7 Q&A: Iran’s Nuclear Program & Netanyahu’s Speech

450px-Arak_Heavy_Water4

Heavy water reactor in Arak, Iran.

1. How Can We Best Prevent Iran From Acquiring Nuclear Weapons?

A nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel and destabilize the region.

President Obama and members of his administration have repeatedly stated that Iran will be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons and that all options, including the military option, are on the table.

During the Obama administration, Congress passed, and Obama signed into law, increasingly tough sanctions against Iran. The President signed every sanctions bill that Congress sent him. These sanctions hurt Iran economically, because Obama built an international coalition that adhered to the sanctions. But Iran had only accelerated its progress toward nuclear weapons.

On November 24, 2013, the U.S. and its allies entered into an interim agreement with Iran called the Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Under the JPA, Iran agreed to freeze or roll back its nuclear program in return for a limited, reversible sanctions relief. The JPA stopped the clock so that Iran could not advance its program while talks were continuing.

The JPA has been extended twice and will expire on June 30, 2015, but the U.S. hopes that a framework for a final agreement will be in place by the end of March, with the remaining time used to work out the details.

The administration and its allies believe that diplomacy is our best chance to stop Iran. We tried sanctions. They brought Iran to the table, but they did not stop Iran’s progress — only the JPA did that.

Even the most crippling sanctions, assuming that our allies would agree to tougher sanctions, probably would not be sufficient to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons because Iran is already so close. Military action might set their program back, but unless we are willing to invade and occupy Iran, military action would ultimately succeed only in convincing Iran that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself.

Some lawmakers now want to pass more sanctions legislation or require that any final agreement be approved by Congress. The administration opposes such legislation, and so should we.

2. Is the Joint Plan of Action (interim agreement) Working?

As Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken testified, the interim agreement is working:

Today, as the result of the constraints in the JPA, Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and it has rolled it back in key areas for the first time in a decade, and it has allowed us to have greater insight and visibility through more intrusive and more frequent inspections.

The Arms Control Association details Iran’s compliance with the terms of the agreement in a chart, and Politifact verified the President’s statement about Iranian compliance.

Meanwhile, as Blinken said, despite the limited sanctions relief, “virtually the entire sanctions architecture remains in place. Indeed, throughout the existence of the JPA, sanctions pressure on Iran has not decreased — it has increased.”

3. How Can a Bill That Imposes Sanctions Only if a Deal is Not Reached Disrupt Negotiations?

The latest version of the Kirk-Menendez bill (sponsored so far by 30 Republicans and eight Democrats, and none of the Democrats want a vote until at least the end of March) would impose sanctions only if we did not reach a final agreement with Iran.

The administration opposes triggered sanctions for several reasons:

  • Such sanctions would be viewed by the international community as violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the JPA, freeing Iran to violate its commitments under the JPA and resume its nuclear program.
  • Such sanctions could provoke Iran to end negotiations.
  • If Iran did not walk away, Iran would likely adopt more extreme positions in response.
  • If our allies perceive that we are not serious about living into up to our commitments, their support for sanctions will wane.

The Brookings Institution’s Robert Einhorn said that new U.S. sanctions legislation would have a troublesome impact “on the internal debate in Tehran and on prospects for positive changes in Iran’s negotiating position”:

Opponents of a deal would seize on the new legislation to argue that the United States is violating the spirit of the JPA, that the U.S. has no intention of ultimately removing the sanctions, and that the U.S. Administration cannot be counted on to deliver its end of any agreement eventually reached.

The critics — whose strong influence has so far impeded the adoption of a pragmatic Iranian negotiating position — would be further strengthened. Playing on Iranian hyper-sensitivity to giving in to foreign pressures, they would demand that U.S. pressure tactics not be rewarded by making concessions in the talks.

Thus, instead of compelling Iran to be more flexible, new U.S. legislation could produce greater defiance, further entrench rigid Iranian negotiating positions, and increase support for the Supreme Leader’s pipedream of an “economy of resistance” that could manage effectively without a nuclear deal. So even if a new sanctions law did not precipitate an abrupt termination of the talks, it could increase the likelihood that the negotiations will ultimately fail.

However, Blinken is the one who spoke about the key point:

We can debate whether any or all of these things would happen. What I can tell you today is that those who are best placed to know — the diplomatic professionals who have been leading these negotiations and dealing directly with the Iranians and our international partners for the past several years — believe that the risks are real, serious and totally unnecessary. That is their best judgment.

