oh, and Fun Fact — states that didn’t expand Medicaid are paying more for it.

Insurance co ops also are in trouble. Nonprofit insurance co ops were allowed under Obamacare as a weak alternative to the private option.  Republicans saw to it that the co ops would be fragile, at best; see Richard Mayhew for an explanation. Since some co ops are failing, Republicans are trying to kill the entire program.

In other news, Jim Webb dropped out of the presidential race. Bye, Jim Webb.


Speaker Watch

Congress, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

The question of the day is, “Is he dumb enough to do it?” — he being Paul Ryan and it being running for Speaker of the House. Ryan allegedly is considering his options today.

As Paul Krugman points out in a column and blog post today, Ryan’s strength is that he’s the guy non-Republicans take seriously. But he needs to avoid the Speaker position to maintain that impression.

If Paul Ryan has any sense of self-preservation — and that is one thing he surely has — he will look for any way possible to avoid becoming Speaker. The hard right is already attacking him, essentially accusing him of not being sufficiently crazy, and they’re right. On policy substance he’s totally an Ayn Rand-loving, reward-the-rich and punish-the-poor guy, but so are lots of other Republicans; what they want is someone willing to go along with kamikaze tactics, and he isn’t. His fall from grace would be swift.

But if Ryan isn’t distinctive in his political positions, why does he loom so large within his party? The answer is that he’s more or less unique among extreme right-wingers in having the approbation of centrists, especially centrist pundits. That is, he’s a big man within the GOP because people outside seem to approve of him. And it’s important to ask why.

And the reason is …

Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues, at creating the false impression that his plans have been vetted by budget experts. This has been enough to convince political writers who don’t know much about policy, but do know what they want to see, that he’s the real deal. (A number of reporters are deeply impressed by the fact that he uses PowerPoint.) He is to fiscal policy what Carly Fiorina was to corporate management: brilliant at self-promotion, hopeless at actually doing the job. But his act has been good enough for media work.

His position within the party, in turn, rests mainly on this outside perception. Mr. Ryan is certainly a hard-line, Ayn Rand-loving and progressive-tax-hating conservative, but no more so than many of his colleagues. If you look at what the people who see him as a savior are saying, they aren’t talking about his following within the party, which isn’t especially passionate. They’re talking, instead, about his perceived outside credibility, his status as someone who can stand up to smarty-pants liberals — someone who won’t, says MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, be intimidated by “negative articles in The New York Times opinions page.” (Who knew we had such power?)

It helps that much of the punditocracy suffers from a pathological need to see Democrats and Republicans as equally crazy; this is what passes for “balance” these days.

Ryan is being maligned wholesale on the Crazy Fringe today, not because he’s a con but because he allegedly is soft on immigration. As near as I can tell, his actual voting record makes him an immigration hard-liner. He’s even called for building the damnfool fence and sending little Nicaraguan refugee children back to Central America. But the Whackjobs apparently need to hate him for something, and that’s what they’ve come up with.

The political establishment largely is ignoring this development and promoting Ryan as the man who can bring together the allegedly “centrist” faction of the Republican Party and the teabagger fringe. As Andrew Rosenthal writes, this is basically a “plea for attention from the increasingly irrelevant conservative establishment. ” Those who still take the Republican Party seriously are talking about needing unity in “moving public policy in a conservative direction.”

But, as Rosenthal says, “The Republicans moved way past conservatism long ago.” And going back to Krugman,

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality.

The Freedom Caucus wants Daniel Webster of Florida, the guy who beat Alan Grayson in 2010 and who has rarely met an excuse for a government shutdown he didn’t like. I’m betting that Ryan will stay on the sidelines and that Webster will end up with the Speaker’s job eventually, once the establishment has bullshitted itself into thinking maybe he’s not that bad. But anything could happen.


Cannibal Dance

Congress, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

So the House is in chaos, and John Boehner may be Speaker awhile longer. As I write this the talking heads are saying that Paul Ryan is the Man of the Hour who will take the Speaker position and bring order out of chaos. But Ryan says he doesn’t want the job, possibly because even he isn’t that stupid.

