The headline on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) USA Todayop-ed came as something of a surprise: "Mitch McConnell: Unemployed Americans need action."
Why, yes, actually they do. Does that mean the Republicans' Senate leader is prepared to champion jobless benefits? No, McConnell doesn't mean that kind of action. Does it mean the GOP incumbent intends to fight for greater investment in infrastructure and education? No, he doesn't mean that kind of action, either.
As it happens, McConnell, who opposed even modest, bipartisan measures like the Family and Medical Leave Act, has a different platform in mind.
Today, millions of Americans remain unemployed. But even for those lucky enough to have a job, things have never seemed tougher. Outdated policies diminish opportunities in the workplace, leaving many torn between the demands of work and family. And between car payments, a mortgage, out-of-control tuition, and the rising energy and medical costs many face, there's often little left for anything else.
Easing this middle-class squeeze is a top priority for Republicans.
That all sounds quite nice, doesn't it? McConnell, who's made repealing health care benefits for working families a top priority, added that he wants to ease the middle-class squeeze by moving past "the failed policies of the past and toward the actual needs and realities of today's working families."
OK, but what kind of policy would address the actual needs and realities of today's working families?
To say that the Republican-led House is doing absolutely nothing isn't entirely fair. The GOP majority isn't just sitting around, waiting for time to elapse; it's also approving tax breaks without paying for them.
The House voted Friday to make permanent a temporary tax break that makes it easier for businesses to invest in new equipment, one of many expired tax breaks that Congress must deal with by the end of the year.
The tax break allows businesses to more quickly write off the costs of new equipment, making it popular among business groups. But the White House has threatened a veto because the bill would add $287 billion to the budget deficit over the next decade.
Final vote was 258 to 160. The roll call is online here.
At issue is a policy called "bonus depreciation," which was part of the bipartisan, 2008 economic stimulus measure, and which allows companies to quickly write off the cost of capital investments. The idea is to encourage businesses to buy property and/or equipment, knowing it can deduct more of the cost up front under the tax break.
The policy expired at the end of 2013. House Republicans don't only intend to bring it back, they also want to make it permanent, along with a handful of related tax measures, which combined cost about $287 billion over the next decade.
And how, pray tell, do GOP lawmakers intend to pay for this? That's the amazing part -- they don't even bother to try. When Democrats want to invest in infrastructure and jobless benefits, Republicans insist every penny be offset, but when the issue is permanent tax breaks, money is no object.
It fell to Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee, to explain, "What's being done here is totally inconsistent."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) held a wide-ranging press conference yesterday at an event in Tennessee, inexplicably calling the Affordable Care Act a "failure" despite all the evidence to the contrary, and blaming violence in Israel on the Obama administration for reasons that don't make sense.
But those rhetorical shots were easy, and the fact that there were wide-ranging questions doesn't necessarily mean there were wide-ranging answers. Time's Zeke Miller reported that Christie is "making moves to prepare for a presidential run," but the governor does not "answer questions like a presidential candidate."
Sometimes the straight-talking governor of New Jersey doesn't talk all that straight. Gov. Chris Christie casts himself as a decider, steering his state through rough economic waters, while setting himself up for a run for the White House. At the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville on Saturday, Christie lambasted the Obama administration's Middle East policy and its inability to negotiate with Congress.
But he skipped as many issues as he took on. Just what he would do when faced with some of the nation's hardest policy challenges remains unclear.
Should lawmakers raise the gas tax to pay for transportation projects? Christie didn't want to give an opinion. Should unaccompanied minors from Central America be sent back? Christie said he's "not going to get into all that." Should the U.S. intervene militarily against Hamas? Christie dodged that, too.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it keeps happening. Christie presents himself as a bold trailblazer, ready to lead his party and his nation, but when asked for his opinions on current events, suddenly the tough-talking governor seems rather shy.
Congress has just a few weeks remaining until the Highway Trust Fund runs out of money. To put it mildly, that would be extraordinarily bad for the economy -- the Highway Trust Fund finances nearly all federally-supported transportation infrastructure in the United States. If the fund is exhausted, 700,000 workers would no longer have a job and infrastructure projects nationwide would be abandoned -- before they're done.
Indeed, there's some evidence congressional delays have already undermined the economy, preventing the start of some construction projects that couldn't begin because local officials weren't sure if Capitol Hill would act on the highway bill before the deadline or not.
President Obama already sent a strong infrastructure package to Capitol Hill, which would give the economy an important boost, and which Republicans immediately said they would not pass. The Senate Democratic majority also prioritized a long-term extension for the Highway Trust Fund, which GOP lawmakers also rejected.
This, in turn, left lawmakers scrambling, looking at a variety of bad choices, none of which they have time to debate in earnest. And that has led Congress to once again turn to its old standby: a short-term fix, which will prevent a crisis while kicking the can down the road.
Of course, even short-term fixes have to be paid for. Josh Barro reports on the House Republicans' preferred approach.
