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For the first time, the clerk of the US House of Representatives does his duty under the law and collects campaign finance reports, as mandated by the 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act (see 1925). W. Pat Jennings, a former congressman, turns in a list of violators to the US Department of Justice. Jennings’s list is ignored. (Center for Responsive Politics 2002 )
After sundown, the FBI begins playing extremely loud music into the Branch Davidian compound, currently under siege (see March 1, 1993). Musical selections include chanting by Tibetan monks, Christmas carols, and an array of pop selections from the early 1960s. At dawn, a trumpet sounds reveille over and over again. The New York Times says the aural barrage is “apparently intended to somehow irritate the cult’s leader, David Koresh, into surrender,” and calls it “just one of many increasingly weird features of the nearly monthlong standoff.” Onlookers over two miles away, kept from coming closer by police barricades, can hear the music “when the winds are right—or wrong,” the Times observes; some federal agents choose to wear earplugs to protect themselves from the din. FBI agent Bob Ricks says the musical selections are made in a variety of ways: “Some of that is within the discretion of the people who are out there on the scene, some of it is intentional, and I won’t go into the intentional part.” Peter DiVasto, director of the Department of Energy’s hostage negotiations program and an Albuquerque, New Mexico, police psychologist, says the music is part of a psychological strategy to try to get the besieged Davidians to give up. “The purpose of playing the music is to be disruptive, to create mild discomfort without creating a precipitous event,” DiVasto says. He jokes that the FBI has not gotten serious about its musical assault yet. “If they go Barry Manilow,” he says, “it’s excessive force.” The Davidians are quite agitated by the music; Koresh informs the FBI that “[b]ecause of the loud music, nobody is coming out.” (That day, seven Davidians left the compound—see March 21, 1993.) The loudspeaker system malfunctions shortly after Koresh’s pronouncement, and the rest of the night passes quietly. Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider will complain about the music the next day; FBI negotiators blame the FBI tactical agents for the music. (Verhovek 3/25/1993; Moore 1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995) Robert Louden, a former hostage negotiator, says: “The idea is not so much to drive them from their lair as it is to reaffirm the communication process. Music and almost any other noise can have an effect, and what you’re looking for is a reaction to the noise. You’re not exactly sure what it’s going to do, and you want to be sure that it’s not going to set them off like a firecracker. There’s a calculated risk.” (Pareles 3/28/1993) In 1995, author Carol Moore will speculate that the seven Davidians leaving may have been the beginning of what she calls a “mass exodus.” If that is true, then the FBI’s insistence on blasting loud music into the compound may have stymied that initiative. (Moore 1995) A 1996 investigation by the House of Representatives cites expert opinions that the music and the encroachment of armored vehicles into the compound (see March 25-26, 1993) are “exactly the wrong tactics.” The report will conclude, “More than simply bonding the Davidians together, experts concluded that these actions proved Koresh right in the minds of the Davidians.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
The FBI delivers an ultimatum to the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993): 10 to 20 people must leave by 4 p.m., or some unspecified action will be taken. At 4 p.m., when no one leaves, armored vehicles move into the compound and destroy motorcycles and go-carts. That night, the FBI again bombards the compound with floodlights, loud music, and helicopters buzzing the buildings (see March 22, 1993). The following morning, the FBI issues another ultimatum, and the armored vehicles begin clearing the front side of the compound. (Moore 1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995) A 1996 investigation by the House of Representatives cites expert opinions that the encroachment of armored vehicles into the compound and the extraordinarily loud music blasted into the main building (see March 21, 1993) are “exactly the wrong tactics.” The report will conclude, “More than simply bonding the Davidians together, experts concluded that these actions proved [Branch Davidian leader David] Koresh right in the minds of the Davidians.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
The House of Representatives concludes a 10-day series of hearings on the series of events that concluded with the fiery deaths of scores of Branch Davidian members near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and Late July 1995). The hearings do not find evidence of a White House-driven conspiracy to either destroy the Davidians or cover up the truth of the matter, as some Republican House members had predicted. An Orlando Sentinel article says that many of the questions from those House Republicans “seemed fueled more by politics than any true desire to ensure that the government avoid future fiascos a la Waco.” The hearings determined that President Clinton did not micro-manage the events of the siege and ultimate assault, nor did they find evidence that Clinton ordered the assault to prove, as some House members alleged, that his administration is “tough on crime.” Committee co-chair Bill McCollum (R-FL) acknowledged at the end of the hearings that the raid, siege, and final conflagration were caused by a string of blunders by federal law enforcement agencies. Attorney General Janet Reno testified as to why the FBI’s final assault seemed at the time to be the best approach; her overriding concern was to remove Davidian leader David Koresh without harming the children inside the compound. A Davidian who survived the fire testified that the fires that devastated the compound were started under orders from Koresh. (Marquez 8/4/1995) In emotional testimony before the House, former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agent Robert Rodriguez, who served as an informant for the BATF inside the Davidian compound, said he was angered and dismayed by his superiors’ decision to raid the compound even though the Davidians knew they were coming (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Rodriguez testified that two of his then-superiors, Philip Chojnacki and Charles Sarabyn, lied to the committee when they said they did not know that the Davidians had been alerted to the February raid. Chojnacki and Sarabyn were fired for their mismanagement of the BATF raid and for covering up evidence of their malfeasance (see Late September - October 1993), but were subsequently rehired (see December 23, 1994). Rodriguez said: “Two years I’ve waited for this.… It let me get everything out.” The events of that raid and the subsequent actions, he said, were “tearing me up inside.” (Myers 7/25/1995) In 1999, the FBI will admit to lobbing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound during the April assault, though the bureau will deny that the grenades started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
The US Senate votes 98-0 to bar burial and other veterans benefits for anyone found guilty of capital offenses. The measure is directed at former Army Sergeant Timothy McVeigh, recently sentenced to death for killing eight federal employees in the Oklahoma City bombing (see June 11-13, 1997), to prevent him from being buried in a military cemetery after he is executed. (Chicago Sun-Times 6/19/1997) Six days later, the House of Representatives votes to approve a similar resolution sponsored by Spencer Bachus (R-AL). Bachus says his bill was motivated not only by McVeigh, but by another crime: the 1981 slaying of an African-American teenager by Ku Klux Klan members. One of those convicted in the slaying, Henry Francis Hays, was executed and then buried in a Mobile, Alabama, military ceremony with full honors. Hays served briefly in the US Army in the early 1970s. “In a military ceremony, we said to our children and our grandchildren, ‘We’re overlooking this [crime], this is a good soldier,’” Bachus says. The Hays burial caused people to ask: “Who is entitled to a hero’s funeral? Who are our heroes?” As a decorated veteran of Desert Storm, McVeigh could have asked to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (Deseret News 6/24/1997; Associated Press 6/24/1997) McVeigh’s lawyer Stephen Jones calls the legislation a non-issue, saying his client has not asked to be buried in a military cemetery or to be buried with honors: “The controversy about Mr. McVeigh’s burial in a national cemetery is a classic straw man argument. Mr. McVeigh has not demonstrated any intent or desire to be buried in a national cemetery. The politicians are simply flogging this issue for votes when they should be concerned with the legitimate problems of the country. Mr. McVeigh hasn’t been formally sentenced to die yet. He has not lost his appeals, and moreover, he has not been executed yet.” (Rocky Mountain News 6/20/1997)