This is especially true since the base has turned on Ryan, according to this article by Sophia Tesfaye.  Word has come down from the likes of Erick Erickson, the Breitbrats, David Horowitz, Laura Ingraham, and some members of the House Freedom Caucus that Ryan is another “centrist” like Boehner. Erickson wrote,

Paul Ryan has been the brains behind most of the fiscal deals John Boehner has cut with Barack Obama. Then there are his votes.

While in Congress, he voted for No Child Left Behind, the Prescription Drug Benefit, TARP, caps on CEO pay, the AIG bill, the GM bailout, the debt ceiling, and now the fiscal cliff. In fact, Paul Ryan is one of less than a dozen Republican congressmen to have voted for every bailout to come before Congress.

Paul Ryan is a creature of Washington. He worked on Capitol Hill, worked in a think tank, then went back as a congressman. He speaks Washingtonese with the best of them.

It’s the House Freedom Caucus causing the chaos, it appears. It was the Freedom Caucus that drove Kevin McCarthy out of the running.

Who are the Freedom Caucus? I think Josh Marshall sums them up best:

Quite simply they’ve actually convinced themselves that they’re in the midst of some grand world historical moment when in fact they’re just floundering in derp.

To me, they’re also something like the Jacobins, except they are right-wing and a lot dumber. Nobody is pure enough for them. Like the Jacobins, they are so ideologically rigid they are consuming themselves and sending their Robespierres to the guillotine, so to speak.

To fully appreciate what I’m talking about, read this article by Jedd Legum, This Document Reveals Why The House Of Representatives Is In Complete Chaos. A few snips:

For example, the document seeks a commitment from the next speaker to tie any increase in the debt ceiling to cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. …

… The House Freedom Caucus wants the next speaker to commit to not funding the government at all unless President Obama (and Senate Democrats) agree to defund Obamacare, Planned Parenthood and a host of other priorities. This is essentially the Ted Cruz strategy which prompted at 16-day shutdown in 2013. This would now be enshrined as the official policy of the Speaker Of The House.

The House Freedom Caucus wants the next speaker to commit to oppose any “omnibus” bill that would keep the government running. Rather, funding for each aspect of government could only be approved by separate bills. This would allow the Republicans to attempt to finance certain favored aspects of government (the military), while shuttering ones they view as largely unnecessary (education, health).

As Jedd Legum also explains,

Any potential speaker needs the support of 218 Republicans on the floor of the House. There are currently 247 Republicans in the House. That’s a large majority but without the Freedom Caucus, no candidate can get to 218.

In other words, the Freedom Caucus has the rest of the House Republicans by their boy parts.

The Freedom Caucus hounded McCarthy to drop out, partly by spreading an unsupported rumor that he was having an affair. They couldn’t just disagree with him; they had to destroy him.

Seems to me the only way the impasse may be broken is for some of the less-demented Republicans to work out a deal with Democrats in order to get to 218 votes.

What’s also hysterical about the current madness is that some parts of the media still cling to the view that both sides are just as bad. Yeah, the Right is crazy, but Bernie Sanders.

Scott Lemieux writes, “The Freecom Caucus’s reason for being is to threaten to destroy the country unless the president agrees to destroy the country.” He also said,

I know that this Green Lanternism is not unique to the right per se.  There are people on the left who thought that Congress could have unilaterally ended the Iraq War in 2007 or that the Democratic minority in the Senate could have serially rejected Bush’s Supreme Court nominees.  There are also people on the left who believe that had Obama demanded single payer Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson would have had no choice but to vote for a Medicare buy-in.   But 1) these are generally obscure People on the Internet Somewhere, not the core of the Democratic caucus in Congress, and 2) they at least support the use of completely irrational tactics to advance desirable ends.

The Freedom Caucus is genuinely frightening. Charles Pierce:

There are all kinds of chickens coming home to roost. This development – which, I would point out, leaves Jason Chaffetz (R-Zygote) as the “moderate” choice for Speaker of the House, and third in line to be president of the United States – is the final justification for all of us who have been saying for a while now that there is no “extreme” wing of the Republican party any more. The prion disease has taken full hold of the party’s higher functions. It is already being bruited about the monkeyhouse that Chaffetz may not be pure enough to satisfy the Freedom Caucus, the claque of angry gossoons who sank McCarthy the moment that McCarthy told the truth about what the House is up to with its hearings on Benghazi, Benghazi!, BENGHAZI!

Like the Jacobins they’ll destroy themselves eventually, but they’re going to cause a lot of damage and suffering first.