The latest proposal, which passed the Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, works like this: If you change corporate pension funding rules to let companies set aside less money today to pay for future benefits, they will report higher taxable profits. And if they have higher taxable profits, they will pay more in taxes over the 10-year budget window that Congress uses to write laws. Those added taxes can be diverted to the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
Unfortunately, this gimmick will also result in corporations paying less in taxes in later years, when they have to make up for the pension payments they're missing now. But if it happens more than 10 years in the future, it doesn't count in Congress's method for calculating budget balance. "Fiscal responsibility," as popularly defined in Washington, ignores anything that happens after 2024.
Many of you are probably thinking, "There has to be an easier way for the nation to build highways." And there is. It's just that Republicans don't like it, so it won't happen.
For quite a while, conservatives used marriage equality as a culture-war "wedge issue," taking advantage of the fact that the public was broadly opposed to equal-marriage rights.
Lately, however, the blade of the wedge has turned. Marriage rights aren't separating the mainstream from the left; they're separating Republicans from other Republicans.
While the Republican Party's religious conservatives continue to fight against same-sex marriage, its governors appear to be backing off their opposition -- in their rhetoric, at least.... "I don't think the Republican Party is fighting it," Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker said of gay marriage. He spoke with The Associated Press during an interview this weekend at the National Governors Association in Nashville.
"I'm not saying it's not important," continued Walker, who is considering a 2016 presidential bid should he survive his reelection test this fall. "But Republicans haven't been talking about this. We've been talking about economic and fiscal issues. It's those on the left that are pushing it."
If the point is that the left is "pushing" civil rights for same-sex families, then Walker's argument has some merit.
But the rest of the governor's pushback falls short. For one thing, a party emphasizing opposition to reproductive rights, opposition to contraception, opposition to immigration, and impeachment can't claim to be "talking about economic and fiscal issues." It's just silly.
For another, Walker might have missed all the Republicans talking about same-sex marriage.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made yet another Sunday-show appearance yesterday and offered some historical perspective that stood out as interesting. Asked about the disagreement over foreign policy between Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), McCain replied:
"So I'm not particularly interested in getting between Senator Paul and Governor Perry, but I do believe that the things we're seeing in the world today, in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime, is a direct result of an absence of American leadership."
Now, for McCain, the "absence of American leadership" roughly translates to "we're not engaged militarily in enough foreign countries," so this is obviously easy to dismiss.
But to believe the world is in "greater turmoil" than at any time in McCain's lifetime is an amazing claim. I suppose there's some subjectivity to this -- one observer's turmoil may be another's unrest -- but John McCain was born in 1936.
I mention this because his lifetime includes the entirety of World War II and the beginning, middle, and end of the Cold War. McCain wants to talk about global "turmoil"? We can have a spirited chat about Hitler taking swaths of Europe while Japan invaded China. That's "turmoil." By comparison, today's global stage is almost tranquil.
McCain added in the same interview, "I would argue that given conditions in the Middle East, this might be more dangerous than any time in the past."
Really? Any time? Conditions are more dangerous now than during any Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian revolution, the Egyptian revolutions, every Islamic uprising and civil war of the 1970s, and the rise of al Qaeda?
This is not to say the Middle East is a model of stability right now, but to say that it's "more dangerous" than at "any time in the past" is a little over the top.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters he's not interested in impeaching President Obama, preferring his frivolous lawsuit instead. Yesterday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said roughly the same thing.
"No responsible Republican elected official has called for impeachment. And the trouble one problem with it is of course you just get Joe Biden as president.
"The Republican task is to elect a Republican Senate and to elect a Republican president 2016, not to create a phony issue which allows Democrats to make Republicans look extreme."
It's worth noting that impeaching the president would not make Joe Biden president; it would create a pointless Senate trial in which the upper chamber would dismiss the charges. It's one of the main reasons many House Republicans who might otherwise like the idea have balked.
That said, there are a couple of interesting angles to Kristol's take. The first is that his definition of "responsible Republican" might be politically problematic. After all, it was six years ago that Kristol urged John McCain to pick a half-term Alaska governor as his national running mate -- and now she's helping lead the crusade to impeach the president for reasons she can't explain.
Indeed, the Republicans' I-team features several sitting U.S. senators, several sitting U.S. House members, and more than a few 2014 candidates, including Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst (R), who just this weekend delivered the Republican Party's official weekly address.
Is Kristol prepared to dismiss all of these candidates and elected lawmakers as "irresponsible"? Because if so, I suspect Democrats will be eager to let voters know.
A few weeks ago, former Vice President Dick Cheney was in the middle of yet another Sunday-show appearance when was confronted with a series of ridiculously wrong predictions he made about the war in Iraq. Rather than respond -- or worse, own up to his horrific mistakes -- the failed former V.P. dismissed the question.
"If we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we're going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face," Cheney replied.
By this reasoning, it sounds like Dick Cheney isn't interested in re-litigating his catastrophic mistakes. He just wants to complain about President Obama and have his grumbles taken at face value. Never mind the recent past, Cheney seemed to be arguing; let's pretend credibility doesn't matter while focusing on the present.
But as it turns out, that's not the case, at least not all of it. Cheney may be uncomfortable when confronted with his obvious and tragic errors, but he's also desperate to re-litigate the war he got so very wrong.
