Friday Talking Points -- Congress Slinks Out Of Town

It was a busy week in Washington, since all the congresscritters were eager to get out of town for their not-so-well-earned five weeks of vacation. It'll take awhile for the dust to settle, so let's take a look at some of what's been happening while it does.

The Republican Party is apparently going full-bore with what appears to be their campaign strategy of: "Government doesn't work -- elect us and we'll prove it!" The infighting among Republicans has been nothing short of spectacular this week, with Rand Paul and Chris Christie insulting each other regularly, Ted Cruz calling his own party the "surrender caucus," and a House bill that just proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that John Boehner has lost whatever remaining shreds of control over his caucus he previously clung to.

In normal years, by the August break the budget bills should have been passed by the House. This leaves September for haggling with the Senate, so they can agree on something by the time the new fiscal year starts in October. "The budget" is actually a two-stage process -- first, an overall "budget blueprint" is passed, early in the year, and then a dozen "appropriations" bills are passed which spell out all the nuts and bolts. Earlier this year, for the third time in a row, the House passed the "Ryan budget" as their blueprint. Now they're supposed to make the numbers work. There's only one problem: they don't work, politically. Oh, sure, it's fun for Republicans to vote on Ryan's plan -- because Ryan's plan doesn't actually specify where all the budget cuts will be made. But then when you've got to decide what gets cut -- surprise! -- the entire exercise becomes political poison. What are the choices, after all? Cut the military? Well, no, the Republicans want to restore all the sequester cuts to the military. Raise taxes? Bwah hah hah! Not bloody likely in Republicanland! So they're left with making deep, destructive cuts in programs that actual Republicans like.

This was all on display this week, as a budget bill was brought up for a vote in the House, but then quickly withdrawn when it became apparent that not enough Republicans would vote for it. It seems there are Republicans who still balk at Ryan's scorched-earth budget, at least when the mathematically-inescapable facts of what it will mean are presented. So Boehner's House can't even pass a Republican bill now.

Their excuse was "there wasn't enough time in a busy House floor schedule to continue debate." Which is abject nonsense, because they spent the rest of the week passing bills for purely political reasons (one notable example: the 40th vote to repeal Obamacare), so they have some red meat to toss during this year's town hall season.

Think I'm being too harsh? Here's the Republican Appropriations Committee chair, on his own party's incompetence:

With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago. Thus I believe that the House has made its choice: sequestration -- and its unrealistic and ill-conceived discretionary cuts -- must be brought to an end. The House, Senate and White House must come together as soon as possible on a comprehensive compromise that repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic topline discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible -- and attainable -- way.

I have to admit I'm pretty amused by all of this, since I spent a lot of time and effort during the 2012 campaign pointing out precisely this fact: the Ryan budget's numbers don't add up. Now it's obvious to all. When Congress returns from it's long vacation, there are only nine workdays scheduled in the House in September. Predictions: a 90% chance of budgetary chaos ahead.

Let's see, what else? Michael Moore had the best commentary of the week on the Bradley Manning verdict, which is well worth a read.

Barack Obama seems peeved that members of his own party aren't thrilled with the idea of Larry Summers for Fed chair. He even reportedly -- in a closed-door session with congressional Democrats -- said something along the lines of "don't believe everything you read in The Huffington Post," who has been airing quite a bit of anti-Summers feelings. My takeaway: Obama reads Huffington Post? Hmmm... maybe he's reading this right now! Heh.

Looks like Uruguay is going to become the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana. Back here at home, Illinois became the 20th state to legalize medical marijuana. Gay marriage became legal in two states this week as well, bringing their total to 13 states. This has been our "arc of history" update....

In Virginia, a statewide Republican candidate has declared that you can't be a Democrat and be a Christian at the same time. Way to stay classy, Republicans!

And, finally, a rightwing group has hit upon the bright idea of having young folks "burn their Obamacare cards." Except for, you know, the fact that Obamacare cards do not actually exist. That's not stopping them, though! They faked one up you can print out, by using an old draft card and pasting the word "Obamacare" in where it said "Selective Service." This alone drew condemnations from those who remember real draft cards and what they meant.

The best comment, however, was from a reader of the story on the Washington Post website, who responded to the following quote from the FreedomWorks director of messaging: "Light it on fire and while it's burning say, 'I'm burning my Obamacare draft card because,' and then give a reason. The shorter it can be the better. I'm not saying it can't be long, but I don't want anyone to burn their fingers." The commenter responded: "Yeah, you don't want them to burn their fingers, because none of them have health insurance." Priceless.


If we handed awards out to Republicans, House member Scott Rigell would certainly get one, for his call to cancel the five-week vacation the House is about to embark upon. It's rare that anyone in Congress ever addresses their pathetically light schedule, so we thought he deserved a nod, even if he doesn't qualify for any of our awards, being of the Republican persuasion.

Well-qualified for their Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards this week are Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal, Ron Wyden, and Tom Udall, since their ideas to reform the F.I.S.A. court are so timely and relevant what with all the Snowden revelations. Their ideas don't go as far as the effort in the House to stop the N.S.A. data-gathering programs, but they are interesting proposals for reforming the way the F.I.S.A. court operates.

