Friday, July 30, 2010

Sir, have you no decency?

Following up on an item from yesterday, it appears Republican reverence for all things related to the 9/11 attacks is officially over.

Congress turned thumbs down on the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act on Thursday night, raising doubts it will ever pass.

Most Republicans refused to back the measure, calling it a "slush fund," and saying it was another example of Democratic overreach and an "insatiable" appetite for taxpayers' money.

The bill would spend $3.2 billion on health care over the next 10 years for people sickened from their exposure to the toxic smoke and debris of the shattered World Trade Center. It would spend another $4.2 billion to compensate victims over that span, and make another $4.2 billion in compensation available for the next 11 years.

So, as Republicans see it, we can afford tax breaks for billionaires. But care for 9/11 victims, not so much.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), perhaps best known for his apology to BP after the company's oil spill, "said the rest of the country should not bear the brunt of helping New Yorkers cope with the aftermath of the terror attacks."

How could House Republicans kill the bill in a majority-rule chamber? As it turns out, Dems brought the measure to the floor as a "suspension bill," because they didn't want the GOP to try to gut the legislation with poison-pill amendments. But this strategy meant the bill needed a two-thirds majority to pass. The final vote was 255 to 159 -- far short of the two-thirds threshold -- with 155 Republicans in opposition, many of them saying they would consider supporting the bill, but only if the GOP were allowed to push unrelated amendments intended to embarrass the majority.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y), whose constituents include many directly affected by this legislation, wasn't especially impressed with the Republican argument:

Sargent: GOP blocks small business bill. Who will get the blame?

As I've argued a bunch of times before, no matter how many times Dems scream about GOP obstructionism, the jury is out on whether Republicans will take any of the blame for its consequences. Dems run the place, and the public may tune out any argument over Senate procedure as so much Beltway white noise.

The latest: In the Senate today, Republicans blocked a bill to create a $30 billion fund to enable community banks to boost lending to small businesses. Republicans decried the move as another bailout, and it's now unlikely that it will pass before Congress goes home for vacation in August, with little in the way of jobs bills under its belt.

So how will this story play? This paragraph in the Associated Press write-up says it all:

Congressional Democrats started the year with ambitious plans to pass a series of bills designed to create jobs. But if negotiations on the small business lending bill fail, they will have little to show for it just a few months before midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats keep their majorities in the House and Senate.

And there you have it. Is this how the story will be understood by the American people? Very possible.

Republicans claimed Dems blocked votes on the amendments they wanted. Dems countered that they agreed to votes on the GOP amendments, only to have the GOP demand more votes. Get what's happening here? The larger story is all getting subsumed in a bunch of Beltway white noise.

So here's the question: What storyline will the American people take away from all this?

At the press briefing today, Robert Gibbs tried to tell the story the administration's way. Speaking about the small business bill, he said:

"Why on earth would that fall prey to the same old tired partisan politics, unless one side was much more concerned about playing politics than it is about helping this economy along? That is the fight that this president has had to wage in many cases since the very begining of his administration. He will continue to make the tough decisions. And those that are more interested in playing politics rather than helping small business get the help they need, I assume they'll hear from their constituents about how unproductive that really is."

Whatever their substantive objections to this bill, it appears Republicans have calculated that the failure of Dem legislation, and Dem griping about the GOP's role in blocking it, will only feed a sense that government is broken and has failed to deliver, which will reflect badly on the ruling party. Indeed, if that AP paragraph captures the way the storyline is understood by the American people, Dems are in serious trouble.
Going into yesterday, hopes were relatively high that the Senate would make progress on a package to aid small businesses, including tax breaks, new incentives, and an attempt to expand credit through a lending program that utilizes local banks. Hopes were dashed when Republicans, throwing a bit of a tantrum over the number of amendments they were allowed to consider, voted unanimously to block the chamber from voting on the bill.

There's no real mystery about the partisan gamesmanship on display.

Senate Republicans on Thursday rejected a bill to aid small businesses with expanded loan programs and tax breaks, in a procedural blockade that underscored how fiercely determined the party's leaders are to deny Democrats any further legislative accomplishments ahead of November's midterm elections.

The measure, championed by Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, had the backing of some of the Republican Party's most reliable business allies, including the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Several Republican lawmakers also helped write it.

But Republican leaders filibustered after fighting for days with Democrats over the number of amendments they would be able to offer.

So, the bill with 59 supporters and 41 opponents is at least temporarily stuck. What now? The Senate leadership is moving forward on a separate measure to help states avoid teacher layoffs and cover Medicaid costs (EduJobs and FMAP), but there's still talk that aid for small businesses can survive.

