When it comes to evaluating any piece of legislation, substantive considerations should always outweigh political considerations. The first questions political observers should ask about a bill is, "What's in it?" and "Is the proposal any good?" Questions about whether something can pass and the broader electoral impact should come second.
But once in a great while, there are exceptions.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), after three years of work, unveiled his plan for a major overhaul of the nation's federal tax code yesterday. It's an ambitious tax-reform package, which would ordinarily require intense scrutiny.
And to be sure, much of that scrutiny is already underway. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a helpful overview this morning, as did the editorial board of the New York Times. Some on the left find it a credible place to start a conversation, others not so much.
What's more, I agree with Tim Noah that Camp deserves at least some credit for putting pen to paper and making specific ideas available for public scrutiny: "Camp deserves praise for doing something Mitt Romney never dared to do as a presidential candidate in 2012. He identifies specific tax breaks that he would eliminate in order to replace the revenue lost in lowering top rates."
But if we chose to be realistic, it doesn't much matter whether Camp's plan has merit or not. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that tax reform is dead in this Congress -- and he made the declaration before the plan was even unveiled. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was even more dismissive.
Big banks would face a new tax on lending. Taxes paid to state and local governments would no longer be deductible. The earned income credit for low-wage workers would be converted to a more limited deduction on payroll taxes. The mortgage deduction and retirement savings breaks would be curtailed.
[Camp] unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the 70,000-page federal tax code on Wednesday that would collapse seven personal income tax brackets to two and lower the corporate rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.
But the seeds of the plan's destruction might be found in the fine print. When asked about the proposal's details on Wednesday, House Speaker John A. Boehner replied, "Blah, blah, blah, blah."
That's not some rude characterization of Boehner's response; that was literally what Boehner said in response to a reporter's question.
A year ago, congressional Republicans made tax reform their top priority. This week, GOP leaders scoffed at the idea of even trying to get a bill done. What happened?
The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released the results of a new national survey yesterday, and the part of the poll on discrimination was of particular interest.
Americans strongly support laws that would protect gay and lesbian people from discrimination in the workplace. More than 7-in-10 (72%) Americans favor laws protecting gay and lesbian people from job discrimination, compared to less than one-quarter (23%) who oppose.
Solid majorities of both political parties and every major religious group support workplace nondiscrimination laws for gay and lesbian people.
This doesn't come as too big a surprise -- employment discrimination isn't exactly a popular idea in the American mainstream.
But here's the kicker: "Three-quarters (75%) of Americans incorrectly believe it is currently illegal under federal law to fire or refuse to hire someone because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender."
This matters, of course, because three-quarters of the country is wrong.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is clearly not a fan of Russia's government, but he nevertheless said last week how impressed he is with Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategic acumen. Putin, McCain said, has "played us so incredibly," apparently because President Obama is "the most naive president in history."
Mitt Romney made similar comments a month ago: "I think Putin has outperformed our president time and time again on the world stage." Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, added last fall, "I do think Putin is playing chess and we're playing tick-tack-toe."
I suppose that's possible, but when Kiev erupted in violence, Putin backed his ally, Viktor Yanukovych, and hoped to see him stay in power. And where's Yanukovych now?
Mr. Yanukovych appears to have surfaced on Thursday in Russia, five days after he was driven from power by mass protests and fled from Kiev, the national capital. He warned that the largely Russian regions in eastern and southern Ukraine, including Crimea, would "not accept the anarchy and outright lawlessness" that has gripped the country. He declared that he remained the lawful president of Ukraine and appealed to Russia to protect "my personal safety."
As a political matter, this is starting to remind me of the crisis last fall in Syria.
The entirety of the Senate Republican leadership teamed up yesterday to declare their collective outrage -- about a policy they're pretending not to like.
In a letter, the lawmakers urged Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to suspend the administration's "misguided policies" aimed at weakening the Medicare Advantage and prescription drug programs. The letter was signed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (TX), Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (SD), Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (WY), National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (KS) and Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt (MO).
I don't mean to sound picky. When Republicans criticize the ideas they oppose, it at least meets some baseline test for rational thought: politicians are supposed to disagree with measures they disagree with.
But Republicans are now deeply engaged in an effort to condemn an idea they've already endorsed and voted for. Worse, they're apparently hoping an epidemic of amnesia sweeps the nation, and journalists and voters lose the ability to use Internet search engines.