The House Republican leadership cancels a vote to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) after a number of House Republicans declare their opposition to renewing key portions of the legislation concerning the requirement of bilingual ballots and continued federal oversight of voting practices in some Southern states. Eight months ago, Congressional Republicans announced they intended to take the lead in renewing the VRA (see October 4, 2005). The press reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was taken off-guard by the vehemence of the opposition within his party; he and other senior House Republicans believed that renewal of the VRA was on track. President Bush has said he supports renewing the VRA. In early May, House Republicans and Democrats joined on the steps of the Capitol to announce bipartisan support for the renewal of the law. However, some Southern Republicans argue that the law has served its purpose and is no longer necessary. They are now joined by Republicans from other states who resist providing ballots in languages other than English. Hastert says the Republican leadership “is committed to passing the Voting Rights Act legislation as soon as possible,” while some House Republicans say it is unclear whether the issue will be resolved before the Independence Day recess. Hastert and other House Republican leaders apparently did not anticipate the surge of anti-immigrant sentiment among their colleagues, which fuels the opposition to bilingual ballots. A previous attempt by Senate Republicans to include a provision in the VRA proclaiming English the “national language” failed. Seventy-nine House Republicans, led by Steve King (R-IA), an outspoken opponent of immigration, signed a letter written by King objecting to the VRA’s provision for bilingual ballots in precincts with large Hispanic and Asian populations. The requirement is costly and unnecessary, King wrote, adding, “The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the ‘Melting Pot’ ideal that has made us the most successful multi-ethnic nation on earth.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) says: “A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who are trying to do away with it. But these old boys are trying to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.” King said in committee, “There is no need to print ballots in any language other than English.” When King’s provision to end multilingual requirements was removed in committee, King and his fellow anti-immigration Republicans publicly withdrew their support for the VRA. Charles Whitlow Norwood (R-GA) says flatly: “What people are really upset about is bilingual ballots. The American people want this to be an English-speaking nation.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says: “Clearly, there are some on the Republican side who object to this legislation, and they forced the leadership’s hand today. House Democrats stand in virtual unanimous support for this important bill.” Mel Watt (D-NC), the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says, “We fear that pulling the bill could send the wrong message about whether the bill enjoys broad bipartisan support and that delaying consideration until after the July 4 recess could give those with partisan intentions space and time to politicize the issue.” Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says in a statement, “We are extremely disappointed that the House did not vote today to renew and restore the Voting Rights Act because a small band of miscreants, at the last moment, hijacked this bipartisan, bicameral bill.” Henderson’s colleague Nancy Zirkin agrees, saying: “The fact of the matter is that you have a small group of members who have hijacked this bill, and many of these individuals represent states that have been in violation for a long time. We believe these individuals do not want the Voting Rights Act reauthorized.” (King 1/28/2006; Hulse 6/22/2006; Washington Post 6/22/2006)
Opposition Letter Written by Far-Right Anti-Immigration Advocate? - Citizen investigators later demonstrate that many portions of the King letter may not have been written by King or his staffers, but by a representative of two far-right anti-immigration groups, NumbersUSA and ProEnglish. Both organizations belong to a network of groups operated by anti-immigration leader John Tanton (see February 2009). The provisions in the King letter were apparently written by K.C. McAlpin, a member of NumbersUSA and the executive director of ProEnglish. The latter group proclaims itself “the nation’s leading advocate of official English,” working “through the courts and in the court of public opinion to defend English’s historic role as the common, unifying language of the United States of America, and to persuade lawmakers to adopt English as the official language at all levels of government.” The investigators will be unable to prove McAlpin’s authorship beyond dispute, but through comparison of the King letter with McAlpin’s written testimony to Congress in November 2005, they find significant conceptual and linguistic similarities. The investigators will posit: “Given that the King letter posted at [the US House Web site, before being removed] was authored by McAlpin on software registered to NumbersUSA, coupled with its striking similarities to McAlpin’s testimony, only one of two possible causes seem plausible. Either King copied his letter from ProEnglish literature almost word for word, and then asked McAlpin, or someone using his computer, to type up a copy to post at the House of Representatives Web site, or McAlpin authored the letter himself. Either way, the letter that 79 Representatives signed to force the cancellation of the renewal of the VRA came from ProEnglish.” (King 1/28/2006; Duke Falconer 7/12/2006)
The US House of Representatives overcomes challenges by conservative Republicans and votes overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Congressional Republicans originally voiced strong support for renewing the landmark voting rights legislation (see October 4, 2005) but some 80 House Republicans have worked for weeks to block renewal of the bill over objections to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). The renewal bill, officially entitled the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act” after a number of prominent civil rights figures, passes the House on a 390-33 vote. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an African-American veteran who was beaten by white police officers during the civil rights struggle, gives an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote is cast. Lewis reminds the House that “I gave blood” to ensure that blacks and other minorities had the right to vote without discrimination. “Some of my colleagues gave their very lives. Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a distance. The sad truth is, discrimination still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.” Lewis and other supporters took part in over a dozen House hearings where, according to Lewis, proof of voter discrimination was highlighted. Some conservative lawmakers have argued that such discrimination is a thing of the past, and therefore the VRA is obsolete and need not be renewed. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is one of those making that argument, telling the House: “A lot has changed in 40-plus years. We should have a law that fits the world in 2006.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) agrees: “Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven. That Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents.… We have repented and we have reformed.” Westmoreland says many people are “prejudiced” against Southern states. David Scott (D-GA) accuses House Republicans such as Gingrey and Westmoreland of working “to kill the Voting Rights Act” both through opposition and through the attempted addition of a number of unpalatable amendments that would strongly water down the law, such as an amendment by Steve King (R-IA) that would have removed the provision for bilingual ballots and forced naturalized citizens to prove their fluency in English before being allowed to vote. The bill moves to the Senate, where Democrats are urging quick passage and accusing House Republicans of unjustly delaying the bill’s passage. “For two months, we have wasted precious time as the Republican leadership played to its conservative base,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “There are only 21 legislative days left in this Congress, and the time to act is now.” (Hernandez 7/13/2006; Kellman 7/14/2006)
President Bush signs the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) reauthorization into law. The extension, called the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act,” makes the VRA the law until 2031. It also overturns the decision rendered in Reno v. Bossier Parish School Board (see May 12, 1997) by outlawing electoral redistricting for discriminatory purposes, and invalidates the decision rendered in Georgia v. Ashcroft by declaring that Section 5 protects the ability of minorities “to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” (Curry 10/4/2005; White House 6/27/2006; American Civil Liberties Union 2012) In October 2005, Congressional Republicans declared that they intended to lead the way towards renewing the VRA, particularly Section 5 (see October 4, 2005). But in June 2006, House Republicans balked at renewing Section 5 and another provision mandating bilingual ballots in many areas (see June 22, 2006). The bill survived a number of attempts to derail or weaken it by those House Republicans (see July 13, 2006), and was upheld 98-0 in the Senate (see July 20, 2006).
