Friday Talking Points -- 'Tis The Season

It is indeed the season. Yes, it's that magical time of year when the wee folk of Capitol Hill actually get something done. These brief bursts of activity only happen very rarely, of course, and always immediately proceed another one of the many, many long vacations Congress takes during the year.

Before the end of next week (so they can take a full three weeks off for the end of the year, of course), Congress has a lot on its plate to deal with. The House began the circus by boldly passing yet another "we hate that Obama is president" bill, showing what it considers crucially important to them.

The dangerous thing about these sprees of actual bill-passing, however, is that because there is so much frenetic legislative activity, it's easier to hide unpopular things in the midst of the frenzy. Both parties are guilty of this sort of thing, mostly because the public is so easily distracted. It's hard to get as outraged at a dozen things happening simultaneously, so most of them will escape any kind of scrutiny at all. Hey, 'tis the season, right?

Here's just one example out of many: John McCain is pushing a rider to the defense authorization bill (the funding for the Pentagon, in other words) that would allow Native American lands to be turned over to a mining company (who, incidentally, co-owns another big mine with Iran). Thought screwing the Indians out of their land was a thing of the past? Think again! An Apache spokesman responded by stating: "Since time immemorial [our] people have gone there. That's part of our ancestral homeland. We've had dancers in that area forever -- sunrise dancers -- and coming-of-age ceremonies for our young girls that become women. They'll seal that off. They'll seal us off from the acorn grounds, and the medicinal plants in the area, and our prayer areas." Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This happened during a week when an independent study was unveiled which concluded that Native American youth and education are in "a state of emergency." Maybe they can all get jobs working the mines, or something.

Of course, what Congress really has to accomplish before the end of the year is to pass a budget and to change the tax code (because it is the last chance they will have to do so before everyone files for the 2014 tax year). The big budget battle is scheduled for next week, so stay tuned for that. The big tax battle is happening now, mostly behind closed doors. Because both of these are big, complicated bills, the lobbyists are in a frenzy to insert all sorts of goodies they hope nobody will notice. Such as gutting the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that kept big banks from gambling on derivatives with taxpayer-insured funds. Just to show you how bipartisan this kowtowing to Wall Street is, the provision (written by a Citigroup lobbyist) was inserted into a budget debate by Representative Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut. When it was last attempted, it passed the House with 70 Democratic "aye" votes (122 Democrats, to their credit, voted against it).

Then there are the more-visible tax shenanigans happening to "temporarily extend" tax breaks for everyone who can afford a lobbyist (translation: not you and me), such as NASCAR track owners (you just can't make this stuff up). Harry Reid tried to put together a package to make many of these tax breaks permanent, but President Obama shot that idea down with a veto threat (because Harry threw wind energy tax breaks, the Earned-Income Credit, and the Child Tax Credit under the bus).

But it's not just Democrats who are ignoring key principles their party is supposed to believe in and fight for. Republicans were going to go along with the deal, even though it added 450 billion dollars to our national debt over the next decade. So much for the deficit hawks, eh? This $450 billion would not be paid for or offset in any way, meaning it's all essentially borrowed money. Not one single peep was heard from the entire Republican Party over all this deficit spending -- not one. I imagine there'd be a bit of an outcry once the Republican base got wind of it (if it had passed John Boehner's House) but so far... nothing. Again, so much for bedrock party principles.

It's easy to blame the mainstream media for not adequately covering this stuff, but in the spirit of the season, we're going to let them off the hook, because there were so many other stories that they also were busily and studiously ignoring -- like the one where an ultra-right-wing anti-immigrant homegrown terrorist shot up a Texas city in the name of his twisted concept of religion. The religion? Christianity, not Islam. If the same thing had happened and the guy had been carrying a Koran, imagine how different the news coverage would have been (and the sheer volume of it)!

Speaking of Islamic terrorism, yet another congressional investigation run by a Republican wrapped up and released its findings on the Benghazi attack. These findings amounted to: "Everything Fox News has ever said about Benghazi is completely false and there is no evidence for any of their conspiracy theories." Yet another big story the mainstream media (including the non-Fox media) largely chose to ignore, after breathlessly reporting on every rumor and crackpot theory for two years.