Why run those risks and jeopardize the prospects for a deal that will either come together — or not — over the next two months? Why not be patient for a few more months to fully test diplomacy? There is nothing to be gained — and everything to be lost — by acting precipitously.

Iran fully expects that if talks break down, we will enact tougher sanctions. As Einhorn said, “There is no need to legislate those sanctions in advance to ensure their credibility.”

In the meantime, Iran is the country whose nuclear program has been frozen and they are the ones whose economy continues to suffer because of sanctions. As Einhorn said, “Iran, not the United States or its partners… is the clear loser the longer the JPA remains in effect.”

4. What If We Get a Bad Deal?

President Obama and his staff have been as clear as can be on two points: We will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and no deal is better than a bad deal.

The administration’s refusal to sign a bad deal is the reason that the interim agreement was extended twice. We will hear all sorts of unconfirmed rumors about deals that are being contemplated, but do not waste your time: The only deal that matters, if a deal is to be, is the one that will be officially announced. Until then, we can do nothing (except scuttle negotiations and eliminate any hope of a deal, which seems to be the Republican plan).

We should oppose any efforts by Congress to approve a deal. This is not a treaty: This Congress would not have approved the JPA, and this Congress would only approve a perfect deal. But a good deal will not be a perfect deal.

As much as we would like to permanently and forever rid Iran of all nuclear capacity, that is not going to happen. An agreement that, in Einhorn’s words, “would allow a strictly limited and heavily monitored enrichment program” and would lengthen to at least one year, “the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a single nuclear weapon,” would be sufficient. The agreement itself would have to last at least ten years.

5. Should Netanyahu Address Congress?

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on Iran will take place two weeks before Israel’s election. Netanyahu wants the Israeli public to see members of Congress give him standing ovations. It is also a blatantly partisan effort by Republicans in Congress to enlist Netanyahyu’s aid in lobbying Congress in favor of Republican legislation on Iran.

Netanyahu’s defenders sanctimoniously say that he needs to warn Congress about the threat posed by Iran. I am aware of no members of Congress who do not support preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or who do not know where Bibi stands.

This is not about the U.S. vs. Israel. This is not even Obama vs. Netanyahu. This is about a terrible political miscalculation by Netanyahu and his Republican ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, aided and abetted by the Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner.

Vice President Biden, a pro-Israel stalwart for more than 30 years, will skip the speech. He could not possibly attend following this major and deliberate breach of protocol.

Some Democratic members of Congress also might not attend because the disrespect shown to the President by Boehner and Netanyahu. Let us be clear: Democrats are firmly pro-Israel and firmly in favor of policies that prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. What they are not in favor of is being used as props for a foreign leader’s re-election campaign and to humiliate Obama.

Even Israel’s consul general in Philadelphia, Yaron Sideman, said that the purpose of Netanyahu’s speech is to defy and humiliate Obama:

It is our impression that these people’s support for the speech stems from their identification with, and admiration for, a move to defy and humiliate President Obama, more than from the importance they attribute to the Iranian issue, which should be the center of the speech.

The former Mossad head, Meir Dagan, and a close advisor to Israel’s former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dov Wiesglass, were also very critical of Netanyahu’s speech, calling it an “excessive provocation” and warning of the “terrible damage” it will do.

In The Jerusalem Post, Douglas Bloomfield wrote similar things:

There is no known precedent for a foreign leader working with the Congressional opposition behind a president’s back to come to Washington to lobby against an administration’s policies… Netanyahu’s supporters are accusing the administration of snubbing the prime minister, but it is actually the other way around. The Congressional appearance was arranged in secret and was intended to be a platform for pressing for new sanctions legislation that Obama has threatened to veto.

Former Congressman Mel Levine was one of Israel strongest advocates when he was in Congress. He wrote an op-ed in Ha’aretz with Israel’s former ambassador to Jordan and the European Union, Oded Eran, stating that Netanyahu’s impending visit breaks away from “the fundamental principles that form the bedrock of Israeli-U.S. relations”:

This relationship should never be owned in the United States by one party, nor should it ever become a political football between Republicans and Democrats. Furthermore, both the United States and Israel should refrain from interfering in the domestic politics of one another.

Netanyahu – who cannot be accused of not understanding U.S. politics or the history of the U.S.-Israeli relationship — is guilty of all three sins.

