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Posts in "Senate"

July 29, 2015

Congress Regulates Internal Speech for Good Reason | Procedural Politics

It is often noted there are two kinds of members in Congress: the showhorses and the workhorses. That’s probably an oversimplification, since most members consider themselves workhorses, but with a flair for show. Politics, after all, is a lot like show business, with public attention and appreciation focused on those actors who are able to entertain and project their roles in a convincing and effective manner. On Broadway, the payoff is in audience acclaim and good reviews. In Congress, it is in media attention and re-election.

However, it seems that more and more members are opting for the show ring over the work plough as Congress becomes increasingly polarized and legislative work is less valued and rewarded. This becomes more evident as presidential and congressional elections loom and members ramp up their publicity machines, both on and off the Hill, to set themselves apart from the rest. Frequently this involves running for Congress by running against it, especially when the public mood is strongly anti-Washington, as is now the case. It’s an old incumbent trick for hanging onto incumbency.

Full story

June 4, 2015

Senate Trade Bill Prompts Floor Trades | Procedural Politics

The Senate trade promotion bill became a self-fulfilling prophecy in ways its sponsors probably didn’t anticipate — all before it could even pass the Senate. The trades made were legislative favors swapped on the floor for the support of senators otherwise threatening to bring the bill down. Step by step these legislative side payments accrued sufficient interest to move the bill forward and ultimately past the last 60-vote cloture threshold to final passage.

In Congress, politics is the art of the passable, and bargaining has always been a part of that process. For the trade bill that presented an especially tricky challenge since many of the favors sought would have invited a presidential veto if included as amendments to the bill. To overcome that obstacle the political odd couple of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and President Barack Obama combined forces to put the measure over the top through artful strategizing and persistent personal lobbying efforts, respectively.

Full story

April 16, 2015

This Is No Time for Partisan Politics: Vote on Loretta Lynch Now | Commentary

Sharpton is calling on the Senate to vote on Lynch's nomination immediately. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sharpton is calling on the Senate to vote on Lynch’s nomination immediately. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

By Al Sharpton

More than 150 days ago, President Barack Obama nominated Loretta Lynch as the next U.S. attorney general following Eric Holder’s decision to step down. More than 48 days ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to confirm Lynch as the top law enforcement official in the nation. And yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., still refuses to schedule a vote. At a time when key issues important to the American people like protection of voting rights, law enforcement accountability/reform and oversight of numerous areas demand leadership, McConnell and many in his party are stalling.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Lynch has spent a significant amount of her tremendous career going after corrupt politicians, mobsters and criminals that other less-capable individuals might be too afraid or hesitant to investigate and pursue. Time and time again, she has proven to possess the fortitude, insight, intelligence, courage and determination we as a nation need in a top law enforcement official. Instead of providing a speedy confirmation process for such a qualified and esteemed nominee, those wishing to hold us back are once again doing what they do best – obstructing. Full story

March 16, 2015

Cotton Balls Up Diplomatic Protocol With Letter | Procedural Politics

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Cotton (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senator Tom Cotton’s “open letter” to the leaders of Iran on negotiations over its nuclear program ran into a buzzsaw of criticism from the president, vice president, our negotiating partners and members of Congress from both parties. The main criticism: Senators should not thrust themselves directly into the middle of ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and other countries.

The Arkansas Republican and his 46 Senate Republican co-signers have been accused of everything from trying to blow up the negotiations and undermining the president to giving aid and comfort to the enemy and betraying the national interest. Full story

March 10, 2015

Lott-Daschle Reform Bars Bill-Blocking Actions | Procedural Politics

House Republicans painted themselves and the Senate into a corner by making Department of Homeland Security funding after Feb. 27 contingent on rolling back President Barack Obama’s unilateral immigration actions. Surely, they were fantasizing a corner with a hidden trap door and safe room.

