Saturday, August 07, 2010

POLITICS: On The GOP Congress, 3-Year-Olds, & An Angry Weiner

You’ve seen this face before. The whiny, bratty 3-year-old whose favorite word is “no.” They’re a pain in the ass. You don’t even have to be a parent to understand how freaking annoying it is to try to convince a toddler to do something—ANYTHING—once said toddler has decided that “no” is its favorite thing in the world.

Johnny, you need to finish eating your lunch.
Now Michelle, you have to put your coat on or we can’t go to the park.
This is the last time, Mitch: stop the tantrum and get up off that floor and get into the bathtub.

Sound familiar? That’s right—it’s today’s Republican Congress, whining and harrumphing and throwing infantile tantrums over virtually every piece of legislation that’s come down the pike since 2006. And it keeps getting worse: since January of 2009, the Republican party has offered little in the way of substantive legislation, instead making a decision as a national party to simply oppose whatever the Democrats and President Obama offer.

The stimulus bill of 2009? GOP said no.
Health care reform? GOP said no.
Financial reform? GOP said no.
Deficit reduction commission? GOP said no.
Campaign donation disclosure act? GOP said no.
Extending unemployment benefits during a recession? GOP said no.
Medical assistance for 9/11 first responders? GOP said no.
Tax relief for small business? GOP said no.

It’s like a broken record. Can you name one piece of legislation in the past 18 months that the GOP has offered and promoted and championed—besides tax cuts, of course?

I didn’t think so.

And you know what the really messed up thing is about the above list? Half of the items are legislation that Republicans supported and helped (in some cases) write only a couple of years ago! But, like all 3-year-olds, rational, mature decision-making is not the modus operandi. It can’t be—they’re only 3-years-old, fer chrissake.

The 110th Congress, from 2006 to 2008, set the record for the most filibusters ever in U.S. history (112). Filibusters are sort of nebulous to many Americans. What is a filibuster? It’s basically like a 3-year-old saying “no.” A filibuster is a parliamentary action where one person (or many) can hold up or prevent a legislative body (like the Senate) from even taking a vote on a proposed law. The concept of a filibuster dates back to Ancient Rome. Nowhere in the U.S Constitution, however, is the filibuster mentioned. It’s a rule the U.S. Senate adopted for themselves in the mid-1800s to protect the minority party from being steamrolled by the majority. (At the time it was adopted, it was evoked to prevent abolitionist Senators from outlawing slavery.) It really has nothing to do with what the Framers of the Constitution intended—a simply majority vote in the House and Senate to determine the laws of the land.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell about to say "no"

For those who say both the Democrats and the Republicans are “just as bad” when it comes to obstructing legislation using the filibuster, I have but one fact-based comment: you’re absolutely, numerically WRONG.

Here are some facts:
• Since 1919 and the 66th Congress to the 111th in 2010, there have been a total of 878 filibusters, averaging 19.5 filibusters per two-year Congressional session (meaning 9.75 per year on average).
• In the 110th Congress (2006-2008), the GOP used the filibustered a record-breaking 112 times. That’s 13% of the total number of filibusters in U.S. history—in just two years!
• As of Spring 2010, the GOP already had 50 filibusters under its belt (final numbers won’t be known until the 111th Congress ends in January 2011). But it’s safe to say that as of Spring 2010, the same cast of bratty, 3-year-old Republicans we’ve seen since 2006 will be responsible for 19% (maybe the full 20) of ALL filibusters in our country’s Senate history.

 Think about that: 20% of ALL filibusters in the U.S. Senate’s history have occurred since 2006 when Mitch McConnell and John Boehner became leaders of the Republican party.

Here’s another way to think about it: in a 90-year rivalry between two football teams—let’s say the Bears and the Packers—there is an average of 10 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called every year (900 total). What if for the past 4 years, 180 unsportsmanlike conduct penalties were called —ALL of them against the Packers. Which team would you say is the dirtiest and most dishonorable group of players?

