Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hypocrites and Dummies, Oh My!

Serious Question: When republicans (like McCain) bitterly complain that the health care reform bill was passed without bipartisan support, has any interviewer - anywhere- put it into the proper context: Mitch McConnel bragging about his strategy to keep the entire republican caucus unified against the democrats bill - whatever that bill was? Has that ever happened?

Marshall: Bring on the Recess Appointments

The White House has just announced that President Obama has made fifteen recess appointments, including several for hot-button nominees. These are appointees Republicans refused to allow votes on and for which the president's supporters have been pressing for recess appointees.

Notable on the list are Craig Becker to NLRB and Chai Feldblum to EEOC.

In arguing for the appointments the press release states: "President Bush had made 15 recess appointments by this point in his presidency, but he was not facing the same level of obstruction. At this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month."

Full press release at the link.

A few days ago, Senate Republicans started expressing their concerns about possible recess appointments. Sure, they said, President Obama easily won his election. And sure, they noted, he had sent qualified nominees to fill key government posts. And sure, they conceded, if the Senate actually voted on these nominees, they'd be confirmed.

But, these Senate Republicans said, if the president interfered with their blind, reflexive obstructionism by making recess appointments, they were going to complain a whole lot.

And complain they did.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pronounced himself "very disappointed" with the move, charging that it showed "once again" that the Obama administration has "little respect for the time honored constitutional roles and procedures of Congress." The president's team had "forced their will on the American people," McCain fumed in a written statement. [...]

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell also joined in the protests of Obama's recess appointments on Saturday, calling them "stunning" and "yet another episode of choosing a partisan path despite bipartisan opposition."

The whining is cheap as it is hypocritical. It's not the president who's shown "little respect for the time honored constitutional roles and procedures of Congress" -- that's actually backwards. Obama has been reluctant to use recess appointments specifically because he wants to see the Senate do its job. But it's reactionary Republicans like McCain who prefer to ignore "time honored constitutional roles and procedures" -- such as the notion of giving qualified nominees up-or-down votes.

Also note the selective outrage. McCain was only too pleased to support George W. Bush's recess appointments, even for outrageous nominees like John Bolton. Indeed, during Bush's presidency, McCain implored the then-president to use this tactic more often. There were no bitter press releases about "time honored constitutional roles and procedures."

McConnell is hardly any better. On Fox News five years ago, McConnell not only defended recess appointments, he noted, "[T]ypically senators who are not of the party of the president don't like recess appointments."

You don't say.

In the interest of fairness and intellectual consistency, I should note that I'm still not a big fan of recess appointments. I just don't think Obama had much of a choice here.

Article II, Sec. 2, of the Constitution says, "The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session." Note that it says, "the recess," not "a recess."

In the early days of the country, framers saw recesses that could last months and wanted presidents to be able to fill key positions temporarily in emergency situations without the Senate's "advice and consent." There's a lengthy break following the final adjournment for the legislative session. This is "the recess." The provision was not about giving presidents the authority to circumvent Congress when the White House felt like it.

In the modern understanding, though, any recess is an opportunity for a president to start filling vacancies with appointed officials.

If I had to guess, I'd say the president, who knows a little something about constitutional law, isn't crazy about this option, which is probably why he hasn't taken advantage of it until now

But Senate Republicans are simply out of control, and are deliberately undercutting the political process in ways that threaten to permanently undermine the institution. If they oppose the president's nominees for various posts, they're welcome to vote against them. But the GOP has taken obstructionism to comical depths -- going so far as to filibuster nominees they end up voting for anyway.

There's no reason for the White House to tolerate this. Indeed, Obama would be setting an unwelcome precedent if he did tolerate this.

If we're being honest about this, do I think using the recess power for routine, non-emergencies constitutes abuse of the option? Yes, it probably is. But the far more offensive abuse is Senate Republicans not letting the chamber vote on these nominees in the first place.

With Senate Republicans unwilling to let the chamber vote on key, qualified nominees, the White House had a straightforward choice: allow important posts to remain vacant indefinitely in the face of unprecedented obstructionism, or start embracing recess appointments. The president, I believe, chose wisely, and Republicans' crocodile tears are best left ignored.


The Obama administration made 15 recess appointments including Craig Becker. Here’s something interesting:

To put this in perspective, at this time in 2002, President Bush had only 5 nominees pending on the floor. By contrast, President Obama has 77 nominees currently pending on the floor, 58 of whom have been waiting for over two weeks and 44 of those have been waiting more than a month. And cloture has been filed 16 times on Obama nominees, nine of whom were subsequently confirmed with 60 or more votes or by voice vote. Cloture was not filed on a single Bush nominee in his first year. And despite facing significantly less opposition, President Bush had already made 10 recess appointments by this point in his presidency and he made another five over the spring recess.

Matt Taibbi has a good take on the various excuses the Catholic Church has made about the sex scandals:

Anyone who’s interested in losing his lunch should read the above-mentioned blog entry by New York archbishop Timothy Dolan in defense of Pope Benedict; the archbishop’s incredibly pompous and self-pitying rant is some of the most depraved horseshit I’ve ever seen on the internet, which is saying a lot.