This Says a Lot

Congress, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Catholic Congress Critter Paul Gosar (R-Arizona) explains why he’s boycotting the Pope when His Holiness addresses the House of Representatives:

Many believed, like I did, that this was an opportunity for the Pope to be one of the world’s great religious advocates and address the current intolerance of religious freedom. An opportunity to urgently challenge governments to properly address the persecution and execution of Christians and religious minorities; to address the heinous and senseless murders committed by ISIS and other terrorist organizations. An opportunity to address the enslavement, belittlement, rape and desecration of Christian women and children; to address the condoned, subsidized, intentionally planned genocide of unborn children by Planned Parenthood and society; and finally, an opportunity for His Holiness to refocus our priorities on right from wrong.

Gore, sex, death, Islamophobia and more sex and death, plus persecution. Who wouldn’t be quivering with anticipation?

Media reports indicate His Holiness instead intends to focus the brunt of his speech on climate change.

Jeez, Popes can be buzzkills sometimes.

More troubling is the fact that this climate change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and ideology into “climate justice” and is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies.

“Leftist” policies like taking care of the poor and the earth?

If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line.  If the Pope spoke out with moral authority against violent Islam, I would be there cheering him on. If the Pope urged the Western nations to rescue persecuted Christians in the Middle East, I would back him wholeheartedly. But when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one.

There’s theology, and then there’s other theology. I say to those who take delight in wallowing in persecution porn and fomenting hate speech against those tagged as an “enemy” might want to read their Bibles — Matthew 5:43-46

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?”

Yeah, we all know ISIS and other violent extremists in the Middle East are really awful and doing bad things. Standing on the other side of the world and bloviating about it doesn’t so much as butter toast, however. On the other hand, ratcheting down the wrathful rhetoric might make a small contribution toward slowing the spread of radicalization.

Anti-Christian persecution is really happening in the Middle East, and it’s genuinely terrible. ISIS is behind much of it. But, let’s see, where did ISIS come from … oh, a U.S. military prison? As an unintended consequence of the U.S. invasion of Iraq? Maybe we’re not the ones to talk. And, anyway, there’s little we can do about it, from what I see. Making speeches about how awful it is won’t change a thing. And Pope Francis has spoken out against it already.

And don’t get me started on why the allegations against Planned Parenthood are a hoax.

Instead, His Holiness will lecture the U.S. House on global climate change, which is actually happening in spite of the Right’s dogged efforts to pretend otherwise.

What is it about global climate change that’s different than Islamic violence, the persecution of Christians, and something alleged about Planned Parenthood that isn’t happening?

The U.S. could actually do something about global climate change, that’s what.

In other words, His Holiness wants Congress to do something. What a concept.


The Gulag Is Upon Us


So a 71-year-old law-abiding citizen is not allowed to hand-deliver letters about campaign finance reform to members of the House. I can understand requiring the letters to go through some kind of security screening –anthrax, you know — but to not allow him to deliver the letters at all seems, um, un-American.

It hasn’t been that long since a mob of rowdy teabaggers got into the Longworth House Office Building and heckled Democratic congresspersons, in particularly black Democratic congresspersons, and I don’t know that any were so much as briefly detained. Funny how that works.

See also this article by Joan Shipps at Raw Story.

Late Thursday night, the House of Representatives voted in favor of “H.J.Res. 43: Disapproving the action of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014.” If enacted, the legislation would make using employer-based health insurance for in vitro fertilization or birth control pills a fireable offense in Washington, D.C.

That’s bad enough, but in some ways this part is more disturbing:

Thursday’s House floor debate kicked off after 9:00 PM. Before I entered the doors to the House Gallery, I complied with a police request to forfeit all my electronic devices. I inquired if I could get a press pass so I could take pictures. After a few radio calls, officials on the scene told me I could not have a press pass. So I relinquished my phone and proceeded to go in the Gallery anyway.

Before going through my second metal detector since entering the building, a police officer gave my purse a thorough examination. I had already put my purse through an x-ray machine.

When I entered the Gallery, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) was imploring her Republican colleagues not to use the federal authority vested in them by people from other states to overturn local laws in Washington, D.C.

I sat down near D.C. voting rights activists who were attending the hearing and began to take notes on a steno pad. A congressional staffer came over and informed me I was not allowed to take notes.