Levine and Eran suggest that Bibi defuse the situation by meeting with bipartisan leadership instead of addressing a joint session of Congress. But that would make way too much sense.

6. Did Speaker Boehner Inform the White House Prior to Inviting Netanyahu?

In an absurd attempt to pull themselves out of the muck, some of our Republican friends are pointing to a New York Times correction stating that Netanyahu accepted Boehner’s invitation after the White House had been informed of the invitation.

It is supposedly nice that our Republican friends have so much faith in the New York Times that they even read the corrections, but let us get real: Even if true, the correction does not state who supplied this information, or more importantly, exactly who was “informed.” The truth is that the White House was blindsided by the invitation and only learned about it from press reports.

The bottom line remains that Boehner did not consult with the White House or his Democratic counterparts before extending the invitation, and if there was notice — all of two hours — before Bibi accepted, there is really no difference between that and no notice at all. It was a done deal, secretly prepared by the Republicans for weeks without the knowledge of the White House or congressional Democrats.

7. How Will This Affect U.S.-Israel Relations?

The good news from a pro-Israel standpoint is that despite whatever his personal relationship with Netanyahu might be, Obama has been rock-solid in his support for Israel from day one.

During his first term, Obama:

  • ordered the successful assassination of Osama bin-Laden,
  • built the international coalition that enforced the toughest sanctions ever against Iran,
  • restored Israel’s qualitative military edge after years of erosion under the Bush administration (and secretly sold Israel the bunker-busting bombs it requested but did not receive during the Bush administration),
  • increased security assistance to Israel to record levels,
  • requested funding for Iron Dome above and beyond those levels,
  • boycotted Durban II and Durban III,
  • took US-Israel military and intelligence cooperation to unprecedented levels, cast his only veto in the UN against a one-sided anti-Israel Security Council resolution,
  • opposed the Goldstone Report,
  • stood with Israel against the Gaza flotilla, and
  • organized a successful diplomatic crusade against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

After winning re-election, Obama:

  • spoke out against the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state at the U.N.,
  • reiterated his firm commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,
  • forcefully condemned Hamas while supporting Israel’s right to defend itself,
  • became only the fifth sitting U.S. president to visit Israel, and
  • supported even more funding for Iron Dome, which saved thousands of Israeli lives in the last Gaza conflict.

Obama has continued some U.S. policies that have been in place since 1967, such as vocal opposition and condemnation of settlements, not moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and urging “restraint” on both sides during wars, sometimes in almost the exact words used by the Bush administration. That is par for the course, even if our Republican friends continue to profess shock that the President adheres to decades-old U.S. policy on those issues, both in tone and substance.

Obama’s record on Israel is better than that of any Republican president. If this is how Obama treats Israel when he does not like Israel’s prime minister, imagine how he will treat Israel if Israel elects someone else.

Obama: “Bipartisan Budget Agreement Is a Good First Step”

President Obama called the Congress’s bipartisan budget agreement “a good first step” to grow the U.S. economy and create more jobs in an official statement:

Earlier this year, I called on Congress to work together on a balanced approach to a budget that grows our economy faster and creates more jobs — not through aimless, reckless spending cuts that harm our economy now, but by making sure we can afford to invest in the things that have always grown our economy and strengthened our middle class. Today’s bipartisan budget agreement is a good first step.

This agreement replaces a portion of the across-the-board spending cuts known as “the sequester” that have harmed students, seniors, and middle-class families and served as a mindless drag on our economy over the last year.  

President’s statement continues after the jump along with video of Speaker of the House John Boehner and graphics to help visualize the budget.

It clears the path for critical investments in things like scientific research, which has the potential to unleash new innovation and new industries.  

It’s balanced, and includes targeted fee increases and spending cuts designed in a way that doesn’t hurt our economy or break the ironclad promises we’ve made to our seniors.

It does all this while slightly reducing our deficits over time — coming on top of four years of the fastest deficit reduction since the end of World War II.

And because it’s the first budget that leaders of both parties have agreed to in a few years, the American people should not have to endure the pain of another government shutdown for the next two years.

This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like — and I know many Republicans feel the same way. That’s the nature of compromise.

But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.

That’s the way the American people expect Washington to work. I want to thank Senator Murray, Congressman Ryan and all the other leaders who helped forge this bipartisan agreement.