One expects professional slimeballs like the public relations department of Goldman Sachs to pull out the “Well, we weren’t the only thieves!” argument when accused of financial malfeasance. But I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read through Dolan’s retort and it dawned on me that he was actually going to use the “We weren’t the only child molesters!” excuse. Dolan must have very roomy man-robes, because it seems to me you’d need a set of balls like two moons of Jupiter to say such a thing in public and expect it to fly.

There's an old joke that goes something like this: my neighbor went to public schools before joining the military. He went to college on the G.I. Bill, bought his first home through the FHA, and received his health care through the V.A. and Medicare. He now receives Social Security.

He's a conservative because he wants to get the government off his back.

I mention the joke because a surprising number of right-wing activists don't seem to appreciate the humor. We talked the other day, for example, about a radical libertarian activist who encourages his allies to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices to protest the Affordable Care Act. He hates government involvement in the lives of citizens -- but his main income is taxpayer-financed disability checks sent to him every month by the federal government.

This is not uncommon. The NYT reports today on some of the well-intention folks who've been caught up in the Tea Party nonsense. Take Tom Grimes, for example.

In the last year, he has organized a local group and a statewide coalition, and even started a "bus czar" Web site to marshal protesters to Washington on short notice. This month, he mobilized 200 other Tea Party activists to go to the local office of the same congressman to protest what he sees as the government's takeover of health care. [...]

"If you quit giving people that stuff, they would figure out how to do it on their own," Mr. Grimes said.

When Grimes lost his job 15 months ago, one of his first steps was contacting his congressman about available programs that might give him access to government health care. He receives Social Security, and is considering a job opening at the Census Bureau. But in the meantime, Grimes has filled the back seat of his Mercury Grand Marquis with literature decrying government aid to struggling Americans.

The same article noted the efforts of Diana Reimer, considered a "star" right-wing activist in her efforts against government programs, a campaign she describes as her "mission." Reimer, of course, currently enjoys Social Security and the socialized medicine that comes with Medicare.

The cognitive dissonance is rather remarkable. They perceive the government as the source of their economic distress -- which itself doesn't make sense -- and then rely on the government to give them a hand, all the while demanding that the government do less to give people a hand. Their reflexive hatred for public programs is so irrational, they don't even see the contradiction.

"After a year of angry debate," the Times article noted, "emotion outweighs fact."

That's no doubt true. But that doesn't change the fact that we're talking about a reasonably large group of people who are deeply, tragically misguided.

This is important to the extent that there are still some who believe the political mainstream should do more to listen to the Tea Party crowd and take its hysterical cries seriously. But how can credible people take nonsense seriously and hope to come up with a meaningful result? How can policymakers actually address substantive challenges while following the advice of angry mobs who reject reason and evidence?

The bottom line seem inescapable: too many Tea Party activists have no idea what they're talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.

Think Progress: VFW Commander Issues Qualified Apology For Saying Democrats Are ‘Betraying’ Veterans With Health Reform
As recently as March 21, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) put out a statement urging federal lawmakers to vote against health care reform, saying the organization was “furious” with the legislation:

“The president and the Democratic leadership are betraying America’s veterans,” said Thomas J. Tradewell Sr., a combat-wounded Vietnam veteran from Sussex, Wis., who leads the 2.1 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its Auxiliaries.

Tradewell’s assessment was off the mark. The new health care law has an individual responsibility requirement, meaning that every person must have health coverage (or receive an affordability waiver), otherwise he/she will be subjected to a fee. While the Affordable Care Act doesn’t explicitly state that TRICARE — the military’s health program — will meet the individual responsibility requirement, everyone from the chairs of relevant House committees to Veterans Affairs officials to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has asserted that TRICARE would meet the requirement. On March 20, the House — out of an abundance of caution — unanimously passed separate legislation affirming that TRICARE will not be affected, and Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Tradewell was also out-of-step with the heads of other veterans’ organizations. The American Legion, usually one of the most conservative veterans groups, said military members “can rest assured that her TRICARE benefits are secure under the law signed by President Obama.” Even Eric Hilleman, director of VFW’s National Legislative Service, refused to defend his commander’s remarks, testifying to the House Appropriations Committee that there “is clear demonstration that this Congress and the administration has put forward an incredible effort on behalf of America’s veterans.”

This week, Tradewell issued a qualified apology for using “too harsh of a word.” However, he still went on to bash the Affordable Care Act:

“But I did not apologize for our strong advocacy on the issue,” he said.

The new national healthcare bill signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday is flawed, not because of what it provides, but because of what it does not protect — all the healthcare programs provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.”

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) expressed disappointment with Tradewell’s apology, saying that in some ways, “it is worse than the original statement.” “We believe there is nothing in health care reform that harms veterans health care,” he said. “If there is something in there, we will fix it.”

The TRICARE fix still isn’t law because Republicans have held it up in the Senate. On Wednesday, Webb asked unanimous consent to approve his bill. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), however, objected. “Let the American people understand the Republicans objected to a matter that could have been fixed by law tomorrow,” said Webb.

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