In other religious news, a Republican congressional staffer thought it'd be amusing to take cheap shots at the two Obama children, while passing a heaping amount of judgment on their parents as well. This quickly degenerated into "slut-shaming" the girls for the outfits they wore. After a weekend of outrage online, the staffer then attempted to apologize: "I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were. Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart." So, either these feelings had no place in her heart -- in which case she was publicly bearing false witness -- or she does indeed believe what she wrote and is just lying about it now. Hopefully, some of those hours of prayer included meditation on the Bible verse: "Judge not, that ye be not judged." Her apology wasn't enough, and she was forced to resign Monday morning. Now she'll have a whole lot of time for such self-reflection.

The city of San Francisco, after passing a $15-per-hour minimum wage, followed it up by passing a "retail workers' bill of rights" to end abusive practices by corporate franchises. Didn't hear about it on the evening news? Well, they had other things to obsess over in the past two weeks, didn't they?

Last year, the media went into overdrive to report night after night on the Obamacare website's many problems. Compare this coverage to this year -- the website is working fine, handling more people than ever, and half a million used it in the first week to sign up for health insurance. There's actually lots of good news on the health care front, shown by such headlines as: "U.S. Experiences Unprecedented Slowdown In Health Care Spending" -- that's a literal use of "unprecedented," since they've never before seen this happen in the half-century they've been collecting data. Missed that nugget on the evening news? So did I, but it doesn't surprise me much.

One good thing happening in the background of all the congressional dealmaking is that Democrats seem to be standing up for the legalization of marijuana in Washington DC. The citizens of the District overwhelmingly voted for a referendum to do so, and while one House Republican swears he's going to derail the new law any way he can think of, Democrats seem to be holding firm that no such measure will be attached to any spending bill that will get any of their votes.

While the only thing the mainstream media can comprehend is the immigration fight and the bare bones of the budget maneuvering, there is a whole lot more going on in the background, and it's only going to intensify over the next week (so that the congresscritters can all take the rest of the month off, of course). Pay close attention, because it is indeed that very special time of year when Congress actually does more than just posture for the cameras. 'Tis the season, indeed.


We're going to have to present the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award anonymously this week, due to the closed-door nature of who is getting it. We could give it to Nancy Pelosi, since she is the leader of the House Democrats, but until someone actually goes on the record standing up for the idea, it'll have to remain anonymous.

Buried in a Washington Post article on how House Democrats are using their considerable leverage with John Boehner over what gets into the "cromnibus" budget bill (which is due to be unveiled on Tuesday and must pass by Thursday to avoid another government shutdown) was the following interesting sentence: "Any attempt to block the District of Columbia from legalizaing [sic] marijuana also would earn the ire of Democrats, aides warned."

I expounded yesterday on the importance of this, because if true (and if they stick to their guns) it marks a big turning point. Congressional Democrats will -- for the first time ever -- be fighting politically for the concept of legalizing recreational marijuana. Previously, in a somewhat halfhearted manner, some Democrats have felt confident enough of their own voters' wishes to stand up for medical marijuana, but this is the first time the Democratic Party is drawing a line in the sand in a budget battle with Republicans over recreational weed.

I have said all along that this issue is only going to grow in political importance, and will be a major component of the 2016 race (since many states held off on attempting a legalization ballot measure until a presidential year, when more Democrats vote). If House Democrats are banding together and using the issue as leverage, it shows that the party may have gotten over being afraid of its own shadow on the subject. This is a very heartening shift, if true.

But since no Democrat has come out and publicly claimed their leadership in this fight (unnamed "senior Democratic aides" don't count), we have to rather anonymously offer up this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to whomever put his or her foot down and said: "We should stand up for this issue -- it won't hurt us politically, and it's the right thing to do."

If a champion of DC's new legalization law does come forward soon, then we will transfer over ownership of this award immediately. This week's "Golden Backbone" statuette is ready for engraving, in other words. All we need is a name.


This one, sadly, is pretty easy to identify.

Senator Chuck Schumer made some news this week when he used a speech to publicly admonish his party for passing Obamacare when they held both houses of Congress. What Schumer said, on the face of it, seemed reasonable enough -- that the Obamacare debate took up too much time and attention and Democrats should have been busy passing jobs bills and economy-boosting measures instead.