 Not allowed to take notes? Maybe C-Span was there, I don’t know. But this is just twisted. Whose House is it, anyway?


Cotton Comes to Harmin’

Congress, Middle East, Obama Administration, Republican Party

Japan had the 47 Ronin; we have the #47Traitors, currently the number one hashtag on Twitter. Heh. I do acknowledge that the 47 didn’t actually commit treason by U.S. standards; they were basically just being assholes. The Logan Act is another matter, of course, but an exceedingly fuzzy one.

Anyhoo, possibly the most delicious thing I read today was the response from Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Javad Zarif, who felt called upon to explain the U.S. Constitution and international law to the infamous 47.

Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.

Of course, the #47Traitors don’t consider the Obama Administration to be the legitimate executive branch of the government, so this will have been lost on them. But how can some foreigner presume to speak for the “nuances” of the United States Constitution?  Wikipedia:

Zarif attended Drew College Preparatory School, a private college-preparatory high school located in San Francisco, California. He went on to study at San Francisco State University, from which he gained a BA in International Relations in 1981 and an MA in the same subject in 1982. Following this, Zarif continued his studies at the Graduate School of International Studies (now named the Josef Korbel School of International Studies) at the University of Denver, from which he obtained a second MA in International Relations in 1984 and this was followed by a PhD in International Law and Policy in 1988. His thesis was entitled: “Self-Defense in International Law and Policy”.

Oh, that’s how. He also represented Iran in the United Nations for a few years, so he’s spent quite a lot of time here.

At the New York Times, Rita from California wrote in a comment,

The letter is quite strange. It has kind of a chatty, juvenile tone to it – much like a gang of middle school kids suggesting to a star football player that he is making a mistake by hanging around the wrong crowd. May I paraphrase: “We just wanted to let you know that you are dealing with the wrong person. You really should be talking to us because “WE” are the “cool kids”. Clearly not the type of letter written by those serious about international relations.

Did these 47 Senators honestly think that the Iranian government is so benighted that it was not aware of the workings of the U.S. government or the politics at work in the US? Are these Senators really so ignorant of the world?

I love that; “We really should be making all the decisions because ‘WE’ are the ‘cool kids'” kind of sums up the GOP vibe, don’t you think? Well, that plus big doses of resentment and grievances to go with the entitlement.

Also in the New York Times:

But the senators’ suggestion that international political commitments made by presidents can and should be easily overturned — and therefore by implication have no value — is at odds with tradition, American security interests and good sense. Every president has negotiated scores of agreements with foreign governments that have not required congressional approval and sometimes, not even congressional review. These include last year’s security agreement with Afghanistan, the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime which aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and — oh yes — the 2013 interim agreement with Iran that has already substantially curbed the country’s ability to make nuclear fuel.

Oh, wait, who was President in 1987, again? I know it’ll come to me …

Charles Pierce has been going to town, so to speak, on the subject of ringleader Tom Cotton. One, Cotton made the Bush Administration disappear. Then read How Tom Cotton Runs the Nation.

I know I missed it on election night back in November, but it seems that 478,819 citizens of the state of Arkansas voted themselves in control of the foreign policy of the United States. They determined in ensemble fashion to visit upon the Senate—and, thereby, the country—the genius of Tom Cotton, who decided over the weekend on his own to lecture the government of Iran on How America Works—and, in fact, to lecture the government of Iran how it should work, for that matter. Put not your trust in Kenyan Usurpers, Tom cautioned the mullahs, for nothing is forever.

Cotton stands revealed as a true fanatic. He’s stalwart in his convictions as regards things about which he knows exactly dick. What he and practically every Republican in the Senate did was nothing short of a slow-motion, partial coup d’etat. It was not quite treason, and it was not quite a violation of the Logan Act, no matter how dearly some of us might wish it was. (Imagine the howls if the Justice Department actually inquired into that possibility, which it certainly has a right to do. Lindsey Graham might never rise from the fainting couch.) But it stands in history with Richard Nixon’s grotesque sabotage of the Paris Peace Talks in 1968 and with whatever it was that the Reagan campaign did to monkeywrench the possible release of the American hostages from their captivity in Iran in 1980. It is an act of unconscionable and perilous presumption, reckless at its base and heedless of eventual consequences.