To put it bluntly, if you still think the Democrats and the Republicans are “the same” when it comes to using the filibuster to obstruct the legislative process imagined by the founders and described in our Constitution, you’re plainly an idiot. The GOP has been abusing the filibuster in the past few years unlike ANY party EVER in U.S. history.

This “Just Say No to Everything” approach to politics has been the orchestrated Republican strategy since 2006 when they lost control of the Congress. Even with George Bush in the White House, the GOP’s plan has been to stall, delay, and stop as many possible pieces of legislation as they can, often not even allowing the legislation to come to a vote in the Senate. Here’s one example: countless federal judge openings remain unfilled since 2008 because one Republican Senator—Dick Shelby of Alabama—used a rare procedure called the “blanket hold” on ALL of Obama’s judicial nominees. How’s that for doing the people’s business—allowing the people’s court system to get clogged up because one Republican Senator didn’t get a couple of special earmarks for his state and he threw a tantrum by blocking all judges until he gets what he wants.

Someone please give Dick Shelby a rattle and his binky.

For all the problems the Democrats have getting their own party together on some of the major issues and legislation over the past couple of years, what a total handicap to have had to deal with the GOP Congress’ filibustering and delaying tactics. Even in the fractious days of the Clinton administration, or the Reagan years before that, both parties argued their points of views vigorously, went to the mat to defend their ideas, but ultimately the Constitutional process was allowed to proceed as the framers’ intended—by allowing legislation to be voted on. The filibuster was occasionally invoked on both sides of the aisle, but it was rare.

Today’s GOP threatens a filibuster if the Democrats suggest the Senate take a potty break. It’s like trying to govern and solve problems with one hand and one foot tied behind your back. In some ways it’s amazing the Democrats have been able to accomplish anything. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been enough—and that has been part of the GOP strategy all along. When the one-handed and one-footed guy keeps falling over and can barely get anything done, the GOP is right there to stick its foot out and obstruct and then point at the wobbling one-handed/one-footed guy and complain about how ineffective he is at doing his job. Really kind of a douche bag approach to not governing.
House Minorty Leader Boehner saying "Hell No!"

So like any parent who has reached the brink with his or her 3-year-old’s shitty attitude, when tantrum number 7 hits and it’s not even lunchtime, sometimes you just crack. Yelling may not be the best answer to the situation, but sometimes it feels SO good. And it needs to be done.

Last week, New York Representative Anthony Weiner played exasperated parent for the entire nation when he lashed out at Republican Representatives on the House floor. There was a vote on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, legislation that would commit about 5 billion over the next 10 years ($500 million annually) to the medical expenses of 10,000 9/11 first responders ($50,000 a year per person) who risked their lives in the rubble of the Twin Towers and now suffer severe—even fatal—respiratory conditions. The bill is named after a New York City policeman who died as a result of what he breathed into his lungs while trying to rescue victims of the 9/11 bombing. Fifty grand a year to help these heroes pay for their medical bills as a result of their selfless actions? Seems absolutely reasonable, doesn’t it?

It is absolutely reasonable. In fact, many Republicans, including Rep. Peter King of New York, were major proponents of the bill. But here’s where trying to do the right thing for American citizens gets derailed by the political process—specifically the GOP delay and obstruct tactics. One of the things the GOP wanted to do to this bill is add on an amendment that no illegal aliens could possibly get any money from the medical fund. Now think about that: if an illegal in this country on 9/11—maybe a firefighter, an EMT, even a medical worker—spent time at ground zero helping victims of the attack, breathing in all the contaminants that every other first responder breathed in, why wouldn’t that person be eligible to receive some monetary compensation to offset his or her exorbitant medical bills? Isn’t that what we love in this country? The selfless, heroic actions of everyday people? You get lung diseases because you were helping to save American lives, but sorry—because you’re an illegal alien we can’t give you a dime to help pay for your mounting medical bills for the past 9 years. Oh—but thanks for saving those lives and stuff.