Impelled by polls showing that Democrats may not do as badly as predicted in the upcoming November midterm elections, Republican political organizations pour vast amounts of money into tight Senate and House races in the final days, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by the Wesleyan Media Project and from Democratic organizers. The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) has “opened the floodgates” for corporate money to be used in electioneering and advertising, much of that money going anonymously to political parties and operations (see September 13-16, 2010 and October 2010). Much of the money is targeting three Senate races in Colorado, Kentucky, and California. Republicans are confident that they will gain control of the House of Representatives, but must gain 10 seats to control the Senate, a prospect that is not as likely. Last-minute spending surges are common in elections, but experts say they have never seen so much spending in the last days of a race. Pollster Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center is not sure the last-minute surge of spending, almost all of which is going to advertising, will have a major effect. Most voters’ minds are made up by now, Kohut says. Data shows that organizations affiliated with Republicans have outspent their Democratic rivals by more than a 3-1 ratio. In Nevada, “independent” organizations are pouring money into attack ads against Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and in support of challenger Sharron Angle (R-NV). Late campaign spending is fairly equal, according to the data, and the polls for that race are very tight. In Colorado, “tea party” favorite Ken Buck (R-CO) is losing ground to incumbent Michael Bennet (D-CO), and in response, Republican groups have funneled money into ads supporting Buck and attacking Bennet to create a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Buck. A similar instance exists in Kentucky, where another tea party favorite, Rand Paul (R-KY), is losing ground to Jack Conway (D-KY), and Republican spending on Paul’s behalf has made for a 2-1 spending ratio in favor of Paul. In California, where popular Democrat Barbara Boxer (D-CA) once had a 2-1 spending advantage over her opponent Carly Fiorina (R-CA), pro-Fiorina groups have recently outspent pro-Boxer groups 5-1. In Pennsylvania, pro-Republican groups are heavily outspending Democrats, largely to support Republican favorite Pat Toomey (R-PA) over Joe Sestak (D-PA). In Delaware, Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE), whose campaign has raised large amounts of money from out-of-state financiers, has not received the lavish funding that her Republican colleagues have gotten to defeat her opponent Chris Coons (D-DE). O’Donnell has received some $300,000 from right-wing and tea party groups. But Coons is receiving virtually no support from independent pro-Democratic groups, possibly because polls indicate he will win the election and does not need the last-minute funding support. The elections will be held on November 2. (Hosenball 10/27/2010) The results of the massive spending are mixed. The Republican winners include Paul and Toomey. The Republican losers include Angle, Buck, Fiorina and O’Donnell. (National Public Radio 11/3/2010)
Columnist Katha Pollitt, writing for the liberal magazine The Nation, believes that the newly elected Republican majority in the US House of Representatives will do its best to restrict abortions. Pollitt notes that when the newly elected Congress members take their seats in January 2011, there will be 53 additional anti-abortion voices in the House and five in the Senate. Some, like Senator-elect Rand Paul (R-KY) and Representatives-elect Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Tim Walberg (R-MI) oppose most methods of birth control, in vitro fertilization, and stem cell research, and join Senators-elect Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) in opposing abortions even in the cases of rape or incest. Toomey supports incarcerating doctors who perform abortions. Pollit writes, “Supporters of reproductive rights are looking at the most hostile Congress since abortion was legalized in 1973” (see January 22, 1973). Pollitt writes that in 2011, Republicans in Congress will try to:
Reinstate the global gag rule, lifted by President Obama on his first day in office, which bars recipients of US foreign aid from so much as mentioning abortion in their work, and make it permanent.
Pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which will make the Hyde Amendment (see September 30, 1976) permanent and reinterpret it to forbid any government agency from funding any program which has anything to do with abortion. Pollitt writes: “For example, if your insurance plan covered abortion, you could not get an income tax deduction for your premiums or co-pays—nor could your employer take deductions for an employer-based plan that included abortion care. (This would mean that employers would choose plans without abortion coverage, in order to get the tax advantage.) The bill would also make permanent current bans like the one on abortion coverage in insurance for federal workers.”
Pass the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, which would ban federal funds for any organization that performs abortions or funds organizations that do so. Pollitt says the aim of this legislation “is to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest network of clinics for family planning and women’s health, and in many regions the only provider within reach.”
Beef up so-called conscience protections for health care personnel and hospitals.
Ban Washington, DC, from using its own money to pay for abortions for poor women.
Revisit health care reform to tighten provisions barring coverage for abortion care.
Preserve the ban on abortions in military hospitals.
Pollitt says that the idea behind all of these legislative initiatives is not the banning of abortion, but the disallowing of taxpayer dollars to fund it. Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards says: “This election was not about choice. The bottom line was jobs and the economy. But if you look at close races where the prochoice candidate won, and where women knew the difference between the candidates on reproductive rights, they voted prochoice and arguably made the difference.” Richards says that if Democrats want to successfully oppose Republicans on these and other legislative initiatives, they will need the active support of pro-choice women. (Pollitt 11/10/2010)
A group of Democratic donors, shaken from the defeat the party suffered in the November midterm elections, meets in a Washington hotel to discuss how to counter the huge influx of corporate spending that helped defeat dozens of Democrats and give control of the US House of Representatives back to Republicans. Outside conservative groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the American Action Network (see Mid-October 2010), and American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS outspent Democratic groups by more than a two to one ratio. The donors are split on whether to try to emulate their opponents by raising as much money as possible from wealthy corporations and donors, or continuing down their traditional path of funding their campaign efforts via labor unions and organizations such as the Sierra Club. If they decide to pursue corporate cash, some argue, they will be viewed as hypocrites in light of Democrats’ almost-uniform opposition to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which “opened the floodgates” for unlimited corporate and labor donations (see January 21, 2010). One of the fundamental problems, Democrats note, is that while unions are allowed to contribute unlimited funds just as corporations do, unions, which traditionally support Democrats, are far less wealthy than their corporate counterparts. And despite record-breaking fundraising by the Obama presidential campaign in 2008, most corporations donate to Republicans. The donors are not expected to come up with simple answers as they begin to strategize for 2012, where Republicans are expected to raise and spend an unprecedented half-billion dollars trying to defeat President Obama. Moreover, the White House has sent decidedly mixed messages on the subject. During the 2008 race, the Obama campaign instructed an independent progressive “527” PAC, the Fund for America, to shut down its operations after it began releasing attack ads against Obama’s opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The Obama campaign did not want independent organizations conducting their own operations, but wanted full control of the campaign message. And campaign leaders said they wanted to win with small individual contributions from ordinary citizens, not with massive corporate donations. The White House’s opposition to such outside funding continued through 2010, and as a result, corporate donations to Democratic-supporting groups were far outstripped by Republican donations. Since then, Obama’s top political advisor David Axelrod has indicated the White House would support liberal donors’ independent efforts to counter Republican political donations, but many Democratic donors still believe the Obama administration is not fully behind those efforts. A Democratic strategist who refuses to be identified says: “By and large, the political people in the Obama firmament really have disdain for outside groups. They think they whine and snivel and make all these demands and don’t produce very much.” Some liberal donors and organizations are ignoring the resistance from the White House and making their own plans, such as David Brock, the founder of Media Matters for America (MMFA), who is considering forming his own 527 (see 2000 - 2005) for 2012. Another Democratic activist, Joan Fitz-Gerald of the umbrella group America Votes, says Democrats cannot depend on the courts or Congress to rein in corporate spending, noting that Congressional Democrats failed to get the DISCLOSE Act, a campaign finance reform measure, to the floor of the Senate for a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Fitz-Gerald says Democrats must adapt to the new political landscape or risk another trouncing in 2012. However, she recommends working through existing progressive organizations more than using hastily formed PACs and 527s funded by one or two wealthy sources. Unions and environmental groups have large, citizen-based funding sources, whereas Republican organizations are often funded by a small group of wealthy donors who bankroll numerous such organizations. Those organizations, she says, lack credibility with voters. The traditional grassroots-based organizations, she says, “are trusted messengers, whether they’re a union that someone belongs to or a group that people have been a member of for many years. At some point the American people, as they see these ads pushing this right-wing agenda, they’re going to ask: ‘Who are these people? What’s the goal of American Crossroads?’” But the funding garnered by the right made the difference in the 2010 elections, Democratic donors agree. Mike Palamuso of the League of Conservation Voters recalls, “For every $500,000 we spent, it felt like American Crossroads spent another $5 million.” Many agree with Democratic political strategist Harold Ickes, who says: “Is small money better? You bet. But we’re in a f_cking fight. And if you’re in a fistfight, then you’re in a fistfight, and you use all legal means available.” (Kroll 11/15/2010)