For proposing such reforms, in a very timely manner, all three are this week's MIDOTW winners. Read the story, and see if your own senators have signed onto the two bills (and then call them up and ask them why, if they're not listed as co-sponsors!).

[Congratulate Senator Richard Blumenthal on his Senate contact page, Senator Tom Udall on his Senate contact page, and Senator Ron Wyden on his Senate contact page, to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


Let's see, Ralph Nader thinks all American politics really needs are more self-financed billionaire candidates. Kind of sad, really, to see to what depths Nader has fallen. "Ralph's nadir," perhaps?

Anthony Weiner wants us all to know that he is "100 percent not" currently in any online sexting relationship. But the real news of the week from the Weiner campaign was the profanity-laden rant one Weiner staffer launched at an ex-intern who was dishing the dirt to the tabloids. Barbara Morgan unleashed one of the foulest on-the-record comments I have ever seen in politics, where the term "slutbag" was one of the nicer things she called the intern, Olivia Nuzzi. This prompted an amusing look at which media outlets actually printed the term "slutbag" and which didn't, mostly because all the rest of the rant was so unprintable. For her breathtaking rage, Barbara Morgan deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention.

But our real winner of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week was none other than Max Baucus. I wrote about this earlier in the week in more detail (and although I did use the wore "whores" more than once, I refrained from using the term "slutbag," in my own defense). Baucus is assuring all senators that any of them who care to defend enormous corporate tax giveaways in the income tax code will be able to do so in secret, as the National Archives won't release any such suggestions to the public for fifty years.

I said it before, and I'll say it again: this is Exhibit A of why most of the public despises Washington.

[Contact Senator Max Baucus on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 267 (8/2/13)

Republicans in the House are fractured right now. They are, bluntly, reaping the whirlwind they sowed by promising their constituents things they could not deliver. And they're about to hold a bunch of Town Hall meetings.

The good news is that progressives are attempting a full-court press, where people attend these town halls and skewer Republicans with embarrassing questions. This is a great idea, and everyone should either fully support it or even (should your location permit it) participate. So, this week, we're using our talking points section to suggest questions to ask Republicans, should you find yourself in a town hall meeting in the near future. These are just the ones off the top of my head, so feel free to suggest others in the comments.


   The definition of insanity

This one should appeal to common sense, across the political spectrum.

"I read that you voted for the fortieth time to repeal Obamacare. But you know what? It hasn't worked before and it ain't going to work now. Rather than spending so much time in an effort that is guaranteed to fail, why don't you propose a Republican fix to whatever problems Obamacare has? You used to talk about 'repeal and replace' -- well, repeal is a dead end. Isn't forty tries enough to teach you that? So why don't you attempt to replace it with your ideas instead?"


   What are you afraid of?

This one is just a plain schoolyard taunt, at heart.

"Why are House Republicans afraid to bring the Senate immigration bill up for a vote? There's no way it can pass unless Republicans join in a bipartisan effort with Democrats. Are you afraid that's exactly what will happen? You haven't managed to come up with any Republican bills on immigration yet, and you're obviously not going to any time in the near future. Democrats are going to raise the pressure to vote on the Senate bill -- so why not prove to them that it can't pass the House by holding a vote on it? Or can't Speaker Boehner hold his caucus together? What are you really afraid of?"


   Where's the farm bill?

This one is short and sweet.

"I see you've had time to vote on Obamacare forty times. Apparently this is more important to you than the farmers in your district. Where is the farm bill? Why have you not finished work on it? Maybe you need to reorder your priorities, Congressman."


   The House is not doing its job

Throw this one back in their faces.

"For years, I've heard you stand there and complain that the Democrats in the Senate weren't doing their job on the budget. You used to love to tell us how long it had been since the Senate passed a budget. Well, they've done so this year. So why can't Republicans in the House pass budget bills now? And why are Republicans refusing to even create a conference committee to get the job done between the two houses? You've made a lot of political hay about how Democrats weren't doing their constitutional job, but it seems to me like the shoe's on the other foot now. Why can't Republicans in the House pass budget bills?"


   Are you going to shut the government down?

Why not just ask them this, right to their face?

"I'd like to ask whether you are going to either let the government shut down by not passing a budget that Obama can sign, or whether you are going to destroy the credit rating of the United States of America by not passing a debt ceiling bill? Do you think that either of these things would really be helpful to Main Street America right now? Do you think either of these would help or hurt the economy as a whole? I am interested in your answers to those questions."


   God is not a Republican or Democrat

This point should be strongly made.

"I'd like to know whether you agree with the Republican candidate from Virginia, E. W. Jackson, when he stated that you can't be a Democrat and a Christian at the same time. Do you think that's true? I was taught that God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, personally, and the whole idea is in fact offensive. Doesn't the Bible have something to say about a speck in your neighbor's eye versus the beam in your own?"


   Having a nice vacation?

This one'll get the crowd on your side, guaranteed.

"I have a two-part question. The first is to ask whether you're enjoying your five-week vacation while still drawing your taxpayer-footed salary? Having a nice vacation, are we? Please remind me exactly how many weeks you spend away from Congress in one year? And my second part is to ask whether you would support a bill which would make it mandatory for all employers to give their full-time workers three weeks of paid vacation per year. Please explain why you would or would not support guaranteeing hard-working Americans a small fraction of the vacation time that you enjoy at our expense. Thank you."


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