A Job For The Lame Duck Congress

November 14, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The Supreme Court has upheld the Ninth Circuit’s rather surprising stay of a federal district judge’s order striking down the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that bars homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.

I hear the “lame duck” Congress was looking for something to do.  Well, here it is.

No matter how you look at it, DADT is on its last legs.  It hasn’t made military sense for at least the last decade, ever since it became apparent that the primary effect of the policy was to provide a quick trip out of the military for desperately needed specialists such as Arab linguists.  Moreover, even the Pentagon’s own internal surveys of military members and their families (the Pentagon may have included the families out of the belief that military wives would be even more opposed to homosexuals serving openly than their military husbands) show that a clear majority favors getting rid of the ban.

The fact that the military downside of DADT was pointed out by a rock-ribbed Republican stalwart highlights the fragility of the once-impregnable political coalition underlying DADT as well.  In 1993, homosexuality was still widely stigmatized.  Bowers v. Hardwick was only 7 years old and popular culture featured openly figures primarily in the role of freaks, from Boy George to Pee Wee Herman.  But now Bowers v. Hardwick has been overruled, overwhelming majorities of young people accept homosexuals as peers, and you can’t swing a dead cat through the Thursday night TV lineup without hitting 4 openly gay characters and a polyamorous switch-hitter for good measure.  The only way DADT worked as a deterrent to openly gay service members was if the threat of an honorable discharge for being gay still carried some stigma in the wider culture.  It never should, but now it just doesn’t.

Unfortunately, incoming Republicans don’t see it this way.  High on their overwhelming victory in midterm elections, they are unlikely to see DADT as the moral, legal, and practical anachronism it has become.  Instead, they are likely to give in to their socially conservative base, represented by the most antediluvian elements of the Tea Party and the relentlessly super-religious Sarah Palin.  They won’t repeal DADT even though the military’s own review of the policy has shown it to be unnecessary.

So a more perfect job for the “lame duck” Congress could not possibly be found.


The Moderate Voice

Priorities for Congress surface

November 14, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

(CNN) – When Congress returns for its lame duck session this week, its members will have to decide which issues to tackle first, and according to one Republican, that will not include a discussion of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn said the priorities should be passing a continuing resolution so the government will continue to run through January and addressing the tax cut extensions.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of appetite to try to jam stuff through,” Cornyn said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said he supports changing the military policy, but conceded, “Who know what’s going to happen in the lame duck.”

Last week Warner proposed extending the Bush-era tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans and repealing them for the top two percent of income earners. The savings, he said should be invested in businesses.

Warner said he doesn’t think anyone has signed on to the plan yet, and Cornyn was ambivalent about the proposal.

“The most important thing the economy needs now is certainty,” Cornyn said. “We don’t need to raise taxes on anyone during a fragile economic recovery.”


CNN Political Ticker

Number of Vets in Congress goes up in 2010 Midterm election

November 13, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

There are a total of 535 legislators in Congress – 435 House members and 100 Senators.

Many of us here have talked about the absolute necessity of seeing veterans of military service among those who make our nation’s laws, for obvious reasons.

Well, take heart veterans – we’re better off today in that department than we were on November 1st.

Congressional Quarterly reports that the freshman class of the 112th Congress includes 25 military veterans, with three in the Senate and the rest in the U.S. House. All of the incoming House military vets are Republicans.

There are 120 military veterans in the current Congress, according to the Congressional Research Service. Their ranks include 25 senators and 95 House members (including one delegate).

I’m not sure if all the current incumbent vets kept their seats, however if they did, we’d have 142 veterans in the House and 28 in the Senate. With the plethora of caucuses in each chamber of Congress I’d love to see a Veteran’s caucus formed in both the House and Senate. They could become critical voting blocs in both the arena of defense and veteran’s affairs. And in both areas, that would be a good thing.



BLACKFIVE

Welcome to Congress

November 13, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

You’ve endured a long hard campaign season, weathered vicious attacks from your opponent, on Election Night, you triumphed, and now you will take your seat in the 112th Congress.  Now the real work begins.

While much of your time from now through your swearing in will be filled with thanking supporters, hiring staff, and retiring campaign debt, it is imperative that you devote some time to reflect on what is that brought you to this point.  Why did the voters select you on Election Day; what do they expect from you; and how will you make good on your promises to the American public?

Republicans gained over 60 seats in the House of Representatives this Election Day.  This electoral tsunami is a reflection of how the American public is feeling.  They are tired of President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and their failed liberal agenda.  From Obamacare, to flawed economic stimulus packages, to cap and trade, they’ve had enough.

The voters embraced your candidacies and ultimately cast their ballots for you because they want a real change.  They want principled conservatives who will come to Washington and stand firm on their promise to cut spending, restore fiscal discipline, and actually create an environment that fosters economic growth and job creation.  There are a few bold ideas that Americans endorsed by electing you on November 2nd, which if accomplished will help correct the course of our great nation.

