Archive for category congress
Tonight on Chris Hayes’ MSNBC show Prof. Dorian Warren of Columbia University (citing the book White Collar Government by Nicholas Carnes) wondered aloud what it would be like if the millionaires formed their own political party, a party representing just 3 percent of Americans.
- The Millionaire Party would already occupy the White House.
- They would control the House of Representatives.
- They would have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.
- And the Millionaires would have a 5-4 Supreme Court majority.
While there is no such thing as the Millionaire Party, does it matter that the wealthiest Americans set the tax rates for the wealthy, that white-collar professionals choose the minimum wage for blue-collar workers, and that people who have always had health insurance decide whether or not to help those without? Could be.
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Well, this is amazing. Following months of public pressure, the Senate intelligence committee voted 11-3 on Thursday to declassify portions of the lengthy investigation into the CIA’s use of torture at secret black sites around the world. The executive summary, findings, and conclusions of the Senate panel’s 6,300-page report will be released.
Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) supported the release of the Senate Torture Report, using a word that nobody thought Washington politicians have in their vocabulary (emphasis added):
We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values. While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA’s management of this program.
Our vote to declassify this report does not signal our full endorsement of all of its conclusions or its methodology. The report has some intrinsic limitations because it did not involve direct interviews of CIA officials, contract personnel, or other Executive branch personnel. It also, unfortunately, did not include the participation of the staff of Republican Committee members. We do, however, believe in transparency and believe that the Executive Summary, and Additional and Dissenting Views, and the CIA’s rebuttal should be made public with appropriate redactions so the American public can reach their own conclusions about the conduct of this program.
Torture is wrong, and we must make sure that the misconduct and the grave errors made in the CIA’s detention and interrogation program never happen again.
While a major media news blackout provides cover, Congress is debating whether to give the president the authority to fast-track a massive free trade agreement, the secretly-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Members of Congress haven’t even been able to read it even though corporate lobbyists have.
President Obama is at odds with Democrats in both houses of Congress concerning reauthorizing a procedure called the “trade promotion authority” (TPA), that would grant the White House power to submit free trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is strongly against it.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has now publicly opposed giving President Obama fast track authority.
“We need transparency. We need a seat at the table to understand what they believe they are doing, so we can make it better. And if we don’t make it better, then we will not accept a path that is a job loser.”
TPP is part of the plan for global corporatocracy run by and for the 1 Percent. Unelected lobbyists and trade representatives are at the table, while representatives from the public at large and businesses other than huge monopolies, are conspicuously absent. From what little we know of the agreement, it would violate the U.S. Constitution, weaken environmental protections, and lead to more job losses, erosion of wages, and worsening inequality. TPP also threatens freedom of speech on the Internet because it would extend restrictive intellectual property laws and rewrite international rules on enforcement.
Year after year in his annual address to Congress, President Obama describes the state of the Union as “strong.” That adjective doesn’t describe the increasingly desperate and shrinking American middle class.
According to the Pew Research Center, the proportion of Americans who identify themselves as middle class has dropped sharply in recent years.
The nationally representative survey of 1,504 adults conducted Jan. 15-19 found that the share of Americans who identify with the middle class has never been lower, dropping to 44% in the latest survey from 53% in 2008 during the first months of the Great Recession.
…Economists also report a lack of jobs growth in middle-skill, middle-income jobs. An analysis by the New York Federal Reserve Bank found that employment in middle-skill jobs increased by 46% from 1980 to 2009. Meanwhile, employment in low-skill jobs increased 110% and employment in high-skill jobs increased 100%. This phenomenon of “jobs polarization” is perhaps most assiduously studied by David Autor, an MIT economist. His research demonstrates that employment growth over the past three decades has steadily gravitated toward low-skill jobs.
Tonight, President Obama’s challenge is not to explain or sympathize with the plight of the middle class, but to tell us what he’s going to do –as President– to solve the problem of rising income inequality. Relying on Congress is not a plan!
Obama has been urging Congress to use its “fast-track authority” to sign off on the still-unfinished deal between 12 Pacific nations. If lawmakers agree to fast-track the measure, they wouldn’t be able to offer amendments and would have to take an up-or-down vote on whatever deal the administration eventually reaches. The TPP has the backing of corporate interest groups, but liberals have balked over its potential to undermine environmental, public health and labor standards, as well as ship U.S. jobs overseas. The White House has yet to find a House Democratic cosponsor for it.
In a letter released Tuesday through the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, 75 economists, including seven Nobel Laureates, argue that the government should hike the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016 and then peg future increases to inflation. A proposal from Senate Democrats, backed by President Obama, to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is currently stalled in Congress.
…During the initial phase-in period of a $10.10 minimum wage, the U.S. economy would grow by $22 billion, according to a December analysis from EPI. The economic growth would result in the creation of 85,000 new jobs, the analysis concluded.
If Republicans refuse to raise the federal minimum wage, let’s call it what it is: economic sabotage.
The 113th Congress is not producing legislation. It’s on track to be the least productive in history. They took 239 days off this year. Among their few accomplishments are the economic setbacks caused by public sector job cuts, the threat of defaulting on the National Debt, the sequester, and the government shutdown last October.
Amazingly despite these terrible poll numbers well over 90 percent of the current members of Congress are expected to be re-elected in 2014. There is something wrong with the design of an election system when the connection between job performance and election outcome can be so weak.
Are Republicans really going to refuse to pay for the spending deal they’ve agreed to — by not raising the debt limit next year?
Answer: Rep. Ryan is threatening to do just that.
A letter signed by at least 18 right-wing Republicans urges House Speaker John Boehner to bring up a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at the low sequester level when money expires on Jan. 15. This could subvert a budget agreement being negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to mitigate some of the painful sequester cuts. Without an agreement, the result will be another GOP government shutdown.