Despite broad, national support for an increase to the minimum wage, a growing number of prominent Republican policymakers are arguing that the minimum wage shouldn't exist at all. In effect, their position calls for a minimum of zero -- the free market will take it from there.
But in my recent round-up of GOP officials who espouse this position, they all had something important in common: they're incumbent officeholders. In North Carolina yesterday, a leading Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate broke some new ground.
U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis on Wednesday said he opposes President Barack Obama's plan to increase the federal minimum wage, calling it a "dangerous idea."
The Republican went even further to suggest government shouldn't set a minimum wage, labeling it an "artificial threshold."
Unfortunately for Tillis -- or perhaps fortunately, if the candidate is eager for the public to learn about his position -- an American Bridge tracker recorded the exchange and quickly put it online.
For all the talk about Republican policymakers moving past divisive culture-war fights, especially in an election year, there can be no doubt that GOP officials still have abortion rights on their minds.
As my colleague Tricia McKinney reminded me yesterday, West Virginia's House of Delegates this week approved a bill to "make it a felony to perform abortions on fetuses after 20 weeks' gestation." South Carolina is moving towards passing its own 20-week abortion ban. Indiana's legislature is tackling abortion policy this week as well.
The State House Health Committee has passed a bill that could ban most abortions in Alabama.
This week, the committee approved a bill that prevents doctors from performing an abortion if a heartbeat is detected in a fetus, which can happen as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Currently, the state allows abortions up to 20 weeks.
If the fetal heartbeat law passes in Alabama, the sound could take the option of an abortion off the table for most women.
As we've discussed before, 20-week bans are themselves deeply problematic. Because roughly 99% of abortions occur before 21 weeks, these later terminations often involve "rare, severe fetal abnormalities and real threats to a woman's health." It's why the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is so strongly against these conservative proposals that have become so common -- at the state and federal level.
But a six-week ban poses an entirely different kind of problem.
The fight over Arizona's right-to-discriminate bill came to an abrupt end last night, when Gov. Jan Brewer (R) appeared before the cameras and announced she'd vetoed the controversial SB 1062.
"Senate bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I've not heard one example in Arizona, where business owners' religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate bill 1062 moments ago."
Though the move was widely expected -- even many Arizona Republicans had turned against the measure -- some high-profile conservatives were not impressed. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Rush Limbaugh told his audience that Brewer was being "bullied by the homosexual lobby," while Fox News' Tucker Carlson described the effort to defeat the proposal as "fascism."
In Politico this morning, Rich Lowry didn't go quite that far, but he nevertheless complained about the "hysteria" from civil-rights advocates, which led to a veto Lowry sees as "foolish."
This was not the prevailing view. Indeed, one of the more interesting angles to the recent fight is the extent to which the private sector rallied against Arizona's anti-gay proposal. Jonathan Capehart noted, "Never before have I seen such full-throated tri-partisan opposition to a piece of anti-gay legislation. By tri-partisan I mean Democrats, Republicans and corporations. That Democrats were against the measure was a no-brainer. That Republicans and businesses joined them to not only decry the bill's passage bill but to also demand that Brewer veto it was remarkable."
But as we've discussed, Arizona was the first state in which the legislature actually passed a right-to-discriminate bill, but it's not the only state where the issue is under consideration. Civil-rights proponents succeeded in the Grand Canyon State, but they'll now have to turn their attention elsewhere.
NJ Gov. Christie says the chairman of the Port Authority still has his full support. (Bergen Record) Bridge scandal attorney to meet with the Fort Lee Mayor today. (NJ Star Ledger) Pres. Obama to announce new initiative to promote opportunities for young men of color. (The Hill) Lawyers are squabbling over who gets to take marriage equality back to the Supreme Court. (BuzzFeed) Alaskans will vote on pot legalization this summer. (Washington Post) read more
Astronomers working on NASA's Kepler mission announced 715 new confirmed planets today - an increase of almost 70% in the number of planets outside our Solar System known to date.
Some quick background on Kepler: the spacecraft launched in March of 2009, and observed almost 150,000 stars continuously for just over three years looking for the telltale sign of a transiting planet. The results were slow at first and then steadily, more and more planets were discovered. Large planets that orbit close to their host stars, often nicknamed "Hot Jupiters", were found first because they were the easiest to see; they blocked a lot of starlight and blocked it often. But the longer astronomers looked, the more they started to see signs of smaller and smaller planets: Neptune-sized and even Earth-sized.