How to stop right-wing nuts: The elusive solution

How to stop right-wing nuts: The elusive solution

A new governing majority in the House could pass guns, immigration and climate change reform. Here’s how it’d work


How to stop right-wing nuts: The elusive solutionJohn Boehner, Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh (Credit: AP/Susan Walsh/Stacy Bengs/Reuters/Micah Walter)

Considering that, by some estimates, the current House of Representatives is on pace to be the least productive in modern history, one would be hard-pressed to say Congress has earned its summer vacation. Indeed, it’s not as if they lack for things to do; immigration reform, the lifting of the debt ceiling, and the continual funding of the federal government all remain unaddressed. And then there are the problems that aren’t even on the to-do list, pressing issues like climate change, gun safety and the formulation of a serious response to what remains a crisis of unemployment. The list goes on.

Put simply, these are not the salad days of U.S. government. But it doesn’t have to be this way. When it comes to the bare necessities — like funding the government or paying its bills, or maybe even passing immigration reform — there’s a potentially functional majority out there, hiding in plain sight. It may not be likely. It probably won’t come to pass. But it ispossible.

Here’s what would need to happen. First and foremost, Speaker of the House John Boehner would have to take the advice of former Republican higher-up John Feehery and ditch the so-called Hastert Rule. The rule, named after former Republican Speaker of the House (and current lobbyist) Dennis Hastert, mandates that no bill comes up for a vote unless it is supported by a majority of the majority party. So even if, hypothetically, Democrats wanted to team up with a minority of Republicans to pass a bill, Speaker Boehner, if he followed the Hastert Rule, wouldn’t give them the chance. It’s a recipe for gridlock.

The good news is that Boehner has already broken the rule a few times this Congress. That’s how the Violence Against Women Act was ultimately renewed. The bad news is that every time he does so, he’s less likely to do so again. House conservatives are wary of Boehner’s right-wing bona fides and keep him on a short leash (his reelection as speaker in January was abnormally difficult). Every time he breaks the Hastert Rule, that leash around his neck is pulled just that much tighter. And as anyone who reads the hysterical and, on the right, influential Breitbart news can tell you, it’s already mighty tight.

Because of all this, any solution for getting the House moving again is going to have to be pretty unorthodox. It’s going to require Speaker Boehner to smash the Hastert Rule, which in turn could very well necessitate that Democrats promise to back Boehner as speaker in the event of an attempted Tea Party coup. More than anything, it would require John Boehner to spurn his right-wing antagonists and be bold, brave and daring; to be something more than the savvy careerist and legislative mediocrity he’s thus far shown to be.

Now, the only reason this sounds very unlikely is because, well, it is. But unlikely and impossible are not the same thing. In fact, as New York’s Jonathan Chait and Salon’s Brian Beutler have argued, there appear to be the faintest signs that relatively moderate (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say relatively pragmatic) Republicans in the House and Senate are growing tired of the party’s semi-permanent stance of opposition. Multiple Republicans, for example, have preemptively disowned any attempts to use the debt ceiling as leverage, or to shut down the government in order to defund Obamacare. There may be a desire in some Republicans to actually govern.

Either way, with immigration reform, a potential government shutdown and the debt ceiling on the near horizon, something’s got to give. Whether it’s the Hastert Rule or the government itself is up to John Boehner to decide. Let’s hope he chooses well.


Elias Isquith lives in New York City. He writes about American politics at and tweets @eliasisquith.

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Repeal This!

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Repeal This!

Speaker Boehner’s Do-Nothing Congress

It’s simply an objective fact that this Congress is on track to be the least productive in modern history, owing largely to the inability or unwillingness of Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to move almost even the most basic legislation through the House of Representatives. That’s right, the Senate is a font of bipartisan comity and productivity compared to the do-nothing House.

Asked about this yesterday on Face the Nation, Speaker Boehner offered up this thoroughly ridiculous defense of Congress’ historically unproductive session:

We should not be judged on how many new laws we create. We ought to be judged on how many laws we repeal. We’ve got more laws than the administration could ever enforce.

Even by Boehner’s own bizarre standard, Congress has still been spectacularly ineffective. House Republicans have not successfully repealed Obamacare or Wall Street reform, but they have wasted millions of dollars and weeks of time trying — and failing — to do so. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen noted, “In other words, by Boehner’s own standards for evaluating Congress on the merits, he’s failing.”