And I want to call on Members of Congress from both parties to take the next step and actually pass a budget based on this agreement so I can sign it into law and our economy can continue growing and creating jobs without more Washington headwinds.

But, as I said last week, the defining challenge of our time is not whether Congress can pass a budget — it’s whether we can make sure our economy works for every working American.

And while today’s agreement is a good first step, Congress has a lot more to do on that front. In the immediate term, Congress should extend unemployment insurance, so more than a million Americans looking for work don’t lose a vital economic lifeline right after Christmas, and our economy doesn’t take a hit.

And beyond that, they should do more to expand broad-based growth and opportunity — by creating more jobs that pay better wages, by growing our economy, and by offering a path into the middle class for every American willing to work for it.

Prove It

Speaker of the House John Boehner claimed, “There are not the votes in the House to pass a clean CR [continuing resolution]” and reopen the government. To that, President Obama called on Boehner to “prove it:”

If Republicans and Speaker Boehner are saying there are not enough votes, then they should prove it. Let the bill go to the floor and lets see what happens. Just vote. Let every member of Congress vote their conscience and they can determine whether or not they want to shut the government down.

My suspicion is, my very strong suspicion is, there are enough votes there, and the reason Speaker Boehner hasn’t called a vote on it is because he doesn’t apparently want to see the government shutdown end at the moment unless he’s able to extract concessions that don’t have anything to do with budget.

The House has already voted 46 times in a quixotic attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Why not try one up-or-down vote to fund the government? And another vote to raise the debt limit consistent with the spending Congress has already authorized?

Even if Boehner is right and there aren’t enough votes, what do we have to lose? If indeed a majority of the House is determined to keep government shutdown and undermine the credit worthiness of our nation, then let them vote “no” and face the voters next year for the consequences of such a decision.

Meanwhile, the shutdown is hurting Pennsylvanians: 71,000 Federal workers in Pennsylvania are going without pay, and 227,254 Pennsylvanian small businesses can no longer access certain government loans.


Satire entitled Applying government shutdown logic to the baseball playoffs by Atlanta Braves fan Paul Kaplan’s follows the jump.

On Cruz Control: Obamacare Not Halted by Gov’t Shutdown

Representative Ted Cruz has demonstrated his ability to cow Speaker John Boehner and shape the Republican agenda in the House of Representative. As intended, his grandstanding will shutdown the parts of the United States Government tonight at midnight, and raise Cruz’s prospects as poster boy for the Tea Party in the 2016 Republican primaries.

However, these theatrics and scary advertisements with a clown dressed up as Uncle Sam performing colonoscopies and gynecological exams will have no effect on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare” to some). The rollout of the insurance exchanges is mandated by law and will be unimpeded by the government shutdown.

Starting at midnight Americans around the country will have access to their state’s insurance exchanges, giving many Americans access to affordable healthcare for the first time, and giving the rest of us an important alternative.

Information on how Obamacare is working for millions of women after the jump.

Should We Mint The Coin?

— Crossposted from Democratic Convention Watch

 We'll start with the legislation:

The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may  prescribe from time to time.

That's from 31 USC § 5112 — Denominations, specifications, and design of coins, which you can read in its entirety here. So there's no doubt that Tim Geithner or Jack Lew. once he replaces Timmy, can just say "Mint it." By the way, in case you're wondering whose face should go on the coin, Paul Krugman has a great idea. Use John Boehner, Why?

Because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn’t be necessary.

Click here for a photo of what the Boehner coin might look like. Plus a few other possibilities.

More after the jump.

It always astounds me that Congress is ready to spend all sorts of money, but then won't pay the bills. It's EXACTLY like ordering a product on the internet with a credit card, and then refusing to pay the credit card bill, while playing with the new toy.

The GOP likes to say we're like Greece: that we'll end up with that kind of economy if we don't stop spending. But we're nothing like Greece for a whole list of reasons. First, we mint our own money, they're on the Euro, and therefore subject to outside forces in terms of getting money. They cannot print their own. Second, ours is the currency used worldwide not only for transactions, but also as one of the major currencies to which other currencies are pegged. Next, whereas Greece's debt is mostly external, most of ours is internal. That's right, we owe far more money to ourselves then to China or other outsiders. 

Finally, all this talk about "austerity" over stimulus is, and always has been, counterproductive and destructive. The IMF just put out a report on that issue. It looked at the effects of European austerity programs and found that for every dollar cut, economic activity was cut by $1.50. Thus, additional cuts to government spending will hurt the economy, rather than help it. It's a testament to the strength of our economy that the meager stimulus passed a few years ago has worked as well as it has, especially when considering the damage inflicted by the GOP. 