Instead, a more realistic escape route appeared out of nowhere — a rope ladder thrown down by a federal district court judge in Texas who stayed the president’s 2014 immigration action pending disposition of legal challenges to it by 26 states. Since judicial appeals from the dueling orders could take months, the judge’s injunction freed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to propose a compromise: a clean DHS funding bill in return for separate consideration of a bill rescinding the president’s 2014 immigration order.

Full story

March 3, 2015

Watch: Benjamin Netanyahu Addresses Congress

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint meeting of Congress on security threats posed by “radical Islam” and Iran. Congress will reconvene at 10:45 a.m. for Netanyahu’s speech. Full story

February 24, 2015

Keystone Process Tells Tale of Two Houses | Procedural Politics

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Boehner signs the Keystone bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Do you remember Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California promising last fall to return the new Congress to the regular order? The initial test came on the first major bill in the well of both houses, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act. Whereas the Senate produced a veritable gusher of amendments with all hands at the wellhead, the House reverted to a narrowly-constricted flow tube controlled by a few valve masters.

Identical House and Senate pipeline bills were introduced on the opening day of the new Congress by two North Dakota Republicans, Rep. Kevin Cramer and Sen. John Hoeven. Both measures were placed on a fast track to the floor the first week of the session. But that’s where the similarities ended. Full story

June 13, 2014

Unemployment Extension Cause Has Invisible Lobby | K Street Files

Unemployment extension advocates aren't as visible as other campaigns. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Unemployment extension lobbyists aren’t as visible — even though 3 million are affected. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Walk through the Capitol South Metro station and you’ll pass SoftBank ads that festoon the walls — but you won’t see a campaign for the 3 million people hoping Congress will pass an unemployment insurance extension.

Business groups and most big-money lobbies that typically place such advertising to influence the people working in the Capitol either oppose extending jobless benefits, or they won’t take a position.

That leaves the unemployment extension lobbying mostly to people who are out of work themselves, along with an unusual collection of Washington allies: unions, religious organizations, anti-poverty and mental health groups. Full story

January 29, 2014

The State of the Union in 3 Minutes (Video)

From focusing on the minimum wage to celebrating the Olympics to addressing the partisan divide in Congress, Roll Call condenses President Barack Obama’s fifth State of the Union address into 190 seconds.

Read Roll Call’s full coverage of Obama’s speech here.

January 27, 2014

Key Moments From Obama’s State of the Union Addresses (Video)

Watch Roll Call’s key moments from President Barack Obama’s five State of the Union addresses, including criticism of the Supreme Court, hammering Wall Street banks and pushing for immigration and gun reform.

January 7, 2014

The Beginning of Wyden World? Former Top Aide Joins Capitol Counsel | Downtown Moves

The job market on K Street looks a lot like the rest of the country’s employment situation. It’s tough.

That is, unless you were chief of staff to the incoming Senate Finance chairman — in which case, who wouldn’t want to hire you?

Josh Kardon, who logged 17 years with Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat poised to take the Finance gavel, has a new gig as general counsel of Capitol Counsel, a bipartisan firm with deep ties to the current chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Baucus, of course, plans to head to China soon, as President Barack Obama tapped him last month to be his top envoy there. That has opened up the chairmanship of one of the most plum committees in Congress. Full story

December 23, 2013

The Best (or Worst) of Congress in 2013 (Video)

The first session of the 113th Congress — the least productive in modern times — will be remembered for what it did, and did not, accomplish.

An immigration overhaul, gun control and health care mixed with “calves the size of cantaloupes,” “Alice in Wonderland” and cocaine. Together, it is the best and worst of the year that was, wrapped into one.

October 16, 2013

McConnell to the Rescue — Again | Pennsylvania Avenue

Assuming that the U.S. economy survives its latest near-death experience, significant credit ought to go to Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell.

President Barack Obama ought to realize this is the second time this year that McConnell has been the key player in resolving a terrifying fiscal crisis — and start talking to him regularly.