Randall Terry, the anti-abortion activist who formerly headed Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986 and 1996) and currently heads several smaller anti-abortion organizations, sends out an email alert touting his recent meeting with Mick Krieger, the chief of staff for Representative John Boehner (R-OH). Boehner is presumed to become speaker of the House when the Republicans formally assume control of the House in January 2011. In his email, Terry writes that he intends to pressure Boehner to repeal abortion entirely throughout the US, stating: “We must demand that Republicans who won the House of Representatives hasten the end of legalized child killing in America. Their victory could be a strong step forward for the babies, but it also might be yet another set back after 50,000,000 dead babies.… When the Republicans are in power, pro-life groups and leaders become way too ‘polite.’ We lose our edge; we don’t hold them accountable; we settle for trite phrases and broken promises as long as they will meet with us for 10 minutes, and we can take our picture with them, or they come to one of our meetings and receive some useless award.… Unless the Republicans do something concrete to save babies from murder, then they are collaborators with child killers, and we must treat them as such. We have Pro-Life DEMANDS for Mr. Boehner & House GOP[.] We Must Play Hard Ball: They Must Fear Pro-Lifers!” (Contacting the Congress 2010; Randall Terry 11/27/2010; Right Wing Watch 11/29/2010) Writing for the progressive news Web site Think Progress, Tanya Somanader notes that Terry’s “incendiary antics don’t seem to phase many conservatives.” Obviously, she observes, Boehner feels “comfortable bringing such a radical extremist into the establishment fold.” (Somanader 11/29/2010)
House Republicans rush a bill to the floor for a vote to eliminate all public funding of the presidential election. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would eliminate one of the few remaining public funding methodologies for federal elections, and, critics say, give wealthy corporate and individual donors even more influence over elections. Public financing of presidential elections was made law by the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) and upheld by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976). The bill comes to a vote almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). The bill, HR 359, was sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) in June 2009 and cosponsored by 17 other House members, all Republicans. It would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. The Republican House leadership did not hold hearings on the bill, nor allow it to be debated in committee. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calls the bill “a sneak attack on the system,” and notes that the Republicans had pledged to observe “transparency and openness,” but instead are pushing through such a transformative bill without allowing debate. The bill passes the House on a 239-160 vote, with the Republican majority overriding the Democratic minority. Ten Democrats vote for the bill and one Republican votes against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already introduced his version of the bill in the Senate, though Senate Democrats say the bill has no chance of passing; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says through a spokesperson that the bill will never be brought up for a vote. (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Repair or Eliminate? - Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree not to accept private donations in the fall campaign. Every presidential candidate from 1976 to 2008 has accepted public funding. In 2000, George W. Bush (R-TX) did not take public financing for his primary campaign, and in subsequent years no presidential nominee has taken such funding. In 2008, Barack Obama (D-IL) declined to take public financing for his general election, the first presidential nominee to do so. Republicans claim the elimination of the public funding program would save the government between $520 and $617 million over the next 10 years. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the public financing system needs to be updated. It was created in 1976, she notes, and does not reflect the needs of 21st-century candidates. Lawmakers from both parties have attempted, without success to introduce legislation to update the system. McConnell says that Americans do not believe in the PECF, citing declining public participation. The program is funded by a $3 check-off on individual tax returns; in 1980, almost 29 percent of tax returns carried the check-off, while in 2007 only 8.3 percent of tax returns checked off the donation. “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians,” McConnell says. House Democrats have introduced legislation that would modify and update the PECF instead of end it. One of that legislation’s sponsors, David Price (D-NC), says, “Dare we forget what Watergate was all about?” (Price is referring to the post-Watergate origins of the PECF.) “President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash, paid for criminal acts and otherwise subverted the American electoral system. Let’s not return to the darkest days of our democracy.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Obama Administration Opposes Bill - The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill, saying that the public financing system should be improved rather than eliminated. In a statement, the White House says: “The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests. Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.… H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it. Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.” (Raw Story 1/25/2011)
Divided Response from Lawmakers - Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the bill passes that voting it into effect “should be a no-brainer.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Congress “should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.” Republicans such as Aaron Schock (R-IL) call Democrats and the Obama administration “hypocrites” because in 2008, Obama turned down public financing. Schock says, “It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.” David Price (D-NC) makes an angry rejoinder, saying: “Talk about having it both ways. [Schock] comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.” Cole also condemns Obama for not taking public financing in 2008, and says he believes public financing of elections should be illegal, but goes on to say that he supports Republicans who take public financing because it is a legal option. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) says: “Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our democracy, eating away at the people’s confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system.” “This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision,” says Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance legislation. “It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money.” (Walsh 1/26/2011; Overby 1/27/2011; Salant 1/27/2011)
Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Critical of Bill - David Arkush of the citizens advocacy group Public Citizen says in a statement, “A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans.” Craig Holman of Public Citizen says of the bill: “Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals. To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.” Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 calls the bill “a gross abuse of the legislative process.” (Kroll 1/24/2011; Raw Story 1/25/2011) The nonpartisan Public Finance Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of state and federal elections, says in a statement: “These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don’t advance any further.” (Walsh 1/26/2011)
Bill Dies in Senate - The bill will, as expected, not pass the Senate, which is under Democratic control. A similar bill will be introduced in December 2011 (see December 1, 2011), again pass the House, and die in the Senate. (Abrams 12/1/2011)