Possibly the best part of Cotton’s move is that he has pretty much killed any chance Senate Republicans could get enough crossover Democratic support in an effort to put restrictions on President Obama’s efforts to reach a deal with Iran. Before Cotton pulled this stunt, there were a number of Dem Senators (and I’m looking at you, Chuck) who might have helped the Republicans keep war on the table. Right now about any Dem senator who dares stand with Republicans on this matter risks being laughed, if not drummed, out of the Party. This week, anyway.

Way to go, T.C.


Flirting With Insurrection

Congress, Obama Administration

Or, a tale of senatorial overreach …

A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama’s administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber’s entire party leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant not just to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal but also to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

One suspects that by now the heads of Iran’s state department have figured out our constitutional system pretty well. They may understand it better than Rand Paul does, in fact.

Arms-control advocates and supporters of the negotiations argue that the next president and the next Congress will have a hard time changing or canceling any Iran deal — — which is reportedly near done — especially if it is working reasonably well.

Many inside the Republican caucus, however, hope that by pointing out the long-term fragility of a deal with no congressional approval — something Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also noted — the Iranian regime might be convinced to think twice. “Iran’s ayatollahs need to know before agreeing to any nuclear deal that … any unilateral executive agreement is one they accept at their own peril,” Cotton told me.

That “advice and consent of the Senate” bit in Article II Section 2 of the Constitution has always limited presidential maneuvering in foreign policy, but off the top of my head I can’t think of a time senators took it on themselves to do an end run around the executive branch to warn a foreign government not to negotiate with the U.S. Certainly the Constitution doesn’t give senators the authority to directly negotiate with foreign powers.

 Republicans also have a new argument to make in asserting their role in the diplomatic process: Vice President Joe Biden similarly insisted — in a letter to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell — on congressional approval for the Moscow Treaty on strategic nuclear weapons with Russia in 2002, when he was head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

That’s hardly the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with a U.S. senator reminding a U.S. secretary of state about that. However, negotiations with prickly foreign powers being what they are, it’s usually considered important for the senate to not undermine ongoing negotiations by contacting foreign countries directly.

Still, Senators from both parties are united in an insistence that, at some point, the administration will need their buy-in for any nuclear deal with Iran to succeed. There’s no sign yet that Obama believes this — or, if he does, that he plans to engage Congress in any meaningful way.

Hello? Article II section 2 is still in effect, is it not? I found a legal article explaining how this works:

The letter states that “the Senate must ratify [a treaty] by a two-thirds vote.”  But as the Senate’s own web page makes clear: “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis).  Or, as this outstanding  2001 CRS Report on the Senate’s role in treaty-making states (at 117):  “It is the President who negotiates and ultimately ratifies treaties for the United States, but only if the Senate in the intervening period gives its advice and consent.”  Ratification is the formal act of the nation’s consent to be bound by the treaty on the international plane.  Senate consent is a necessary but not sufficient condition of treaty ratification for the United States.  As the CRS Report notes: “When a treaty to which the Senate has advised and consented … is returned to the President,” he may “simply decide not to ratify the treaty.”

This is a technical point that does not detract from the letter’s message that any administration deal with Iran might not last beyond this presidency.  (I analyzed this point here last year.)  But in a letter purporting to teach a constitutional lesson, the error is embarrassing.

Congress is embarrassing, period.

Some rightie sites like Townhall are waxing hysterical that the President intends to bypass the Senate’s “ratification power,” but of course the current treaty is being negotiated the same ways treaties are always negotiated, and I haven’t heard a peep from the White House declaring that the usual processes wouldn’t be adhered to.

I found this on Findlaw:

Negotiation, a Presidential Monopoly .–Actually, the negotiation of treaties had long since been taken over by the President; the Senate’s role in relation to treaties is today essentially legislative in character. 259 ”He alone negotiates. Into the field of negotiation, the Senate cannot intrude; and Congress itself is powerless to invade it,” declared Justice Sutherland for the Court in 1936. 260 The Senate must, moreover, content itself with such information as the President chooses to furnish it. 261 In performing the function that remains to it, however, it has several options. It may consent unconditionally to a proposed treaty, it may refuse its consent, or it may stipulate conditions in the form of amendments to the treaty, of reservations to the act of ratification, or of statements of understanding or other declarations, the formal difference between the first two and the third being that amendments and reservations, if accepted by the President must be communicated to the other parties to the treaty, and, at least with respect to amendments and often reservations as well, require reopening negotiations and changes, whereas the other actions may have more problematic results. 262 The act of ratification for the United States is the President’s act, but it may not be forthcoming unless the Senate has consented to it by the required two-thirds of the Senators present, which signifies two-thirds of a quorum, otherwise the consent rendered would not be that of the Senate as organized under the Constitution to do business. 263 Conversely, the President may, if dissatisfied with amendments which have been affixed by the Senate to a proposed treaty or with the conditions stipulated by it to ratification, decide to abandon the negotiation, which he is entirely free to do. 264
So, since long before the current President and Senate were in office, it’s been determined that the Senate has no authority to intrude into negotiations and is supposed to wait until the President submits a treaty to them for approval. And then they can propose changes if they want to. Those 47 senators were well outside the limits of their constitutional authority.
Update: Armin Rosen of Business Insider writes that the White House isn’t negotiating a treaty but an “executive agreement.” “It’s indisputable that the next president could cancel the deal unilaterally. And if Obama or the Iranians were uncomfortable with this, they would have insisted on Congressional ratification by now. They haven’t,” Rosen writes.

It’s safe to say that no president in modern times has had his legitimacy questioned by the opposition party as much as Barack Obama. But as his term in office enters its final phase, Republicans are embarking on an entirely new enterprise: They have decided that as long as he holds the office of the presidency, it’s no longer necessary to respect the office itself. …
… It’s one thing to criticize the administration’s actions, or try to impede them through the legislative process. But to directly communicate with a foreign power in order to undermine ongoing negotiations? That is appalling. And just imagine what those same Republicans would have said if Democratic senators had tried such a thing when George W. Bush was president.
Yes, just imagine.

Bibi Netanyahu Is to Iran What George Laffer Is to Economics

Congress, Israel, Obama Administration

That is to say, wrong.

In the address on Tuesday to the United States Congress by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, we witnessed a new peak in the long-running hype over Iran’s nuclear energy program. Yet all his predictions about how close Iran was to acquiring a nuclear bomb have proved baseless.

Despite that, alarmist rhetoric on the theme has been a staple of Mr. Netanyahu’s career. In an interview with the BBC in 1997, he accused Iran of secretly “building a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles,” predicting that eventually Manhattan would be within range. In 1996, he stood before Congress and urged other nations to join him to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability, stressing that “time is running out.” Earlier, as a member of Parliament, in 1992, he predicted that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within three to five years.

In front of world leaders at the United Nations in September 2012, Mr. Netanyahu escalated his warnings by declaring that Iran could acquire the bomb within a year. It is ironic that in doing so, he apparently disregarded the assessment of his own secret service: A recently revealed document showed that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, had advised that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The United States intelligence community had reached the same conclusion in its National Intelligence Estimate.

Despite extensive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, no evidence has ever been presented to contradict the clear commitment by Iran’s leaders that they would under no circumstances engage in manufacturing, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons. In 2013, for example, only Japan, which has many more nuclear facilities than Iran, was subject to greater agency scrutiny.

Someone else remembered that Bibi told Congress in 2002 that getting rid of Saddam Hussein would have “enormous, positive reverberations on the region.”

Seriously, even Tom Friedman was unconvinced by Bibi’s speech yesterday. There is broad consensus that Netanyahu failed to explain how trashing the White House negotiations would result in anything better. He reminds me of the progressives who were opposed to the Affordable Care Act because they fantasized that trashing it would magically give us single payer.

Jim Newell of Salon called the speech an insult, not just to the White House but to Americans generally.

Where to begin? How about the section in the beginning where Netanyahu, patronizingly, delivers a history of the Iranian regime and its sponsorship of terrorism and insurgency against Americans in the region. Excuse me, but we don’t need to be told, by a foreign leader, how Iran has treated the United States. And then this: “Don’t be fooled. The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America.” Again, thanks, but we’ll figure out our foreign policy for ourselves.

So a foreign leader stood up in Congress, insulted not just the President but Americans in general, and the mostly Republican audience gave him 26 standing ovations. Why do Republicans hate America?