This time, it is the Kentucky Republican’s negotiations with Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada that (apparently, hopefully) are saving the country from a catastrophic debt default and are ending the costly close-down of the federal government.

In January, it was McConnell and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. who figured out how to prevent the country from falling over the “fiscal cliff”— avoiding tax increases on all but the richest Americans.

McConnell “gave” on what had been a key GOP demand: keeping tax rates on the rich from rising to 39 percent.

In July 2011, McConnell invented a plan B to avoid an earlier default by giving Obama authority to raise the debt limit subject to congressional veto.

Obama evidently detests McConnell, regarding him as hopelessly partisan. It took Obama a full 18 months at the outset of his presidency to have a one-on-one meeting with the GOP leader.

But McConnell has proved to be a statesman. He’s risking the fury of the Senate Conservatives Fund and its allied tea party extremists, who are running a primary candidate against him in Kentucky.

Obama ought to take notice. The Reid-McConnell agreement, assuming it passes Congress and saves the day, merely puts off new days of reckoning on spending and debt.

But it also creates the opportunity for serious negotiations on entitlement and tax reform. If Obama wants to avoid a repeat of the current crisis, he’d best start talking — secretly, if necessary — with Republican grown-ups such as McConnell and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.

House Speaker John A. Boehner obviously has to be part of the mix, but he has fallen far short — so far — of showing McConnell’s courage and legislative acumen. Even though the Ohio Republican obviously knows that his tea party brethren are irrevocably tarnishing the GOP brand, he’s yielded to them time after time.

In the meantime, Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, have isolated extremists Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah to the fringe and encouraged tea party favorites like Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida to behave.

If his leadership causes the radical right — the radio talkers, Heritage Action, the Fund for Growth, etc. — to make McConnell a key primary target in Kentucky, it’s an opportunity for sane Republicans to counter them in force.

Most of all, this whole dismal exercise ought to lead Obama, Reid, McConnell and House GOP leaders to understand that they will put the country through crisis after crisis — and allow other legislative priorities to die — unless they finally reach a long-term fiscal deal.

It’s time for a grown-ups’ weekend retreat at Camp David.

September 18, 2013

Campaign Watchdog to Get New Blood, but Other Fixes Await

Now that the Senate Rules and Administration Committee has unanimously approved Republican Lee E. Goodman and Democrat Ann Ravel to serve on the Federal Election Commission, full Senate confirmation is expected to quickly follow suit.

The six-member FEC is down two commissioners, and the four who remain are all serving expired terms. Never a popular agency, the FEC has been through a particularly rough patch lately, hamstrung by constant stalemates and bitter disputes over even the most routine matters of business.

Goodman, a GOP election attorney, and Ravel, who chairs the California Fair Political Practices Commission, are sure to get an earful from watchdogs, lawmakers and political players if they join the FEC. With that in mind, here’s some unsolicited advice from this corner of Capitol Hill: Full story

May 21, 2013

A Centrist Party With Clout? Maybe Startup Cash Would Help

Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz and Peter Ackerman — meet Charlie Wheelan.

The mayor of New York (and proprietor of  the Independence USA PAC), the CEO of Starbucks and the financier behind the failed 2012 Americans Elect effort to nominate a third-party presidential candidate on the Internet are all rich guys clearly unhappy with polarized, gridlocked U.S. politics.

Wheelan, a popular Dartmouth public policy teacher, shares their dismay and has an idea for making things better that needs funding.

The idea is a Centrist Party. Yes, a third party, but one that’s focused — in the first instance, anyway — just on winning enough Senate seats to hold a balance of power in that body and using it to push an agenda of “pragmatic problem-solving.”

Wheelan argues that Centrist Party candidates could win Senate seats with just 34 percent of a state’s vote. Then, in a closely divided Senate, maybe as few as four Centrists could leverage their power to affect policy.