What Schumer didn't speak to, however, is that there was absolutely nothing stopping Democrats from doing multiple things at once. They held the House, by a comfortable margin. For the year and a half that Obamacare took to get passed, there was nothing stopping Democrats from passing any jobs bill they wanted. Or immigration reform, for that matter. Or any other sort of legislation they dreamed up. All of these bills could have made it through the House (many of them, in fact, did) and then when Al Franken was finally seated as the 60th Senate Democrat, Harry Reid could have just zipped them all through and placed them on Obama's desk to sign. Of course, they only held this supermajority in the Senate for two months (one of which they took off on vacation), until Ted Kennedy's untimely death. But still, there was nothing stopping them from walking and chewing gum at the same time.

There was only one thing that prevented this from happening, in fact, which is why the timing of Schumer's speech was so odd. With a more robust Majority Leader, more good things might have happened in the Senate. Harry Reid allowed the Obamacare bill to languish for months and months before finally moving on it. If another Majority Leader had different priorities (or less patience with people like Max Baucus and Joe Lieberman), it is a certainty that more could have been accomplished.

Which is why the timing was so strange. If Schumer had stood up and said what he did a few weeks earlier, then he could have mounted a leadership challenge to Reid -- who may lose his 2016 re-election campaign in Nevada anyway. But Schumer decided to vent right after Reid's reconfirmation as Democratic leader in the Senate for the next two years.

Schumer is one of two Democrats who will likely duke it out for the Senate leadership, whenever Harry Reid does step down (Dick Durbin is the other). If he truly felt so strongly that Democrats in the Senate had their priorities so out of whack under Reid, then the honorable thing to do would have been to state this loudly before the leadership elections in the Democratic caucus -- not after. Schumer then could have mounted a challenge for Reid's spot.

He chose not to do so. If he feels so strongly about the direction of the party, then he should try to lead it in a different direction. He obviously didn't. His carping came a day late and a dollar short. Which is why we feel Chuck Schumer is the only possible candidate for this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Not for speaking his mind and trying to change the direction of his party -- but for waiting until it was meaningless for him to do so.

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


Volume 329 (12/5/14)

Because it is the season of goodwill towards all, we are going to offer up some very positive talking points this week.

Democrats, as a whole, are notoriously reluctant to proclaim any sort of good news. They're even more shy about claiming any credit for good news. Now, it's obviously debatable how much influence politicians have over some of this stuff, but there are two enormous reasons why Democrats should focus on good news now and again. The first is that if the tables were turned, Republicans certainly wouldn't be shy about tooting their own horn (deserved or not). And the second is that if the news were gloomier, the Republicans would certainly not hesitate to attach all of the blame to Democrats (see: the past 50 years or so). Good or bad, Republicans are a lot better at hammering on such themes, you've got to admit.

In this particular point in time, Democrats are also shying away from proclaiming any good news because it might seem insensitive to those who haven't seen any tangible benefit from the good news. We've just been through the era of the Great Recession, and any hint of Pollyannaism would have appeared out of touch with average Americans' lives.

But at some point, that's got to give way to some degree of optimism -- especially when there is so much good news to choose from. America is doing better now, and even better days lie immediately ahead. So spread a little holiday cheer, for Pete's sake!

[Note: We simply have to give credit where credit is due -- this week's talking points were in large part inspired by a fantastic recent article from Eric Boehlert, which wondered where all the "Obama comeback" stories were. We doff our hat in Eric's general direction.]


   Jobs, jobs, jobs

This was the big news this morning, of course.

"America added 321,000 jobs last month, and the unemployment rate stayed at its lowest level since the summer of 2008. The last three months was the best quarter the labor market has seen since the financial meltdown. If this continues, this year will be the best on record for job creation since Bill Clinton was in office. We have added 2.65 million jobs this year, an average of over 240,000 a month. For the past 10 months, we've added over 200,000 jobs each and every month -- a record you'd have to go back to 1994 to match. Wages moved up slightly this month as well. It's really hard to see this month's job report as anything short of great news for the American worker -- the economy is improving faster than the analysts expected, and it now looks like a full recovery can be achieved next year. Compare that to when President Obama took office, and we were losing 750,000 jobs per month."