To my mind, there's just no question that minting the coin is the best idea. There's really no downside. Will someone try to sue the president for doing it? Sure. But it's unlikely that anyone will have standing. Why?

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

You should know from where that sentence emanates. If you want to carry it to the extreme, a case could potentially be made that refusing to pay sovereign debt is a form of insurrection. But I digress.

Will the House impeach the president? Probably. But he'll be acquitted in the Senate, and if we look at the last impeachment, well, Bubba the Big Dog doesn't seem to have suffered too much. And it's not a slam dunk that southern Republican Congressmen (and that is the last bastion of the teabaggers) will want to go down in history as impeaching a president for paying sovereign debt, in accordance with the US Constitution.

How will we look in the eyes of the world? Pretty good. Our leader will have stood up to obstructionism and nonsense to keep the largest economy in the world on track. Americans? The only people opposed to this would be people who don't believe the government should pay its bills. You know, the right wing wackos who want to destroy government. They who are represented by the same cretins in the House who have voted for the 34th time to repeal the ACA, and also put forth a bill to repeal the 16th amendment. (Yes, you should know what that says… if you don't, it's the one that allows Congress to collect taxes.) I'm not joking. It came from king of the crazies Steve King.

President Obama has said he won't negotiate on the debt ceiling. And he shouldn't. This is an easy out, and gives notice to the House that this time, things are different. America comes before their desire to destroy us.

Christie And King Angry Over Lack Of Aid For Sandy Victims


More after the jump.
Last Wednesday, New Jersey governor Chris Christie held a press conference and charged the House of Representatives for not voting on the $60 billion disaster relief package for his state and the other ones hit by Hurricane Sandy:

There’s only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocence victims: The House Majority and their Speaker, John Boehner.

This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. National disasters happen in red states and blue states, and states with Democratic Governors and Republican Governors.

We respond to innocent victims of natural disasters not as Republicans or Democrats but as Americans. Or at least we did until last night.

Last night, politics was placed before our oaths to serve our citizens. For me, it was disappointing and disgusting to watch.

In an interview for Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom”, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) also slammed his own party members:

All we’re saying is treat us the same everybody else has been treated. And why the Republican party has this bias against New York, bias against New Jersey, bias against the northeast? They wonder why they’re becoming a minority party? Why we’ll be the party of the permanent minority? What they did last night was so immoral, so disgraceful, so irresponsible. We’re supposed to be the party of family values, and you have families starving, families suffering, families spread all over living in substandard housing. This was a disgrace.

Netanyahu and Obama are in a similar bind

US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are both in the midst of fruitless negotiations for basically the same reason.

Obama is negotiating with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff while Netanyahu is negotiating with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The President offered Boehner huge concessions reducing stimulus spending from $425B to $175B, abandoning extension of the payroll tax holiday and slashing entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) by $725B in order to obtain a modest 2% increase in taxes for the wealthiest 0.7% of Americans which he could have obtained automatically simply by waiting for New Year’s. Boehner and Obama seemed close to an agreement and much was made of the fact that neither was willing to bridge the (relatively) small gap that remained between them.

However, in the end the inability to come to agreement with Boehner was probably irrelevant since Obama was negotiating with someone who did not have to power to deliver the votes. Boehner was unable to get enough votes to pass his own so-called “Plan B” which would have raised taxes on the poorest Americans by up to $1500 by eliminating the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit while simultaneously permitting tax rates to rise for 400,000 extremely wealthy families. Boehner’s failure Thursday night to win support for his plan from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party forced him to shutter Congress for the holidays  without avoiding the “fiscal cliff.”

Similarly, one Israeli government after another is having difficulty bringing Abbas to the negotiating table let alone coming to a peace agreement with him despite a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, economic support for the Palestinian Authority and other concessions. However, this failure is almost irrelevant since the Palestinian Authority is not really controlled by its nominal figurehead Abbas in Ramallah, but rather by Hamas in Gaza.

So why does Netanyahu waste his time talking to Abbas when it is clear that the leadership of Hamas holds all the cards?

The problem is that Hamas is a terrorist organization which by its very charter defines itself as devoted to the complete destruction of the State of Israel. By choosing essentially civilian targets and terror tactics, Hamas holds itself outside the rules of conventional warfare and maintains its status as a pariah organization with whom negotiation is anathema.