Jack Davis, a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives from the Buffalo, New York, area, suggests that Hispanic farmworkers be deported from the US, and African-Americans from the inner cities be bused to farm country and made to pick the crops. Davis, an industrialist from Akron, makes his comments in an endorsement hearing held by local tea party activists. In 2008, he made similar comments to a Tonawanda News reporter, when he said: “We have a huge unemployment problem with black youth in our cities. Put them on buses, take them out there [to the farms], and pay them a decent wage; they will work.” Many listeners then and now say Davis is, in essence, advocating a return to slavery. After hearing Davis’s comments, Republican leaders deliver their endorsement to another candidate, Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin. Amherst County GOP chairman Marshall Wood says, “I was thunderstruck” when he heard Davis’s statements. “Maybe in 1860 that might have been seen by some as an appropriate comment, but not now.” Davis shrugs off the reaction to his comments, saying merely, “It’s politics.” Davis’s spokesman W. Curtis Ellis says of Davis’s comments, “It may not be politically correct and it may not be racially correct, but when you have African-American people in Buffalo who do not have jobs and are out of work, why are you bringing people into this country illegally to take jobs?” Davis, Corwin, and others are running in a special election to replace Representative Chris Lee (R-NY), who recently resigned his seat after revelations surfaced about his Internet flirtation with a woman not his wife. Wyoming County GOP chairman Gordon Brown says Davis “repeatedly almost disqualified himself” during the hearing by contradicting typical party positions, raging against illegal immigration and free trade policies. “The most racist part was where he said he was busing the blacks in to pick the vegetables,” Brown says. When Davis made his comment, “the room sort of went silent. It was like, ‘Did I just hear that?’” Davis has run for office as a Democrat three times in the past. He is now attempting to secure enough signatures to run as a tea party candidate. The election will be held May 24. The Democratic candidate opposing Corwin will be Kathleen Hochul, the Erie County clerk. (Zremski 3/15/2011; Dolan 3/17/2011; Camia 3/21/2011) Buffalo News columnist Rod Watson, a conservative African-American, later complains of the “manufactured outrage” over Davis’s comments, and will praise Davis’s suggestion as “busing jobless young blacks to farms so they can learn work skills while earning an honest dollar.” He will say Davis’s comments are far less insulting than those recently made by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS), a possible 2012 presidential candidate who has extolled the virtues of white supremacist groups. “A white man saying what’s good for blacks is always grist for those looking for advantage in aggrievement,” Watson will write. “It’s part of the unwritten rules on race in a nation still struggling with the issue that only blacks can say such things about blacks, just as only whites can make ‘redneck’ jokes.” Watson will note that African-American radio host Ted Kirkland says: “I’ve advocated that on my show. There’s nothing wrong with hard work and getting your hands dirty.” And Watson will quote Democratic legislator Betty Jean Grant, who says, “Republicans won’t hire black youths for any kind of jobs,” and says she “saw nothing racist” in Davis’s comment. Watson will admit that some find it disconcerting when a white millionaire states his opinion about what should be done for, or to, poor African-Americans. “It’s also fair to ask how many blacks Davis has hired, or how many jobs he has funded in light of his expressed interest in unemployed African-Americans,” he will write. He will conclude that the idea itself must be considered separately from its “suspect source.” (Watson 3/17/2011) News and blog Web site BlakNewz is more outraged; its administrator will write: “Is that like black slaves picking cotton for the massa? Why not bus in the poor white people in New York State and nearby states to pick the crops?” (BlakNewz 3/15/2011) Hochul will win a narrow victory over Corwin, delivering the NY-26 seat to the Democratic Party for the first time in decades. Davis, a “tea party” candidate, will garner 9 percent of the vote; in his concession speech, Davis will tell his listeners, “The country needs me.” (McCarthy 5/26/2011)
The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog organization, finds that independent organizations supporting Republicans and Democrats are spending unprecedented amounts of money on supporting, or more often attacking, candidates for office. The huge rise in spending comes as a direct result of the Citizens United decision that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign donations (see January 21, 2010). While organizations are spending huge amounts of money on both sides of the political divide, spending for conservative candidates outweighs spending on liberal candidates by an 8-1 margin. CRP’s analysis finds that the increased spending helped Republicans retake the US House of Representatives in 2010, and is having a long-term effect on the nation’s campaign and election systems. (MacColl 5/5/2011; Jilani 5/6/2011)
Most Democratic Spending Comes from Unions - Labor unions gave over $17.3 million in independent expenditures opposing Republican candidates. The union contributing the most: the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), with over $7 million. The National Education Association (NEA) formed a “super PAC” (see March 26, 2010) that spent $3.3 million on election activities. Super PACs must disclose their donors and the amounts donated (see 2000 - 2005), but an array of groups under the 501(c) tax laws do not have to disclose that information (see September 28, 2010).
Corporations Spend Lavishly for Republicans - While corporations donated some money to Democratic causes, most of their money went to Republicans. Corporations gave over $15 million to super PACs such as American Crossroads, which supports an array of conservative candidates. CRP notes that conservative groups that do not have to disclose their donors spent $121 million, and corporations and wealthy individuals were the likely sources of almost all of that money.
Secret Donations on the Rise - In the 2006 elections, the percentage of spending from groups that do not disclose their donors was 1 percent. In 2010, it was 47 percent. “Nonprofit” organizations that can legally hide their donors and donations increased their spending from zero percent in 2006 to 42 percent in 2010. For the first time in over 20 years, outside interest groups outspent party committees, by $105 million. The amount of independent expenditure and electioneering communication spending by outside groups has gone up 400 percent since 2006. And 72 percent of political advertising spending by outside groups in 2010 came from sources that were prohibited from spending money in 2006. (MacColl 5/5/2011)
In response to reported discussions by the Obama administration on the possible issuance of an executive order forcing government contractors to disclose their political contributions (see April 20, 2011), Republicans in the House and Senate introduce legislation that would block such an order. Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) already successfully added a rider to a defense authorization bill that would block the order. Cole says he hopes that the White House will rethink the proposed executive order in light of the opposition from Congressional Republicans. “I am hoping they’re having second thoughts,” he tells a reporter. “This is the executive branch trying to legislate and use a very powerful weapon to do it. And not just legislate, but it is the executive branch trying to intimidate, in my opinion.” In the House, Representatives Cole, Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Sam Graves (R-MO) are sponsoring legislation against the order, while in the Senate, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are introducing similar legislation. The bills prohibit federal agencies from collecting political information from government contractors as a condition for receiving a government contract. Cole says though his amendment is in the defense bill, he wants to ensure that government contractors are able to keep their political expenditures out of the public eye. “This is one of those things you attack from as many angles and avenues as you possibly can, because it is so important,” he says. “This will get less scrutiny in that process, and it’s a lot easier for Democrats in the Senate to avoid or to kill. A bill is a big statement.” Senate Democrats are likely to vote down the bills. Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, an advocacy group that stands for stricter campaign finance laws, says the Republican bills are “continuation[s] of abandonment of campaign finance disclosure by House Republicans, which began last year.” Wertheimer is referring to the DISCLOSE Act, legislation that would have forced outside political groups to disclose their donors, but was blocked by Republicans from coming to a vote (see July 26-27, 2010). Conservative donor organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce (see January 21-22, 2010, July 26, 2010, August 2, 2010, October 2010, November 1, 2010, and February 10, 2011) support the Republican legislation. The Republican-led House Administration Committee has scheduled a hearing on the draft order. (Bogardus 5/26/2011)