The sequester orders 2014 spending at $967 billion — hardline conservatives don’t want to spend a penny more than that. Ryan and Murray are close to a deal that raises spending to about $1 trillion. Democrats roundly oppose sequester spending levels and many Republicans, especially defense hawks, want to ease the cuts because they believe they’re unsustainable and damaging to national security. House Republican leaders support the Ryan-Murray framework but are often at the mercy of their right flank.
Progressives are not happy with the emerging Ryan-Murray budget deal either. It would cut off emergency unemployment insurance and it won’t close any tax loopholes. The deal may also cut some $20 billion from federal employee pensions.
House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) released his own budget proposal (PDF) Thursday.
President Obama still seems intent on helping right-wing Republicans cut Social Security. But a group of politically savvy Democratic senators are proposing a different agenda. Why not phase out the payroll tax cap and increase the currently meager benefits? The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee and co-sponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) would do just that, raising Social Security compensation for all beneficiaries by $70 per month.
Republicans are eager to cut Social Security, but they want Democrats’ fingerprints on the knife, so they don’t take the blame. The GOP base includes disproportionately older Americans who love Social Security — a fact they were reminded of when they tried and failed to privatize it in 2005. For now, Democrats still largely accept the conservative framing on Social Security and the public sees little, if any, daylight between the two parties. If they change course and force votes on proposals to expand Social Security, it could put Republicans on the spot and clarify who really supports the program and who doesn’t.
Why play the “Republican-lite” game? Put a progressive proposal out there, and let the Party of NO say no to something good. Politicians are motivated by fear, not friendship. Any so-called Dem ought to be afraid to talk about cutting Social Security.
Starting today SNAP, or food stamp benefits, will be reduced by 5 percent. SNAP used to max out at $668 a month for a family of four. Now, the maximum amount will drop to $632, or a cut of $432 a year.
Thanks to the Great Recession and a commitment to austerity by the government in the wake of the recession, an additional 21 million people were added to SNAP since 2008. Today, more than 1 in 4 U.S. children live in a home that gets food stamps.
Another group with lots of members in SNAP: Veterans. U.S. Census Bureau data show that, in 2011, some 900,000 former U.S. military personnel lived in households that used food stamps.
Economists have found that every dollar of SNAP spending generates roughly $1.70 in local economic activity. The USDA has calculated that food stamps generate an even bigger bang for the buck. So pinching food stamp recipients will ripple into the broader U.S. economy.
Food bank operators are bracing for more people lining up at local pantries while Congress debates additional cuts to the supplemental nutrition program that helps 1 in 7 Americans, including 22 million children. Utah alone is already losing $26 million in SNAP funding this fiscal year.
When we go shopping at Costco we always pick up some additional food to donate to the Utah Food Bank, which provides food to a statewide network of 134 emergency food pantries. Also we send them an annual cash contribution. Washington politicians are always ready with handouts for the rich and the corporations, but not for ordinary American people who work for a living. It’s going to be up to us to bail out the food banks!
Source: Mother Jones
The federal government’s latest annual deficit was $680 billion, the smallest it’s been since 2008, according to Treasury Department data released Wednesday. Federal spending in 2013 totaled 20.8% of GDP, down from 22% the year before. The FY 2013 deficit was less than half the record $1.413 trillion figure inherited by the Obama administration from President George W. Bush. It’s becoming clear to everyone, not just economists, that deficits are not that hard to control. If we can fix the economy and get the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, deficit spending will vanish completely.
The so-called “sequester” austerity budget has effectively sabotaged our economic recovery, but at least it accomplished one good thing. Washington politicians are no longer talking seriously about a proposed “Grand Bargain” to cut Social Security and Medicare. Progressive blogs have labeled this the Grand Betrayal, an attack on the social safety net that has kept millions of Americans out of poverty.
Paul Ryan killed any lingering hopes of a grand bargain within moments of the budget conference kickoff on Wednesday.
In his opening remarks, the Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House budget committee laid down a firm marker against new taxes, which are essential to any major deficit reduction proposal that can pass Congress and be signed into law.
…His comments reflect the no-compromise mood of the GOP. That means the two chambers are unlikely to strike a major debt deal or reconcile the different budgets passed by the House and Senate earlier this year.
Party of NO, do your stuff!
OTOH it would be good if the 29-member budget conference committee can find some way to avoid another government shutdown on January 15 next year. Hopefully, that’s not too much to ask. They have until December 13 to reach a compromise agreement.
Tonight, Lawrence O’Donnell observed that you know you’re losing in American politics when you see Sarah Palin standing right beside you.
Seventy-four percent of Americans disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are handling negotiations over the budget, the Washington Post-ABC News poll shows. This is up four points from last week’s poll and up 11 points since the start of the shutdown.
A plurality of self-identified Republicans are opposed to the Republican Shutdown and the even more appalling threat of a default on the National Debt that would plunge America and the world into another recession, or perhaps all the way to depression this time.
Anyone who had heard about the Million Vet March on the Memorials knew this march wasn’t meant to be any kind of political statement.
…You also shouldn’t be shocked that Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and Mike Lee decided to turn the march in Washington DC into a photo-op for their own political gains.
…This is just more of the same behavior from Republicans. They’re blaming someone else for a problem they caused. Their party is the one that’s not allowing the House to vote on the Senate’s clean continuing resolution that would reopen the government. We could reopen the government today if John Boehner would just let the House vote, but he won’t.
So when these people show up at the White House holding symbols of racism and shouting things which are racist, while blaming President Obama for the government shutdown, they prove one glaring fact…
That they don’t know a damn thing.