Similarly, the Tea Party has shown itself time and time again willing to hold the economy of the country hostage to its own interests. The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution says that our national debt “shall not be questioned.” Unlike Greece, our debt is in our own sovereign currency. If worse came to worst, our lenders should know that we can always simply print what we owe them, so they could consider United States Bonds to be completely risk-free and charge us the lowest rate available. However, by playing a game of “chicken” with the debt ceiling, the Tea Party puts the entire solvency of our country needlessly into doubt.

Now with the fiscal cliff, Grover Norquist and his Tea Party allies are unwilling to bend on the smallest tax increase for the wealthiest Americans in order to avoid across the board tax increases and automatic budget cuts will would certainly put our economic recover into jeopardy.  

Since Netanyahu and Obama’s real opponents (Hamas and the Tea Party) are intractable ideologues with whom there is no hope of negotiating, Netanyahu and Obama persist in hoping that negotiating with figureheads (Abbas and Boehner) will give their negotiating partners the “street-cred” necessary to make a deal.

Well, good luck with that!

Boehner’s House “Mandate”: Gerrymandering a Democratic majority

Last week, Americans voted not just for President but also for their Representatives and Senators. Results were mixed. In the Presidential election, Obama edged out Romney in both the Electoral College (332 to 206) and in the popular vote (51% to 48%). In the Senate, Democrats overcame all odds and not only held onto but actually expanded their majority. However, in the House of Representatives, Democrats only picked up 4-8 seats out of the 25 seats they needed to retake control of the House. (Four seats remain undecided: AZ-2, CA-7, CA-52 and LA-2.)

Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH-2) took solace in keeping the House. “We’ll have as much of a mandate as he [President Obama] will to not raise taxes.”

How is that the same electorate shows up at the polls and hands victories to the GOP in the House and to Obama and the Democrats in the Senate?

In fact, Boehner is wrong. There was no mandate for the Republicans to keep control of the House. In fact, a majority of Americans voted for a Democrat to represent them in the House of Representatives. According to Dan Keating at the Washington Post:

  • Democratic candidates for the House got 54,301,095 votes (48.8%) while
  • Republican candidates for the House got 53,822,442 votes (48.5%).

But if that is the case, why did more Republicans get elected than Democrats?

According to Ezra Klein,  

What saved Boehner’s majority wasn’t the will of the people but the power of redistricting. As my colleague Dylan Matthews showed, Republicans used their control over the redistricting process to great effect, packing Democrats into tighter and tighter districts and managing to restructure races so even a slight loss for Republicans in the popular vote still meant a healthy majority in the House.


In most states where Republicans controlled redistricting, the Democrats’ share of House seats was far beneath their share of the presidential vote. (Dylan Matthews)

That’s a neat trick, but it’s not a popular mandate, or anything near to it – and Boehner knows it. That’s why his first move after the election was to announce, in a vague-but-important statement, that he was open to some kind of compromise on taxes.

For example, here in Pennsylvania, the Republicans control the Governor’s mansion, the State House and the State Senate, and they used their control to gerrymander the state so that while the Democrats got a majority of the votes (53%) they only took 5 out of 18 seats (28%). They do so by packing Democratic super-majorities into a few districts. Brady won PA-1 with 85.0% of the vote, and Fattah won PA-2 with 89.4%. These huge margins represent wasted votes that potentially could have elected additional Democrats had the districts been drawn differently.

More after the jump.
The situation is not symmetrical in the few states controlled by the Democrats.

This isn’t as true for Democratic-controlled redistricting, and not just because Democrats ran redistricting in only six states. Democrats are just worse at gerrymandering when they get the chance. While Democrats outperformed their presidential vote in House races in Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, they underperformed in Arkansas and West Virginia.

This suggests that it’s going to be tough for Democrats to make big gains in the House until 2022, when the districts are drawn again following the Census. And for that to happen, they’d have to do quite well in the 2020 state legislature elections.