   American exceptionalism

This is always a good chord to strike, with the American people. We are doing one whale of a lot better than everyone else, so point it out. The following is a direct quote from President Obama, taken from the same article as the previous talking point.

Now it's been a long road to recovery from the worst economic crisis in generations, and we still have a lot more work to do to make sure that hard-working Americans' wages are growing faster. But the United States continues to out-pace most of the world. Over the last four years we've put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all other industrialized, advanced countries combined.


   More Americans say things are going well

This is also big news, because it comes from the American people, not politicians.

"For the first time since 2007, a majority of Americans say that things are going well. When asked whether things were going well or going badly in America, a new poll shows 52 percent said things are going well. This is the first time in a long time the people are becoming more optimistic about the future. What it shows is that more people are seeing things more positively than in the past seven years. You'd think this would be news, but all I see from the media is more fearmongering and doom-and-gloom. The future is looking brighter for a majority of Americans, so sooner or later the talking heads in the media are going to have to take notice."


   No Ebola pandemic

It's always useful to have a handy example, to show what you're talking about.

"You may think that previous remark is too snarky towards the media. I disagree. A month or so ago, the media went into full overdrive in an effort to scare the pants off John Q. Public over the threat of an explosion of Ebola cases in America. We got night after night of near-panic and wild speculation on the evening news, but guess what? The system largely worked, after its initial problems were addressed. For all that breathless reporting, you would have expected some followup to inform America: 'Hey, all those terrifying worst-possible-case scenarios never actually happened, folks!' I guess I must have missed all those stories apologizing for scaring the bejeezus out of everyone, huh?"


   Obamacare working well

This goes beyond the website, but it's a good place to start.

"You can go back further to see the disparity in how so-called 'journalists' treat bad news and good news. Last year, the mainstream media focused obsessively on the disaster of the Obamacare website's rollout. This year, there were no problems whatsoever, and a half-million people signed up in the first week of the open enrollment period alone. Where were all the stories on the evening news trumpeting this success? Again, I must have blinked and missed Brian Williams reporting the story that night. In fact, the story is much bigger than the success of the website -- Obamacare is working wonders in keeping costs down and getting more and more people insured. By any objective measure, the program is successfully doing exactly what it was designed to do. It has slowed the rise in health care costs down to levels never before seen, in fact, in the fifty years we've been collecting such data. There are all kinds of good-news stories about Obamacare, but somehow they never seem to make the news. Allow me to summarize what they aren't bothering to tell you: none of the Obamacare disaster scenarios which the news media has spent the last five years hyperventilating over has actually happened. Sure -- the website was broken. Then it got fixed. And the program as a whole is now doing great."



If the situation were different, the blame would be spread far and wide. So take some credit for how things stand now!

"The Dow Jones average is now flirting with 18,000 -- a new record high. If I had told you in 2009 that the Dow would be up before Obama left office by over 10,000 points, and that it would be so routinely hitting new highs that the news didn't even bother to report it anymore, would anyone have believed me? For all those people who routinely call Obama a Marxist or a socialist, he certainly seems to be doing a pretty bad job of it -- capitalism seems to be absolutely flourishing under his leadership, in fact."


   Two bucks a gallon?!?

Once again, a good argument can be made that politicians really don't control the world market that much, but that argument is never heard when the prices go up. So use the obverse argument when they go down! Republicans certainly wouldn't shy away from doing so, if they had been in charge.

"The fall in energy prices is the biggest noticeable improvement in average Americans' lives. Money they now don't have to hand over to the oil companies at the gas station stays in their pocket and can be freely spent on other things -- which has the side-effect of boosting the rest of the economy. America is well on its way to finally achieving energy independence, in fact. We're getting close to producing more than even Saudi Arabia now. If you blamed Obama for gas being over four bucks a gallon, then you've got to also give him credit now that gas is getting so cheap. Analysts are even whispering about the possibility of gas hitting two bucks a gallon again. That is the best economic news American families have heard in a long time, because it's such a big boost to everyone's wallet."


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