Three members of the US House of Representatives’ “tea party” caucus introduce a measure to force the federal government to pay the principal and interest on the debt, and to continue to pay military personnel, even if the government goes into default because Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling. The Obama administration and a bevy of economists and financial leaders have warned that if Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, the US will go into default on its debt, sending the nation’s economy into a tailspin and perhaps triggering a worldwide economic downturn (see May 20, 2011). Representatives Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Steve King (R-IA), and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) introduce House Resolution 2496, the PROMISES Act (Payment Reliability for Our Obligations to Military and Investors to Secure Essential Stability Act). All three accuse the Obama administration of lying about the potentially disastrous effects of a national default (see April 30, 2011 and June 26, 2011). President Obama recently said he could not promise that Social Security and disability checks would go out to senior citizens and veterans on August 3 if the nation defaulted on its debt on August 2 (see July 11-12, 2011); Bachmann and the others accuse Obama of lying and “fear mongering.” Bachmann says, “Don’t allow military men and women to dangle over a fire and claim they won’t get paid.” All three say that even if the government defaults on its loans, there is enough money to pay the Defense Department, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security benefits. Gohmert says that Obama should have told the nation, “The only thing that you have to fear is fear itself,” and says House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) should “not… trust the president anymore.” King says of Obama, “I can’t imagine what his argument would be against paying our military and keeping our credit rating up.” Obama has offered Congress a package containing $4 trillion in spending cuts and small tax increases on the wealthy, a package that has been rejected by Congressional Republicans. Instead, Bachmann says, “President Obama is holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage so he can continue his spending sprees.” Bachmann refuses to say who would not get paid if the nation went into default, saying instead, “We want to take the politics out of this issue.” (Resnick 7/13/2011)
On a 259-169 vote, the US House of Representatives passes an amendment that would “prohibit the use of funds to implement any rule, regulation, or executive order regarding the disclosure of political contributions.” The amendment to an unrelated bill was introduced by Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) on June 24, 2011. The amendment is aimed at preventing the Obama administration from implementing any policy or executive order that would force disclosure on the anonymous corporate donors that have spent tens of millions of dollars influencing elections since the Citizens United ruling (see January 21, 2010). Eighteen Democrats join almost every Republican in voting for the amendment. Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress speculates that many of those voting for the amendment were influenced by a huge corporate public relations and lobbying effort against campaign finance. After the media revealed that the Obama administration was considering issuing an executive order that would force government contractors to disclose their campaign donations (see April 20, 2011 and May 26, 2011), as Millhiser writes, “industry groups responded by ginning up paranoid fantasies claiming that the administration would use these disclosures to create a ‘pay to play’ scenario where only contractors who donate to Democratic causes could receive contracts.” Recent history, however, indicates that mandated disclosure would bring about the opposite effect, Millhiser writes. He recalls the 2008 resignation of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, who was implicated in a huge scandal involving his office’s illegal contracting practices, wherein President Bush’s political opponents were denied government contracts while “personal cronies” were awarded contracts. “Had a disclosure rule been in effect,” Millhiser writes, “it would have been possible to compare the donation patterns of all government contractors against who was awarding them contracts, and systematically uncover examples of political corruption. Transparency is the enemy of corruption—not the means to implement it.” (Censer 5/15/2011; US House of Representatives 7/15/2011; Millhiser 7/18/2011)
In an interview with CBS News’s Scott Pelley, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says that he got “98 percent” of what he wanted in a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House in the just-concluded debt ceiling extension legislation. Boehner says he and his House Republicans successfully blocked a comprehensive “grand bargain” with the Obama administration because, as he says, the “president was insisting on more taxes [and] never got serious about the kind of spending cuts that were necessary in order to get America back on a sound fiscal footing.” He tells Pelley that he “walked away” from Obama’s final proposal. “We had a lot of productive conversations, a lot of tense conversations,” Boehner says. “But it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be for higher taxes, and the president wasn’t going to cut spending as he should.… I told the president: ‘I’m not going there. I can’t do that.’” Boehner says that he has no intention at this time of ever supporting revenue increases of any sort, whether it be tax increases, closing of corporate tax loopholes, or other ways to bring more revenue into federal government; instead, he hopes that the future focus of Congressional debate “will be on reducing expenditures coming out of Washington.” Asked if Republicans would ever support tax increases, Boehner says: “I think that would be a stretch. It doesn’t seem likely to me that that would be recommended, much less supported, but I’ve been surprised before.” He concludes: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Sixty-six House Republicans voted against Boehner’s final plan, though it passed both chambers and was signed into law by Obama hours before the US would have defaulted on its debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deal cuts federal deficits by $2.1 trillion over 10 years while also raising the debt limit by an equal amount. The deal also creates a joint, bicameral committee of legislators charged with finding additional cuts. (Pelley 8/1/2011; Strauss 8/1/2011) Days later, Standard & Poor’s cuts the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). Republicans, including Boehner, will blame Obama for the legislation and the resulting credit reduction (see August 6-9, 2011).
The US loses its top-rank AAA credit rating from the financial services company Standard & Poor’s; the firm drops the US credit rating one notch to AA-plus. The US has never had anything but top-tier credit ratings in its financial history, and has top credit ratings from S&P since 1941. S&P makes its decision based on the huge Congressional battle over raising the US’s debt ceiling, normally a routine procedural matter that was used by Congressional Republicans, who threatened to block the ceiling raise unless they were given dramatic spending cuts by the entire Congress and the White House. (House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) boasted that he and his Republican colleagues got “98 percent” of what they wanted in the debt ceiling deal—see August 1, 2011.) Because of the dispute, the US was hours away from an unprecedented credit default until legislation was finally signed and the default avoided. S&P also cites the government’s budget deficit and rising debt burden as reasons for the rating reduction, saying in a statement, “The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government’s medium-term debt dynamics.” The drop in the US credit rating will result in a rise in US borrowing costs for American consumers, companies, and the government. US treasury bonds, once seen as the safest securities in the world, are now rated lower than bonds issued by countries such as Britain, France, Germany, and Canada. S&P says the outlook on the US’s credit rating is “negative,” implying another downgrade is possible in the next 12 to 18 months. A senior investment officer with a West Coast management company says such a downgrade was “once unthinkable,” and says the entire global economic system will be affected. After the fierce Congressional battle, President Obama signed legislation mandating $2.1 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade, but S&P officials had asked for $4 trillion in savings as a “down payment” for restoring the US’s financial stability. Part of S&P’s rationale for the downgrade is its assumption that Congressional Republicans will not allow tax cuts implemented by the Bush administration in 2001 and 2003 to expire as scheduled by the end of 2012. The Obama administration immediately notes that S&P’s made a $2 trillion error in calculating the US debt, an error that the firm acknowledges but says does not affect its decision to downgrade the US credit rating. A Treasury Department spokeswoman says, “A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself.” (Appelbaum and Dash 8/5/2011; Brandimarte and Bases 8/6/2011) Credit rating agencies such as S&P have suffered tremendous damage to their credibility in recent years; a Congressional panel called the firms “essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction” after what the New York Times calls “their wildly optimistic models [that] led them to give top-flight reviews to complex mortgage securities that later collapsed.” (Appelbaum and Dash 8/5/2011)
S&P Explains Decision: 'Political Brinksmanship' - S&P explains its decision in a press release. The firm is “pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the [Obama a]dministration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government’s debt dynamics any time soon.” Fiscal policy decisions between Congress and the White House, the firm says, “will remain a contentious and fitful process.” The firm accuses Congressional Republicans in particular of “political brinksmanship” in threatening to allow a debt default if their conditions were not met, and says such tactics destabilize both the US and the global economy. “The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy,” the firm says. “[T]he majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the” legislation. “The outlook on the long-term rating is negative.” (Standard and Poor's 8/5/2011) In an email before the debt ceiling was raised, S&P’s global head of sovereign ratings wrote: “What’s changed is the political gridlock. Even now, it’s an open question as to whether or when Congress and the administration can agree on fiscal measures that will stabilize the upward trajectory of the US government debt burden.” (Appelbaum and Dash 8/5/2011)
GOP Presidential Candidates, Congressional Members Blame Obama - The day after the downgrade, Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail blame the Obama administration for the downgrade (see August 6-9, 2011).