Make the Bush Tax Cuts Permanent

The current Congress has shown an unwillingness to make the Bush era tax cuts permanent.  Because the Democrat majority has focused on class warfare rather than leadership, our nation stands ready for one of the largest tax increases in its history.  The Bush tax cuts doubled the child tax credit, lowered capital gains tax rates, eliminated the marriage penalty, and lowered all tax brackets.  In these troubled economic times, allowing these tax cuts to expire will have disastrous consequences.

Repeal Obamacare

On March 21, 2010 the House of Representatives passed the unconstitutional Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.  The hastily crafted legislation was written behind closed doors and did not afford Members of Congress the opportunity to read, much less understand the legislation before voting on it.  Contained within the bill is an unprecedented mandate that individuals purchase private insurance.  This affront to Federalism requires that Americans purchase a government-approved product, or face a substantial fine.  The government can’t tell you what kind of car to purchase, how can it tell you what kind of health care is acceptable?  Repeal this unconstitutional legislation.

Change the Way Washington Works

While the policy agenda is important, so too is the business of how our government operates.  As we saw in the last Congress, neither Members nor their staff had sufficient time to read voluminous legislation before being forced to cast their votes.  During the healthcare debate, Republican Leader John Boehner cautioned:

“And look at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly, with transparency and accountability?  Without backroom deals, and struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people? Hell no, you can’t!

Have you read the bill?  Have you read the reconciliation bill?  Have you read the manager’s amendment?  Hell no, you haven’t!”

Learn from this legislative debacle.  Support efforts to place every bill online for at least 3 days before voting on it.

Another important legislative guideline – say no to earmarks!  The American people are tired of legislation being crafted in backroom deals based on personal interests.  There should be no more “Cornhusker Compromises,” “Louisiana Purchases,” or “Bridges to Nowhere.”  If the Congress is to enact legislation it should be for the good of all Americans, not the special interests of the few.

We’ve already seen members of the political establishment express a need to “co-opt” the incoming freshman members who are proud Tea Party conservatives.  I’ve seen far too many Members of Congress come to town and forget the principles and values that their constituents embraced when sending them to Washington.

Stay true to your values, stay true to your principles, and as Jefferson Smith exhorted in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington:

“Just get up off the ground, that’s all I ask. Get up there with that lady that’s up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won’t just see scenery; you’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties…

Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again!”


Big Government

What Does the Lame-Duck Congress and the White House Counsel Have in Common?

November 13, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Sandy Levinson has supplied an energetic critique of the features of our government that are “hard-wired” into the Constitution. I have been targeting smaller game – pathological institutions that can be eliminated without profound constitutional transformations. Take the White House Counsel, for example: Congress could defund it or the President could choose to eliminate it on his own.

But before anything like this can happen, legal scholarship must expose the dangers of relying on such a politicized institution to provide the president with legal advice. Beltway news media and power-brokers endow the status quo with tremendous normative authority: the Counsel’s office exists, therefore it must be OK. But the truth is that it’s a newcomer on the scene — before John Dean hired a small legal staff in the White House Counsel’s office during the Watergate era, Presidents relied on the less politicized advice of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department. It’s the job of legal scholars to emphasize the contingency of the current arrangement, and prepare the way for constructive reform efforts.

My recent work has focused on the presidency, but an op-ed of mine in today’s Washington Post applies the same approach to Congress. Both the media and the Beltway are busy talking about the upcoming agenda for the lameduck Congress without asking whether lameduck Congresses are constitutionally legitimate. But Progressives of an earlier generation said No, and fought a decade-long struggle to abolish regular lameduck sessions by enacting the twentieth amendment in 1933. Indeed, it is only since 1994 that Congresses have routinely convened lameduck sessions after the election. Curiously, the break with earlier Progressive understandings began in the 1970′s – just at the time when John Dean was breaking new ground as Nixon’s White House Counsel.

Perhaps we have been underestimating the pathological consequences of Watergate?

Balkinization

Are Obama and Congress Set To Screw Homeowners and Give Wall Street Mortgage Banksters a Retroactive Immunity Bailout?

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

There are rapidly emerging signs the Obama Administration is actively, quickly and covertly working furiously on a plan to retroactively legitimize and ratify the shoddy, fraudulent and non-conforming conduct by MERS on literally millions of mortgages.

From CNBC:

When Congress comes back into session next week, it may consider measures intended to bolster the legal status of a controversial bank owned electronic mortgage registration system that contains three out of every five mortgages in the country.

The system is known as MERS, the acronym for a private company called Mortgage Electronic Registry Systems. Set up by banks in the 1997, MERS is a system for tracking ownership of home loans as they move from mortgage originator through the financial pipeline to the trusts set up when mortgage securities are sold.