 

GOP’s 31st Quixotic Attempt To Repeal Obamacare

— by David Streeter

The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) today slammed the House Republican Caucus for continuing their quixotic campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act — the same bill supported by the vast majority of American Jews and deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court. NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris said:

This effort — the 31st such vote by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives — proves once again that Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) care significantly more about politics than policy, as this effort will simply not succeed. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has been found constitutional by the Supreme Court and will provide life-saving health insurance to millions of Americans. Sadly, House Republicans would rather waste time with one more unnecessary vote than focus on working to further improve on health care reform or focusing on job creation. Most Jewish Americans — along with countless others — supported Obamacare and millions of Americans will benefit from the legislation as it is implemented. It is way past time for Republicans to cease tilting at windmills and quit playing politics with Americans’ health insurance.

Profiles in Absurdity


Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) escorts Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) into the House of Representatives for the 2012 State of the Union

Part 3 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives
— Allen West’s belated Valentine’s Day message to colleague Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

To revive the economy, a majority of the House slashed  $126 million during February 2011 from the National Weather Service, the agency which operates the Pacific Tsunami Warming Center in Hawaii, which in turn issued warnings minutes after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

“The nation is in an historic fiscal crisis, and it is imperative that the Congress roll back spending in virtually every area — including NOAA — so that we can help our economy (get) back on track,” explained Jennifer Hing, GOP congressional spokeswoman

Tea partiers ignored safety concerns when they eliminated $61 billion in expenses. The House passed a bill slashing $61 billion, but the Democratic-controlled Senate disregarded the legislation.

More after the jump.
A union representative, quoted by the Associated Press, said the proposal could lead to furloughs and rolling closures of weather service offices, which might in turn impair the center’s ability to issue warnings comparable to those issued on March 11. “People could die,” said Barry Hirshorn, Pacific region chairman of the National Weather Service Employees Organization.

The weather service cuts were part of $454 million in reductions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation, all Democrats, asserted the need for the warning system, AP reported. “This disaster displays the need to keep the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center fully funded and operational,” said Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I hope my Republican colleagues in the House are now aware that there was a horrific earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific.”

Hing, spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, insisted that House members understand that critical lifesaving and safety programs are maintained, according to AP. She said funds for a network of buoys to detect tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean will be retained.
It would be devastating if Hawaii and California were struck by a tsunami without an opportunity to minimize the damage. Hawaii is a tourist mecca and California is our most populous state, home of countless, innovative industries.

One would think the Republicans are anxious to preserve that part of our economy.


Our system has produced many members of the House and Senate who have done well, and there have been times they disgraced their office. A few samples of the latter, mainly Republicans:  

John A. Boehner infused three odious attitudes into this Feb. 15, 2011, sound bite:

Over the last two years, since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We’re broke.

Boehner, Speaker of the House then, was accused of lying about those 200,000 jobs and shed no tears — his specialty, remember? — over lost jobs, but what’s really incredulous is his claim that “we’re broke.” He broke the national bank, along with most of his cronies in Congress and the former Bush administration. They could have saved programs under the “human services” label by raising taxes on the wealthy.

Thank the filibuster and the Senate’s composition. The Democratic majority in December 2011 sought to restore higher tax rates for couples earning more than $250,000 yearly, but the filibuster process blocked it.

George W. Bush entered the White House with a comfortable surplus and produced a colossal deficit. In between, the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and slashed taxes for the wealthy.

Our military forces exited Iraq at the end of 2011 and, at this writing, we are stuck in Afghanistan. In December 2010, Democrats in Congress sought to revive higher tax rates for the wealthy, but Senate Republicans filibustered their way to maintain the lower tax rates.

Boehner never complained. He must share the blame now that “we’re broke.” So be it.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Sen. John McCain reminded Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at a committee hearing that his governor sent her a request to waive Medicaid requirements to save $541 million in annual state expenses. This exchange was broadcast on C-span.

In March 2010, when Obama signed the watered-down Affordable Care Act into law. McCain did his part in quashing any chance for creation of a publicly-funded health-care system.

On Jan. 19, 2011, 242 Republicans and three Democrats in the House passed the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law.” Arizona’s Republican House members who voted for it were Jeff Flake, Trent Franks, Paul R. Gosar, Benjamin “son of Dan” Quayle and David Schweikert, while Arizona Democrats Ed Pastor and Raul M. Grijalva voted against the bill. Of course, Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was hospitalized after surviving the Jan. 8 assassination attempt.

Arizona was among 26 states challenging the health-care law in court. One federal judge even ruled the entire law to be unconstitutional. However, these challenges were expected to be decided by the Supreme Court.