All that said, we’ll take the Speaker at his word. With that in mind, here’s some things we’d love for him to get to repealing as soon as possible:

  1. The Defense of Marriage Act: While the Supreme Court threw out the part of DOMA that prohibited the federal government from recognizing legally valid same-sex marriages, the part that allows states to refuse to do so is still on the books. Congress should get rid of that part too.
  2. Giveaways to Big Oil: Oil prices are once again creeping up, which is a good reminder that oil companies don’t need billions of dollars a year in giveaways from taxpayers. Some of these giveaways have been on the books for a century, so they definitely seem ripe for repeal at a time of sky-high oil prices and Big Oil profits to go along with them.
  3. Restrictions on Abortion in the District of Columbia: Unable to impose their will on the nation, Republicans have used Congress’ enduring control over the affairs of the District of Columbia’s more than 600,000 disenfranchised residents to advance various pet causes. One of them has been to forbid the District from using funds generated by the taxpayers of the District themselves (i.e local, not federal funds) to pay for abortions for low-income women.
  4. Giveaways to Hedge Fund and Private Equity Managers: The so-called “carried interest” loophole is the one that allows hedge fund and private equity managers — and hedge fund and private equity managers alone — to avoid paying their fair share in taxes on billions in income by erroneously classifying ordinary income as investment income. It has no economic justification and allows people like Mitt Romney to get away with paying a lower tax rate than many middle class workers.
  5. Restrictions on Commonsense Gun Violence Prevention Measures: Similar to the aforementioned restrictions on abortion in Washington, D.C., Congress has also seen fit to put numerous restrictions on the ability of the federal government to take commonsense steps to reduce gun violence. These NRA-backed “riders” in annual appropriations bills, including those preventing even basic public health research on gun violence and measures meant to reduce gun trafficking, should be repealed instead of being extended for yet another year.

We could go on. In fact, there’s nearly $1 TRILLION in wasteful and unnecessary giveaways in the tax code alone that Congress could repeal today. Boehner also said yesterday that his top priority is repairing the nation’s finances. If reducing the deficit and repealing things are his top priorities, these giveaways would seem to be a good place for Boehner to start.

BOTTOM LINE: Any way you slice it, Congress is historically unproductive and historically unpopular. Instead of finding up-is-down, black-is-white excuses, Speaker Boehner should start allowing the House of Representatives — the whole House, not just the Republican caucus — to work its will and accomplish something for the American people. If Speaker Boehner is unable or unwilling to lead on issues like immigration reform with a pathway to earned citizenship, he can at least get out of the way.

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Republicans Nix Food Stamps: This Is Who They Are

Robert L. Borosage

Conservative Republicans have turned the farm bill — normally a bipartisan grotesquerie of agribusiness subsidies and excess — from legislation to identity politics. They wanted to make a statement, even though they knew it couldn’t survive the Senate or the White House veto. They passed it anyway — without one Democratic vote — to proclaim this is who we are.

Who are they? They just passed a farm bill that included about $195 billion in subsidies to “farmers” (read: agribusiness) over 10 years, while eliminating food stamps and nutrition programs from the bill as “extraneous.”

Forty-seven million Americans receive food stamps. Nearly half are children under 18; nearly 10 percent are impoverished seniors. Food stamps are often the difference between hunger and survival. Republicans famously seem intent on being a party of white sanctuary, writing off all people of color, yet more whites receive food stamps (over one-third of all recipients) than blacks or Hispanics.

This is how they choose to be identified. They will bring the government to a halt to defend against any tax hikes on millionaires, or to fend off the closing of corporate tax shelters. They will vote in lockstep to take the sequester cuts entirely out of domestic programs — education, clean water, pre-school — in order to protect a Pentagon budget that remains the biggest source of waste, fraud and abuse in the federal government.

And they will lavish subsidies on agribusiness while throwing children and seniors off the bus. Having stripped food stamps out of the farm bill entirely, they did not even have the common decency to pass any kind of food stamp provision separately. They haven’t gotten around to getting a “consensus” on that.

This wasn’t intended as legislation. It was intended as a declaration of identity. This is who they are. Think about that.

Re: Republicans Nix Food Stamps: This Is Who They Are

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