He figures that Maine independent Sen. Angus King would be the first Centrist. Under current circumstances — effectively, 54 Democrats, 45 Republicans and a Democratic vice president to break ties — it would take five more to hold the balance of power.

In the meantime, 17 states have one Democrat and one GOP senator — purple enough to offer hope to Centrists. The party would have to pick its targets, recruit good candidates, adequately fund them and provide national media oomph.

Wheelan has written a new book, “The Centrist Manifesto,” that spells out the need for a new party, its agenda and the means to get it rolling.

He’s also formed a 501(c)(4) and collected $100,000, but the effort clearly needs a Bloomberg.

There are definitely problems with the whole scheme, which I’ll get to. But Wheelan’s diagnosis of the country’s political woes is right on, his centrist agenda is utterly sensible, and it would appeal without a doubt to a plurality of voters.

He says there is a lot to like in the basic principles of both the Republican and Democratic parties: respect for free markets and skepticism of big government in the first case; a heart for the underdog and belief in public investment in the second.

“But Congress is not made up of politicians who represent the best of each party,” he writes. “The tragedy of American politics … is that these partisan Members have an agenda of their own that is a bastardization” of their basic principles.

Current Democrats are “too skeptical of business, too hostile toward wealth creation and overly abusive of America’s most productive citizens.” They have allowed unions and liberal interest groups to call the shots and think that a government program is the answer to every problem.

Republicans are split between traditional conservatives and “radical right wingers, as embodied by the Tea Party” which has “an almost pathological aversion to taxes and government” except when it wants to ban abortion and gay marriage.

The country’s serious problems aren’t being addressed because “our two political parties are increasingly dominated by their most vocal and extreme members” and the clash between them has moved the political system “from gridlock to paralysis.”

But the population is not extreme. In the 2012 exit polls, 41 percent of voters self-identified as moderate (versus 35 percent conservative and 25 percent liberal), and in the last Gallup poll, 39 percent of voters self-identified as independent (versus 28 percent Republican and 32 percent Democrat).

“These are people without a party,” says Wheelan. So he proposes to invent one.

The Centrist agenda he identifies is reasonably conservative on economic issues, favoring free trade, means-testing of entitlements and Simpson-Bowles-style debt reduction. Yet it also favors public investment in infrastructure, education and research.

It’s more liberal on other issues, favoring a carbon tax, same-sex marriage, comprehensive immigration reform and campaign finance reform. But Wheelan also advocates education reform and labor union cooperation with business.

Wheelan thinks gerrymandering renders it hopeless for the Centrist Party to run House candidates, and Electoral College difficulties make it hard to mount a presidential race. But he says Centrists could rule the Senate.

The problems include:

  1. The Centrists’ power would lie in the ability to obstruct and stifle the majority, at least threatening more gridlock, not less.
  2. While the Centrists want campaign reform, they’re hoping super PACs will pay the bills, at least initially.
  3. Even if — big if — the Centrists brilliantly maneuvered problem-solving legislation through the Senate, it could be stymied by a conservative House and a liberal president.

Still, I think it’s worth a try. If a dedicated group of moderate independents established a beachhead in the Senate, they could sponsor constructive legislation, get press attention, bargain collectively and even attract support from moderate Republicans and Democrats fed up with the status quo.

Lawmakers such as former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican, and former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a centrist Democrat, wouldn’t have to quit the Senate in frustration. They could switch.

Bloomberg’s PAC gave out $10 million in 2012. He’s going to spend lavishly this year to promote gun safety. Schultz persuaded 100 other CEOs to stop making political contributions unless the nation’s fiscal house got put in order. And Ackerman wasted $22 million on Americans Elect.

There must be hundreds of other rich people fed up with things as they are. If  they got the Centrists off the ground, I’d guess millions of small donors would join up and kick in, too.

We moderate independents can’t just keep grousing. We have to plant a flag someplace, sometime. This may be it.

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