Economist Lambasts S&P, Blames Congressional Republicans - Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman lambasts S&P and blames Congressional Republicans for the downgrade (see August 5-6, 2011).
Hours after financial services firm Standard & Poor’s downgrades the US credit rating from AAA to AA+ (see August 5, 2011), Paul Krugman, a liberal economist and Nobel Prize winner, blasts both the firm and Congressional Republicans for the downgrade. “On one hand, there is a case to be made that the madness of the right has made America a fundamentally unsound nation,” he writes. “And yes, it is the madness of the right: if not for the extremism of anti-tax Republicans, we would have no trouble reaching an agreement that would ensure long-run solvency. On the other hand, it’s hard to think of anyone less qualified to pass judgment on America than the rating agencies. The people who rated subprime-backed securities are now declaring that they are the judges of fiscal policy? Really?” Krugman states that he and other economists believe S&P’s call for a $4 trillion cut in US spending is “nonsense,” writing: “US solvency depends hardly at all on what happens in the near or even medium term: an extra trillion in debt adds only a fraction of a percent of GDP to future interest costs, so a couple of trillion more or less barely signifies in the long term. What matters is the longer-term prospect, which in turn mainly depends on health care costs.” He concludes that S&P is “in no position to pass judgment” on the US economic situation. (Krugman 8/5/2011) The next day, the National Journal’s Edmund Andrews agrees with Krugman, writing: “[I]t’s hard to read the S&P analysis as anything other than a blast at Republicans. In denouncing the threat of default as a ‘bargaining chip,’ the agency was saying that the GOP strategy had shaken its confidence. Though S&P didn’t mention it, the agency must have been unnerved by the number of Republicans who insisted that it would be fine to blow through the debt ceiling and provoke a default.” (Andrews 8/6/2011) Krugman’s criticisms are echoed a week later by an array of economists and private-sector financial leaders (see August 12, 2011).
In a Republican presidential primary debate in Iowa, candidate Michele Bachmann (R-MN) claims that the recent decision by financial services firm Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011) proved that she and her fellow “tea party” Republicans in the House of Representatives were right to resist an increase in the debt ceiling. S&P itself (see August 11, 2011), along with an array of economists and private-sector financial leaders (see May 20, 2011, August 5-6, 2011, and August 12, 2011), says that the battle by Bachmann and her fellow House Republicans to refuse a debt-ceiling increase, even if it meant the US would default on its debt, is what led to the downgrade. But Bachmann sees the issue very differently. She reiterates her position in a post-debate interview on Fox News, saying, “Standard & Poor’s essentially proved me right.” The firm’s decision to downgrade the US credit rating came about, she says, because “we don’t have an ability to repay our debt.… We just heard from Standard & Poor’s, when they dropped our credit rating and what they said is we don’t have an ability to repay our debt. That’s what the final word was from them. I was proved right in my position. We should not have raised the debt ceiling.” Pat Garofalo of the progressive news Web site Think Progress writes that “it’s blatantly clear that Bachmann has no idea what S&P said, because just about every word out of her mouth regarding the agency’s decision was incorrect.” Garofalo notes that “S&P never said ‘we don’t have an ability to pay our debt.’ After all, the agency still rates the US as AA+, meaning it has a ‘very strong capacity to meet financial commitments.’ One S&P analyst characterized the difference between AA+ and AAA as just ‘degrees of excellence.’” Moreover, Garofalo notes, S&P downgraded the nation’s credit rating because, as it said in its own press releases and subsequent statements, “the use of the debt ceiling as a political football and GOP intransigence on taxes.” Bachmann has long derided the idea that not raising the debt ceiling would be detrimental to the US economy (see June 26, 2011, and July 13, 2011). (Garofalo 8/12/2011)
New Republic senior editor John Judis writes of his disappointment that the financial services firm Standard & Poor’s did not explicitly cite the actions of House Republicans as the reason why it issued its downgrade to the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). One of the reasons why S&P issued its credit downgrade, it said, was because of the “political brinksmanship” waged by members of Congress, resulting in policymaking that has become “less stable, less effective, and less predictable.” Judis notes that while it is virtually indisputable that the firm was referring to the actions of House Republicans who worked furiously to block debt-ceiling legislation (see July 13, 2011 and August 11, 2011), “the statement was sufficiently vague that Republicans could take it as laying the blame on the Obama administration for not agreeing to their proposals for raising the debt ceiling. And, indeed, Mitt Romney and other Republican presidential candidates have blamed President Barack Obama for S&P’s decision” (see August 6-9, 2011). “[T]hose appearing to discount the danger of a default were right-wing Republicans like Representative Michelle Bachmann and Senator Pat Toomey, who are identified with the Tea Party,” Judis writes. Senior S&P director Joydeep Mukherji “acknowledged that a major factor driving the downgrade was the utter irresponsibility and ignorance of a significant minority of Republican legislators,” but refused to cite those Republican lawmakers as responsible for the downgrade. Judis writes: “Why didn’t S&P say this more clearly in the original statement? I suspect it was out of a desire to appear non-partisan, but the effect was to apportion the blame equally on both parties. That is a disservice to the country because it allows a deranged faction of the Republican Party to continue to run riot in the Congress and to undermine any possible of a constructive response to the economic crisis.” Judis concludes, “I stand second to no one in criticizing the White House for failing to fight the Republicans, but it is worth recalling here that the principal cause of our counterproductive fiscal policy is the Republican opposition.” (Judis 8/12/2011)
The online news site Daily Beast writes that the tea party movement that once swept American politics seems to be “losing… steam.” Reporter Patty Murphy writes: “Gone is the white-hot rage that famously defined the town hall meetings of August 2009 and sent incumbents from both parties packing a year later. In its place is… lingering frustration and continued anger with Washington, but a growing realization within the upstart movement that sustaining a revolution is harder than starting it—and that merely electing conservatives doesn’t guarantee they’ll buck the system they promised to overthrow.” Utah tea party member Jerry Stotler blames the lawmakers elected as a result of tea party activism. Speaking of a recent budget compromise between Congressional Republicans and Democrats, he says: “One of the most powerful words in the English language is ‘no.’ The tea party has failed to use their power of ‘no.’ If they would’ve just stood strong on their principles, this [compromise] wouldn’t have happened.” Murray notes that many of the tea party’s favorite lawmakers, such as Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), organization leader and 2012 House candidate Jamie Radtke (R-VA), and Governor Paul LePage (R-ME), are disappointing followers. Chaffetz has chosen not to run against Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Radtke is struggling for momentum against George Allen (R-VA) in the 2012 Senate race, and LePage has endorsed moderate Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) instead of Snowe’s more conservative challengers. One Republican aide says incumbents like Hatch, Snowe, and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are working harder to curry favor among tea party activists. Graham tells Murray: “The tea party has added an energy on the big issues we haven’t had before. These people are fearless.