Just to make clear the implications of this craven action, the White House and Congress are conspiring to give a get out of jail free bailout card to the biggest banks and finance companies in the country to cover up and mask their illegal behavior and behavior that did not conform with state, county and local laws throughout the United States. On at least sixty (60%) percent of the existing mortgages in America.

There are dozens of implications to individuals and both private and public entities. At a root minimum, it will likely decimate, if not bankrupt, most counties in every state of the union.

If courts rule against MERS, the damage could be catastrophic. Here’s how the AP tallies up the potential damage:

Assuming each mortgage it tracks had been resold, and re-recorded, just once, MERS would have saved the industry $ 2.4 billion in recording costs, R.K. Arnold, the firm’s chief executive officer, testified in 2009. It’s not unusual for a mortgage to be resold a dozen times or more.

The California suit alone could cost MERS $ 60 billion to $ 120 billion in damages and penalties from unpaid recording fees.

The liabilities are astronomical because, according to laws in California and many other states, penalties between $ 5,000 and $ 10,000 can be imposed each time a recording fee went unpaid. Because the suits are filed as false claims, the law stipulates that the penalties can then be tripled.

Perhaps even more devastatingly, some critics say that sloppiness at MERS—which has just 40 full-time employees—may have botched chain of title for many mortgages. They say that MERS lacks standing to bring foreclosure actions, and the botched chain of title may cast doubts on whether anyone has clear enough ownership of some mortgages to foreclose on a defaulting borrower.

Why would the Obama Administration and Congress be doing this? Because the foreclosure fraud suits and other challenges to the mass production slice, dice and securitize lifestyle on the American finance sector, the very same activity that wrecked the economy and put the nation in the depression it is either still in, or barely recovering from, depending on your point of view, have left the root balance sheets and stability of the largest financial institutions on the wrong side of the credibility and, likely, the legal auditory line. And that affects not only our economy, but that of the world who is all chips in on the American real estate and financial products markets.

What does that mean to you? Everything. As quoted above, even the most conservative estimate (and that estimate is based on only a single recording fee per mortgage, when in reality there are almost certainly multiple recordings legally required for most all mortgages due to the slicing, dicing and tranching necessary to accomplish the securitization that has occurred) for the state of California alone is $ 60 billion dollars. That is $ 60,000,000,000.00. California alone is actually likely several times that. Your county is in the loss column heavy from this too.

Where will the roads come from? Where will the county courts, judges and prosecutors come from? The Sheriffs? Who will build and maintain the bridges, parks and public works entities? Removal and obviation of this funding mechanism may literally kill any and every county.

That is without even going into the real and myriad effects on individuals, families and communities. This is a death knell to the real property system as we have always known it and the county structure of American society as we have known it. And millions of people will have lost the ability to benefit from the established rule and process of law that they understood and relied on. After the fact. Retroactively. So Obama and Congress can once again give a handout and bailout to the very banks and financial malefactors that put us here.

Related posts:

  1. Obama Admin: Look Forward! Even in the Face of Obvious Corporate Fraud!
  2. Some Questions on Principal Reductions
  3. Want to Sue the Banksters? Ask WhereIsTheNote


Emptywheel

Supreme Court Denies Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Appeal, Advocates Press Congress To Act Before The Courts

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Earlier today, the Supreme Court denied a request to vacate the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals’ stay of an earlier district court injunction that prevented the Pentagon from enforcing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The decision comes just days after Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Congress that if it doesn’t act to repeal the ban during the lame duck session, the issue could be decided by the courts. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen echoed Gates’ comments over the weekend.

In a statement issued from Afghanistan, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) — a strong advocate of repeal — reiterated what is quickly become a dominant talking point in the debate. “While this is a disappointing decision, it demonstrates the need for Congress to take action now,” she said. “We must put our national security first and repeal this corrosive policy now.” Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) agreed, noting, “While I’m disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today, the silver lining is that it gives Congress another chance to change the policy in an orderly way that incorporates the concerns of the military.” Repeal advocates hope to persuade Congress that by taking control of repeal, it can accommodate the needs of the military and ensure an orderly transition.

And while gay rights groups have seized on this Washington Post story which reported that the Pentagon’s study of the policy had concluded that servicemembers wouldn’t mind serving alongside gay troops, the Log Cabin Republicans — the plaintiffs to the DADT lawsuit — are suggesting that the White House is less than engaged in the process. R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, told The Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel that he has had four separate meetings with persuadable Senate offices and “all of them mentioned that they had not yet heard from the White House about supporting a DADT repeal.”

“[T]hese are all senators who would be willing to have a dialogue, and they have not heard from the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, which is an arm of the Executive Office of the President,” relayed Cooper. “So again, if President Obama is serious about this as a legislative priority, there are Republican offices that need a phone call.”