Late Friday afternoon, the Weekly Standardpublished a lengthy, 3,000-word treatise from Dick and Liz Cheney with an unintentionally hilarious headline: "The Truth About Iraq." (Because news consumers who really want the truth about Iraq know to turn to a Weekly Standard piece written by, of all people, the Cheneys.) One would have to read the whole thing to believe its farcical qualities, but here's just a small sampling:
Those who say the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a mistake are essentially saying we would be better off if Saddam Hussein were still in power. That's a difficult position to sustain. It is undisputed, and has been confirmed repeatedly in Iraqi government documents captured after the invasion, that Saddam had deep, longstanding, far-reaching relationships with terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda and its affiliates.
It was literally last month when Dick Cheney insisted there's no point in "debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago," but now, he has a new pitch: can we talk about Saddam and al Qaeda again?
I can think of so many instances in recent years in which the Cheneys' rhetoric has been infuriating, but this marks something of a turning point. This new the-war-was-really-awesome-don't-believe-your-lying-eyes argument isn't maddening; it's pathetic.
Last week we learned that even Republican consumers who signed up for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act are pleased with the results. The results were striking -- when the GOP loses its own voters in the debate over "Obamacare," it's a bad sign -- but they were also part of a fantastic streak of good news for those rooting for the success of the American system.
Indeed, just this morning, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the ACA itself will cost even less than previously believed.
And it's against this backdrop that some dead-enders can't let go of their old talking points.
In what could be the latest move toward a 2016 presidential bid, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) offered a wide-ranging critique of President Obama's domestic and foreign policies.
Speaking to reporters at the National Governors Association on Saturday, Christie labeled Obamacare, the administration's signature legislation, a "failure on a whole number of levels" and said it should be repealed.
Lately, it seems Republicans call the ACA a "failure" more out of habit than sincerity. Christie, for example, didn't back up his rhetoric with anything specific, perhaps hoping people would just take his criticism at face value.
But there's an obvious follow-up question: what exactly does Chris Christie think "failure" means? Because it doesn't seem to apply at all to the Affordable Care Act.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, argued yesterday that "some" of the unattended minors from Central America he saw "looked more like a threat to coming into the United States." How could he tell? McCaul didn't say.
Soon after, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) argued in support of sending the National Guard to the border. Asked what good Guard troops could under the circumstances, Perry couldn't say. (In fact, he seemed confused by the question.)
A variety of congressional Republicans have now balked at President Obama's appeal for emergency resource, insisting the package costs "too much." What's the GOP's alternative response? What's the proper amount of spending? They wouldn't say.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is among many far-right lawmakers condemning the White House for not deporting Dream Act kids. Why are Republicans focusing so heavily on a policy unrelated to the humanitarian crisis at the border? They haven't said.
To be sure, this is an incredibly difficult crisis to resolve. Anyone who suggests there's an easy, quick fix to this is kidding themselves. But as is too often the case, congressional Republicans -- folks who were elected to help shape federal law -- appear to be sitting out the substantive debate altogether. GOP lawmakers have decided what's really needed right now is incessant complaining -- and little else. Danny Vinik added:
If Republicans object to this request, what exactly do they propose instead? How should we move through the huge backload of cases? Where should we hold the unaccompanied minors in the meantime? And how should we pay to transport them to their home countries?
It's not that Republicans have poor responses to these questions; it's that they're not even trying to answer them.
First up from the God Machine this week is a story out of Illinois, where a Christian minister came up with an interesting way to protest the Supreme Court's recent anti-contraception ruling.
After the ruling was issued, and Americans learned that some employers had been empowered to restrict their employees' access to birth control, many on the left may have been tempted to go to Hobby Lobby stores and hand out contraception as a way to register their outrage.
A reverend in Illinois organized a demonstration to hand out condoms outside of a local Hobby Lobby store in order to protest the Supreme Court's ruling on contraception, the Daily Herald reported.
Rev. Mark Winters of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville, Ill., said it started out as a joke in a Facebook, but after he got a great response, he decided to organize a protest.
The group of demonstrators stood outside the store to hand out condoms donated by Planned Parenthood. Winters told the Daily Herald that he wanted the protest to show that not all Christians oppose birth control. He also said he hoped to get people to question whether the Supreme Court's decision was fair to Hobby Lobby employees' religious freedom.
Winters added, "Jesus had a lot of issue with powerful people using power over the powerless."
The Rev. Emmy Lou Belcher, a Unitarian Universalist minister who attended the demonstration, added, "I'm just hoping that (people who see the demonstration) realize that this opinion (of Hobby Lobby's owners) is not the opinion of religious people as a broad spectrum, but that religious people have many different opinions."
On a related note, a Baptist minister held a prayer vigil outside Hobby Lobby's flagship store in Edmond, Oklahoma, to decry the decision. "Hobby Lobby employees who will now have difficulty accessing health care they need to responsibly plan for their families' futures," Dr. Bruce Powell explained.
Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for the Huffington Post, talks with Ari Melber about why Speaker Boehner chose an element of Obamacare as the basis of his lawsuit against President Obama when Obamacare is showing so many signs of success for Americans. watch