At issue are Republican demands that they be able to offer amendments to the small-business package that have nothing to do with small businesses -- including border security and Bush tax cuts. They don't really expect the amendments to pass, but GOP leaders hope (a) that the votes put Dems in an awkward spot; and (b) the process of considering them will take up more floor time, and make it impossible to consider other legislation this year.

As it currently stands, after yesterday's nonsense, the earliest the Senate would approve the small-business package is September. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who's taken the lead on this bill, noted that for struggling businesses, that's not nearly soon enough. Republicans, in effect, replied that the number of amendments they'd be allowed to consider was more important than whether those businesses might fail.

Some GOP officials continue to push the line that both parties support expanded unemployment benefits; they just differ on how (and whether) to pay for them. As the argument goes, Dems see jobless aid as an emergency, while Republicans didn't want the costs added to the deficit. But don't worry -- everyone just loves to look out for the unemployed.

This really is nonsense. Greg Sargent has labeled the conservative Republicans with ideological opposition to jobless aid as the "Let Them Eat Want Ads" Caucus, and it's a contingent that keeps growing.

Here's Oregon congressional candidate Scott Bruun (R), explaining why he would have voted against the extension:

"When we're talking up over close to two years and longer with jobless benefits, I think we really start talking about a European style system and all the problems that that sort of system brings if you try to bring that sort of system to the United States."

I don't know what that means, exactly, but Brunn went on to say unemployment benefits may be "encouraging people to stay out of the workplace longer."

This comes the same day as Delaware congressional candidate Michele Rollins (R) insisting that helping struggling families get by after a job loss encourages the unemployed to "do nothing for a very long time."

I'm probably missing some, but it seems like the "Let Them Eat Want Ads" Caucus is getting to be pretty big. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) dismissed jobless aid as money that offers "a disincentive" to getting a job, a sentiment endorsed by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Sen. Richard Burr (R).

Rep. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) compared the unemployed to "hobos"; Nevada's Sharron Angle blasted the unemployed as "spoiled"; Wisconsin's Ron Johnson said those without jobs won't look until their benefits run out; Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett said the unemployed choose not to work because of the benefits; and Kentucky's Rand Paul thinks it's time to cut off aid, whether it's paid for or not, because, "In Europe, they give about a year of unemployment. We're up to two years now in America."

GOP media personality Ben Stein went so far as to characterize those out of work as having "poor work habits and poor personalities."

The moral of the story seems to be that conservative Republicans just don't seem to like the unemployed. If every American who's had to rely on jobless benefits since the start of the recession was poised to vote in November, the GOP would be in a bit of panic right now.

If the accounts from major media outlets are any indication, the political world is awfully excited about the ethics allegations against Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). To be sure, the interest is warranted -- the allegations against the former Ways and Means Committee chairman are serious; Republicans are thrilled; and the controversy has literally become front-page, above-the-fold news.

There may be some rule that I'm not aware of, prohibiting coverage of Republican scandals, but while a House Democrat's ethics problems intensify, a sitting Republican senator is still the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, which is also getting more serious.

The Senate on Thursday night quietly approved a resolution that will allow Sen. John Ensign's aides to testify to a federal grand jury investigating the aftermath of the Nevada Republican's extramarital affair with a former campaign aide.

By voice vote, the Senate approved the resolution that would authorize employees of the Senate to give testimony to a grand jury in Washington.

Senate aides said that the resolution was necessary because Senate rules would prohibit employees from testifying outside of the halls of Congress.

Politico added that the move, which nearly every major outlet ignored, "is the latest sign that the investigation ... continues to move swiftly."

This development comes just a week after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a former Ensign housemate, announced that he'd agreed to cooperate with the federal criminal investigation surrounding the conservative Nevadan. Coburn turned over more than 1,200 pages of documents to the Justice Department, including emails from Ensign.

And that development came on the heels of news that Ensign's aides have told investigators that the senator knew he was violating ethics rules on lobbying restrictions, but did it anyway.

As a rule, when a high-profile U.S. senator is facing a criminal investigation, the media shows at least some interest. When that investigation involves sex, the media tends to show quite a bit of interest.

But for reasons I still can't explain the Republican Nevadan is getting a pass. Here we have John Ensign, a "family values" conservative Republican, who had an extra-marital sexual relationship with his friend's wife, while condemning others' moral failings. Ensign's parents offered to pay hush-money. He ignored ethics laws and tried to use his office to arrange lobbying jobs for his mistress' husband. The likelihood of Ensign being indicted seems fairly high.

And yet, there's no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign's home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace. Instead, the media's fascinated with Charlie Rangel.

Rangel is facing a probe from the House ethics committee, while Ensign is under scrutiny from the FBI.

Is this just the IOKIYAR rule taken to the extreme? Was there some kind of memo stating that only Democratic scandals deserve media attention in an election year?

No comments:

Post a Comment