At the same time, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer faced a cash-flow nightmare. Collectively, many states were contending with a budget gap estimated at $125 billion. Brewer wanted to make up for almost half the state’s deficit by dumping 280,000 Arizonans from Medicaid coverage.

She sent a letter to Sebelius asking for a waiver in the new health-care law that requires the states to retain eligibility levels if they want to receive federal Medicaid money, according to The New York Times; other governors in both parties planned to follow suit. She wrote:

Please know that I understand fully the impacts of this rollback, and it is with a heavy heart that I make this request. However, I am left no other viable alternative.

Brewer wanted to unload 250,000 childless adults and 30,000 parents from Medicaid who were allowed eligibility as the result of a 2000 referendum. It was funded from cigarette levies and a tobacco lawsuit until 2004, when the general fund took up the slack, according to the Times.

Here was my recommended response from Sebelius, the mild-language version:

Jan, you talk about a heavy heart. You and your pals in Congress have hardened my heart. Democratic governors will get serious consideration for a waiver, but not any of you knotheads from Austin, Atlanta, Tallahassee or your beloved Phoenix. You might not have this problem if your cohorts in Congress had not obstructed a serious initiative to reform our health-care system. As my Democratic friends from the Bronx would say, waiver this! And give my best regards to Sen. McCain.

Rep. Allen B. West, a Republican, revealed serious mental-health issues when he sent Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz a nasty personal note after she attacked his defense of a bill to reduce Medicare and other domestic spending on July 19, 2011. (Okay, so I’m not licensed to make m-h diagnoses; you judge).

The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reported that Schultz, a Democrat, took to the House floor and said:

The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries — unbelievable from a member from south Florida.

West left the chamber immediately after his own speech, prompting Schultz’s rebuttal on the floor. He subsequently fired off this memo to Schultz and House leaders:

Look, Debbie, I understand that after I departed the House floor you directed your floor speech comments directly towards me. Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the U.S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up. Focus on your own congressional district!

Actually, West focuses on a different congressional district. He lives in Schultz’s district, but represents an adjacent district covering parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, though that’s a minor aspect.

In a fundraising letter, West wrote that Schultz “attacked me personally for supporting the legislation.” He has also griped about criticism for being a black conservative, sort of the Clarence Thomas of  Congress.

Schultz’s criticism of West on the House floor is known as “fair game.” Politicians habitually snipe at each other over policy issues. The grown-ups take it in stride, but West could not, well, take it.

Schultz was on target when she told The Miami Herald:

It’s not really surprising that he would crack under the pressure of having to defend that. If he feels that concerned and gets that churned up over having to defend his position then he probably should reconsider his position.

Hmm… Since when was she licensed to make mental-health diagnoses?

Tom DeLay offered these words of wisdom on Jan. 10, 2011:

This criminalization of politics is very dangerous, very dangerous to our system. It’s not enough to ruin your reputation. They have to put you in jail, bankrupt you, destroy your family.

“This criminalization of politics” did not disturb DeLay when he engineered the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 because the president lied about…his sex life.

DeLay felt far differently about it when Travis County Court Judge Pat Priest in Austin sentenced him to three years in prison for money laundering and conspiracy — the result of his role in channeling corporate donations to Texas state races in 2002, according to the New York Times.

The evidence presented at the trial showed that DeLay and two associates routed $190,000 in corporate donations in 2002 to several Republican candidates for the state legislature, using the Republican National Committee as a conduit. Texas law bars corporations from contributing directly to political campaigns.

DeLay and his Republican friends pushed for Clinton’s impeachment on grounds that he lied in court about sexual activity with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern. There were suggestions that Clinton’s denial did not constitute perjury. Clinton did nothing that affected his presidential duties. However anyone regards Clinton’s behavior, what’s the difference in terms of his job?

It was petty stuff, which is what DeLay claims about his conviction and sentencing. In fact, he charges that the Democratic district attorney was using the law to avenge his empowerment of Republicans.

DeLay was not using the power of impeachment to avenge Clinton’s empowerment of Democrats?

DeLay’s hypocrisy surfaced then, but his abuse of the Constitution’s impeachment clause was offensive.

Impeachment is briefly covered in Article II, Section 4:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery and other high Crimes and Misdemeanors

.

The framers of the Constitution had higher purposes for the impeachment clause than settling political scores. Now DeLay, who appealed his sentence, felt victimized by an unfair legal situation. Bad law or not, he was still convicted of violating it.

Next excerpt: To change policy, change the system