Fred Kaplan:

The Israeli prime minister pretended to criticize the specific deal that the United States and five other nations are currently negotiating with Iran, but it’s clear from his words that he opposes any deal that falls short of Iran’s total disarmament and regime change. He pretended merely to push for a “better deal,” but he actually was agitating for war.

Wingnuts think all peace agreements are “appeasement”; war is the only “serious” solution. Hence, 26 standing ovations.

It’s appalling that so many members of the U.S. Congress cheer Netanyahu’s every utterance as some holy oracle, seemingly unaware that many senior Israeli security officers dispute his assertions about the urgency of an Iranian nuclear threat—unaware even that he’s increasingly unpopular among his own citizens. It’s downright unseemly that these same members of Congress cheer his condemnation of the P5+1 deal as “a very bad deal”—they stand up, applaud madly, and howl toward the cameras and galleries—without giving their own president and his diplomats a chance to complete and defend the deal themselves.

Anything to give them an excuse to express their raging hatred of President Obama. That’s what’s really going on here. They’d invite the Devil himself to address Congress if he promised some anti-Obama red meat.

Unfortunately, a few Democrats went along with this circus. I want names, and I want them primaried. This crap has got to stop.


Does the GOP Fear the Fallout from King v. Burwell? (Updated)

Congress, Health Care, Obama Administration, Republican Party, Supreme Court

SCOTUS will hear the King v. Burwell case on March 4. This is the case in which it is alleged that states that did not set up their own exchanges under the Affordable Care Act cannot offer federal subsidies to people buying insurance through the federal exchange. The New York Times editorial board says of this,

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in one of the most anticipated cases of the term: King v. Burwell, a marvel of reverse-engineered legal absurdity that, if successful, will tear a huge hole in the Affordable Care Act and eliminate health insurance for millions of lower-income Americans — exactly the opposite of what the law was passed to do.

Even an idiot ought to be able to understand that the primary point of the exchanges is to facilitate people buying individual health policies that can be subsidized. I suspect even some Republicans realize this.

The suit is based on one ambiguously worded sentence in the ACA. In a subsection of the law dealing with tax credits, the ACA describes exchanges “established by the states.” The authors of the bill say this was a vestige of the original assumption that the states would set up their own exchanges. It wasn’t anticipated that so many would refuse to do so. But the Burwell challenge hangs on  those four words — established by the states.

The challengers did not innocently happen upon these words; they went all out in search of anything that might be used to gut the law they had failed to kill off once before, on constitutional grounds, in 2012. Soon after the law passed in 2010, Michael Greve, then chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is helping to finance the current suit, said, “This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene. I do not care how this is done, whether it’s dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it.”

After the challengers found the four-word “glitch,” as they initially called it, they worked backward to fabricate a story that would make it sound intentional. Congress, they claimed, sought to induce states to establish exchanges by threatening a loss of subsidies if they did not. (Not coincidentally, the challengers also traveled state to state urging officials not to set up exchanges, thus helping to create the very “crisis” they now decry.) Of course, if Congress intended to introduce a suicide clause into a major piece of federal legislation, it would have shouted it from the mountaintops and not hidden it in a short phrase deep inside a sub-sub-subsection of the law. So it is no surprise that no one involved in passing or interpreting the law — not state or federal lawmakers, not health care journalists covering it at the time, not even the four justices who dissented in the 2012 decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act — thought that the subsidies would not be available on federal exchanges.

So, the purpose of Burwell is to kill Obamacare, and if SCOTUS decides for the plaintiffs, it might very well succeed. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that if the states without their own exchanges lose subsidies, 13,402,890 Americans who ought to be insured by 2016 will lose out. And the entire law could quickly unravel for everyone, as the health insurance industry is thrown into chaos. I understand roughly 9 million people would lose their insurance almost immediately.

The immediate fallout from a decision for the ACA challengers would, therefore, be chaos and devastation, and the long-term consequences potentially even worse. The ripple affect could impact just about everybody, and probably not in a good way.

 This past week Republicans in Congress seemed almost frantic in demanding the Obama Administration reveal their “Plan B” to the world. What will they do to save the ACA if the subsidies are struck down in so many states? And the Administration has said, over and over, there is no Plan B. If the subsidies are lost, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to salvage anything.