Wonk Room

Baucus Backs Effort To Repeal ACA’s 1099 Provision, But Will Congress Agree On The Pay-Fors?

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has announced that he will introduce legislation to repeal the 1099 reporting requirement in the Affordable Care Act. The provision, which requires small businesses to report any purchases over $ 600, was intended to increase the tax compliance of sole proprietors, but has been condemned as overly burdensome by a bipartisan group of lawmakers — including President Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and small business advocacy organizations like the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the requirement would generate $ 17 billion in revenue over 10 years.

“The proposal was originally written to keep taxes low by giving the IRS more tools to ensure all owed taxes were paid,” Baucus’ press release reads. “However, following passage of the law, some business owners expressed concern that when the provision does go into effect, the forms would place too large of a paperwork burden on businesses struggling in a still-recovering economy.” In response to those concerns, Baucus said he would “repeal the new reporting requirements and look for other ways to improve tax compliance and keep taxes low.”

Two previous efforts to repeal the measure failed in the Senate. Sen. Mike Johanns’ (R-NE) proposal would have repealed the tax reporting requirement for small businesses, but made up for the $ 17 billion revenue shortfall by eliminating $ 11 million from the Preventive Health Task Force and weakening the individual health insurance mandate. Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) alternative proposal would have required only larger businesses to report their transactions with vendors. Baucus’ office did not specify how the Senator would pay for the repeal or return requests for comment.

NFIB President Dan Danner praised Baucus’ announcement just minutes after it became public. “We are pleased Senator Baucus has announced his support for full repeal of the 1099 provision and are eager for him to formally introduce his bill when Congress returns,” Danner said in a statement. “The sooner Congress repeals this burdensome provision, the better.” Asked about the organization’s quick response, NFIB spokesperson Stephanie Cathcart told me the group has worked closely lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to build momentum to repeal the provision. She said NFIB did not help craft the Baucus’ particular repeal provision.

For repeal to succeed, Senators would have to waive the pay-go rules or find $ 17 billion in savings — a tall order given today’s partisan environment. Democratic have previously proposed paying for repeal with unspent stimulus funds (a bad idea), changing the inheritance tax (which is likely to get some GOP support) or levying a tax on carried interest.

Wonk Room

Brazil Concerned About Clown Elected To Congress

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

http://img.youtube.com/vi/HK4p35wYgXI/0.jpg

Sometimes the news just writes itself.

Sao Paulo’s Grumpy The Clown won election handily to the country’s congress, getting more votes than any other candidate.

Only now his election is being questioned on the grounds he may be illiterate.

Francisco Silva, AKA Tiririca — “Grumpy” in Portuguese — received about 1.3 million votes, nearly twice as many as the next-highest vote-getter in last month’s congressional race.

His campaign videos were classics and drew millions of hits on on the Internet, with slogans like “It can’t get any worse” and “What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don’t know. But vote for me and you’ll find out.”

Naturally, he won big. People always like honesty.

But then Judge Aloisio Silveira ruled that there were discrepancies between the handwriting on Silva’s application to run for Congress, on the affidavit in which he affirms he can read and write and in autographs he gave to fans.

So Grumpy was forced to undergo a test.

Afterwards, the president of the electoral court, Judge Walter de Almeida Guilherme, told reporters that Silva “read and wrote” during the test, but refused to give out any more details. There will probably be a final ruling shortly on whether Grumpy goes to Congress.

I fail to see what the problem is, amigos. Trust me, we’ve been dealing with illiterate clowns in our Congress for years, and Grumpy sounds a lot better than most of them. You should seat him.

By the way, if Alvin Greene is still reading these pages, take note. There may be an entirely new career path for you opening up in Brazil.


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J O S H U A P U N D I T

Why wait to seat the new Congress?

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

I quoted it in this morning’s Wonkbook, but Bruce Ackerman’s op-ed calling for legislation to abolish the lame-duck session of Congress seems a little funny to me. It would make a lot more sense to just inaugurate members of Congress immediately following an election, rather than have a two-month period where nothing can happen or where a just-ousted Congress can pass legislation.

In 1932, when the 20th amendment shrunk the lame-duck period from five months to two, it was reasonable to allow time for vote counting. Today, with odd exceptions such as this year’s Senate race in Alaska, victors are generally known the next day. Allowing a week or two for logistical reasons makes sense, but there’s little reason for a larger break. Sure, recounts could drag into the next Congress, but that happens anyway. Al Franken took office in July 2009, long after the 2008 election.

This would be tougher to enact than Ackerman’s solution, as it would require a constitutional amendment. But two months is a long time for Congress to not be able to pass legislation, or for a Congress many view as illegitimate to be in power. What’s more, forcing an immediate transition would force candidates to think about things such as staffing and committee assignments during the campaign, which could result in more prepared and informed challengers.

Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.







Ezra Klein

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