So why would the GOP want to tack something likes this onto a bill? Because it’s hate the illegal immigrant season during an election cycle, that’s why. With this kind of an amendment, the GOP could’ve once again delayed a vote on the bill knowing election fearful Democrats would have to think twice about voting for a bill that made them seem like they wanted to give illegal aliens ANYTHING, even if they were heroes. And the GOP had no intention, despite their recent protestations, of ever passing this legislation. Why? Because of how the Democrats wanted to pay for this 5 billion dollar bill.

See, since the 1990s, the Democratic party—not the Republican party—has had this crazy idea that government should pay for what they spend. From 1993 until January of 2001, the Democrats and the Clinton Administration paid down the national debt and actually produced an unheard of surplus. The Democrats did that—not the GOP. After the Bush administration’s multiple tax cuts, multiple wars, and multiple spending bills (like Medicare part D) that they never budgeted money to pay for, the Democrats, since taking control of Congress in 2006, have been passing legislation that is actually paid for. Same with this 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The Democrats’ bill proposed to pay for this act by closing the tax loophole that allowed foreign multinational corporations that are incorporated in tax haven countries like Bermuda or the Channel Islands to avoid paying tax on income earned in the U.S. And the GOP would rather take the pipe than close a tax loophole—even a loophole that benefits multinational, not strictly American, corporations. So the Democrats decided to use a House procedure that requires a 2/3rds vote to pass a bill and does not allow for any amendments (like the GOP illegal alien exception). This way, it’s a vote on the 9/11 Compensation bill that is paid for instead of adding to our mounting debt. And really, who would vote against such a bill when there was so much support across both aisles?

Your current model Republican party would rather vote for multinational corporate tax relief than the 9/11 heroes who sacrificed their health to save human lives. Republican New York representative Peter King made the case before the vote that had the Democrats allowed a different process—the one that would allow the GOP to delay and stall the vote by trying to add amendments like the illegal alien provision—then the GOP would vote overwhelmingly to support the bill. But they couldn’t vote on this clean, paid for bill because of the process. In light of the processes and procedures the physically ill 9/11 first responders have had to endure over the past eight years or so, representative King’s protestations fall hollow. And frighteningly infantile. Again: the GOP would rather protect multinational tax loopholes and try to score political points than provide medical assistance for the heroes of 9/11.

So no wonder Democratic New York representative Anthony Weiner exploded on the floor of the House right before the vote. His was not by any means the most productive response to the GOP’s lame procedural complaints, but Rep. Weiner said exactly what I think most Americans would’ve said when once again encountering the 3-year-old bratty tantrum. In the clip below, Congressman Weiner is yelling at is his fellow New Yorker Peter King, who had just made his complaint that the GOP couldn’t support this bill because of “the process” the Democratic majority had decided to use.

Kind of feels good to hear someone call out these Republicans for the manipulative, disingenuous cowards that they are and have been for the past four years, doesn’t it? We have watched one party attempt to address the key economic problems our country faces after 8 years of brazenly irresponsible Republican policy while the rat bastards who created the problems cross their arms and pout like infants and stomp their feet and say “No!” to every single idea offered. Like Rep. Anthony Weiner, I think most Americans are sick and tired of the GOP’s delay and derail tactics. And this 9/11 Medical Compensation bill is an extremely galling example of what happens when adults try to reason with infants prone to tantrums. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana may be the only GOP member who has been caught wearing diapers during his extramarital sexcapades, but the way the entire GOP relies on procedures like the filibuster or procedural complaints, perhaps the party would be best identified as Team Huggies.

Epilogue: you want to know what the most cynical part of the entire House vote on the 9/11 Medical Compensation Act was? GOP rep Peter King, the one complaining about “the procedure” the Democrats used for the bill, the one who claimed the GOP would all jump onboard if only the Democrats would’ve presented the bill for a vote in a different way, ultimately ended up voting FOR the defeated bill. As a New York representative, he knew damn well his constituents would’ve pilloried him if he had voted against the bill. To quote King’s fellow New York rep Anthony Weiner: Coward.