But rightie media are not accepting this. The Administration is hiding Plan B. HHS denies it is preparing Plan B. The Administration won’t say it is preparing Plan B. (Actually, it plainly says there isn’t one and none are in the works.) But there must be a Plan B! How could there not be a Plan B? Of course there is a Plan B, and congressional Republicans demand to know what it is.

Smart money says all this posturing is trying to signal the Court that the actual fallout of a decision for the challengers wouldn’t really be that bad; the Administration has a Plan B! Also, when the dominoes start crashing and people find themselves cut off from health care again, they are prepared to point to the White House — See? They should have had a Plan B. It’s their fault.

Republicans also have proposed a Plan B, although no one who knows anything about health care insurance thinks it will work. And a whopping majority — 64 percent — of Americans think that if SCOTUS rules against the subsidies, Congress immediately should step up and reinstate them. Which Republicans in Congress have no intention of doing.

Which makes me think that at least a few Republicans are genuinely nervous that a ruling in their favor could bite them, hard. Deep down, a few of the less demented among them may really want the White House to jump in with a Plan B and save their butts.

Update: Here’s something interesting — a GOP senator is proposing that if the subsidies are struck down, Congress should extend them for 18 months.

The loss of subsidies for millions of people would also put the Obama administration on the offense for the first time to protect its signature healthcare law.

A White House crusade against the GOP would mean a firestorm of accusations that the party is taking away care and endangering lives  – building up for the 2016 election.

To avoid that situation, some Republicans are floating a stopgap that would keep the subsidies in place temporarily.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) promised this week that he would introduce legislation that creates a “temporary model to protect those harmed by ObamaCare” in which people could still receive financial help for their healthcare costs for 18 months after a court decision.

Startin’ to sweat a bit there, dude?

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) hinted at a similar proposal earlier in the week, promising “a short-term solution” until a Republican can enter the White House.

By some coincidence, 18 months from the likely date of the decision — end of June, 2015 — would possibly take us just past the 2016 elections.


Netanyahu Is Not Our Friend

Congress, Obama Administration

I haven’t said anything about the Netanyahu addressing Congress flap, even after John Boehner admitted he deliberately kept the White House out of the loop when he extended the invitation. I can’t say I entirely understand the Republican Party’s fawning obsequiousness to Bibi. I assume they think making nice with Bibi hurts the President somehow.

But this sheds a different light on things

Concerns that Israeli officials had leaked key details about those negotiations, including that the U.S. offered to let Iran enrich uranium with “6,500 or more centrifuges as part of a final deal,” has prompted the U.S. to limit the amount of sensitive information it exchanges with Israel about the Iran nuclear negotiations, Ignatius reported.

The White House is not confirming this, and it’s possible Ignatius is wrong. But there’s a leak somewhere. Ignatius writes,

This latest breach in the U.S.-Israeli relationship began around Jan. 12 with a phone call from Netanyahu. Obama asked the Israeli leader to hold fire diplomatically for several more months while U.S. negotiators explored whether Iran might agree to a deal that, through its technical limits on centrifuges and stockpiles, extended the breakout period that Iran would need to build a bomb to more than a year. But Netanyahu is said to have responded that a year wasn’t enough and to have reverted to Israel’s hard-line insistence that Iran shouldn’t be allowed any centrifuges or enrichment.

Obama was concerned because the United States had shared with Israel its goal of a one-year breakout period since the beginning of the talks. The White House saw Netanyahu’s comment as a change, one that could potentially scuttle the negotiations. The Israeli response is that Netanyahu has always argued for “zero enrichment.”

Relations began to unravel quickly after the phone call. On Jan. 21, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) invited Netanyahu to address Congress and share his concerns about the talks. The invitation hadn’t been pre-negotiated with the White House, as is usually the case when foreign leaders are invited to address Congress.

Then came the alleged leaks about the nuclear talks. On Jan. 31, the Times of Israel reported that an unnamed senior Israeli official had told Channel 10 TV news that the United States was ready to allow more than 7,000 centrifuges and had “agreed to 80 percent of Iran’s demands.” Channel 2 reported that the U.S. offer was 6,500 centrifuges. U.S. officials believed that Netanyahu’s office was the source of these reports and concluded that they couldn’t be as transparent as before with the Israel leader about the secret talks.

There may have been another time in U.S. history when someone strongly suspected of undermining U.S. foreign policy was invited to address Congress without even notifying the White House, but I wouldn’t know when that might have been.

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