… [T]hey’re doing the nation a great service.” But Graham, like some other Republicans, is showing a willingness to buck tea party ideology at times; for example, he insists that he is “for clean air and clean water,” a direct rebuke to the tea party’s stated desire to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency and its opposition to any dealings with “climate change” science. Graham tells Murray that the tea party has to do more than merely oppose ideas if they want their movement to last. “The question for the tea party is, what is your vision?” he says. “I buy into their vision of limiting the size and scope of government. I’ve been doing that for years. The problem that parties have, tea party, Republican Party, Democratic Party, is you can disconnect yourself from the people. The tea party has got to convince people that you can find common ground.” Polls show that the tea party’s popularity among registered voters has dwindled dramatically since 2009; Graham, for one, is not worried about a tea party challenger when he runs for re-election in 2014. (Murphy 8/25/2011)
After President Obama exhorts Congress to pass his jobs legislation package, which he calls the “American Jobs Act of 2011,” during his address to a joint session on September 8, some Republican lawmakers note that no legislator has officially submitted the bill and thusly there is no legislation to pass. Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) submits his own quickly written “American Jobs Act of 2011” hours before a Democratic House member can submit Obama’s 155-page, $447 billion legislative package. Gohmert’s bill is two pages long and would “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to repeal the corporate income tax.” Gohmert issues a press release that reads: “We have heard a lot of rhetoric about job creation from President Obama over the last several days. After waiting to see what the president would actually put into legislative language, and then waiting to see if anybody would actually introduce the president’s bill in the House, today I took the initiative and introduced the ‘American Jobs Act of 2011.’ It is a very simple bill, which will eliminate the corporate tax which serves as a tariff that our American companies pay on goods they produce here in America. This bill will actually create jobs in America. Right now, American manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas. What is really insidious about this tax is that corporate taxes are paid by the consumer—built in to the cost of the good or service. Corporate taxes are paid for by people in the form of lower wages to American workers and less money paid out in dividends in everything from 401K retirement accounts and to those who would risk their capital in business ventures. This type of capital investment is where jobs come from. Unlike President Obama’s bill, which clocks in at 155 pages, the ‘American Jobs Act’ is only two pages. The American people want to see jobs and economic growth and this bill guarantees that outcome. America would instantly become a safe haven for businesses resulting in an explosion in revenue increases. If we really want to create jobs and grow the economy, we must pass ‘The American Jobs Act’ now.” (Ham 9/14/2011; Louis Gohmert 9/14/2011; Oliphant 9/15/2011) Gohmert objects to a provision in the Obama legislative package which would forbid employers from discriminating against unemployed workers, accusing Obama of trying to create a “new protected class” of Americans and saying that the point of the anti-discrimination language would be to give “trial lawyers… 14 million new clients.” The National Employment Law Project (NELP) says that Gohmert is wrong in his accusations, and that the legislation “would not make employment status a protected class like race or sex,” but “simply bans hiring discrimination against the jobless.” Employer discrimination against unemployed job applicants is well-documented and on the rise, according to NELP. (Kingkade, Howard, and Delaney 8/11/2011; Kingkade 9/14/2011) Kirsten Boyd Johnson of the satirical political news Web site Wonkette calls Gohmert’s legislation “childish,” and says that, according to recent polls, Americans largely blame Congressional Republicans for, as she writes, “destroying America with their petulant refusal to govern like a dignified body of elected lawmakers in favor of running around like naughty children stealing other peoples’ homework.” Bloomberg News, which reports on the polling, quotes retired New York citizen Ray DiPietro as saying: “I’ve been a registered Republican for 50 years or more, but I don’t like what they are doing. [Republicans] are more concerned about getting Obama out of office than with making things right.” DiPietro says he receives emails on a daily basis from Republicans who denigrate Obama and “tear him apart, and that’s no way for grownups to talk.” Indianapolis Republican Nicole Olin agrees, saying: “I do put the majority of the blame on the Republicans, because they seem to be the least willing to give up anything. Just because a majority votes you in doesn’t mean you don’t have to compromise in one way, shape, or form to make sure you do what’s good for everyone.” Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) warns of the dangers of taking any set of polls in “isolation,” and says the poll result “highlights a broad dissatisfaction among the American people with the way their government has been operating.” (Johnson 9/15/2011; Davis and Dodge 9/15/2011) David Weigel of Slate writes that Gohmert “prank[ed]” the White House in submitting his legislation, which has no real chance of ever being enacted. Although House Democrats have not yet formally submitted the actual American Jobs Act, it has been posted online by the Obama administration. (Weigel 9/12/2011; Weigel 9/15/2011) Democrats can submit the bill under its original title, as House rules do not forbid two separate pieces of legislation having the same name, though as Los Angeles Times reporter James Oliphant notes, “[I]t could result in a lot of Democrats and Republicans shouting on the floor about two different bills.” (Oliphant 9/15/2011) In the past, Gohmert has accused the Obama administration of orchestrating the deaths of “one in five” Americans through its health care legislation (see July 16, 2009), of implementing “eugenics” and creating Nazi-like “youth brigades” (see July 24, 2009), and of lying about the likelihood that failing to raise the debt ceiling would lower the nation’s credit rating (see July 13, 2011).
The House of Representatives votes 235-190 to eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF), which provides for voluntary public funding of presidential candidates. The legislation would also shut down the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a national clearinghouse on the mechanics of voting. Public financing of campaigns has been a target of Republicans since the Citizens United decision allowed corporations and labor unions to give unlimited amounts to campaigns (see January 21, 2010 and June 27, 2011). House Republicans failed in a previous attempt to eliminate the PECF (see January 26, 2011 and After). Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) gives an impassioned defense of the PECF, saying that it is one of the few obstacles that remains to impede what she calls the takeover of the US political system by well-financed special interests. She asks her colleagues whether they believe the “99 percent of Americans that don’t have lobbyists” would benefit in any way by abolishing PECF. She then notes that the Republican National Committee (RNC) got 18 million dollars from this fund and suggests it give the money back, saying: “The level of spending by corporations and special interests since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United should give every American reason for concern. So do my Republican colleagues really believe that more corporate and special interest money in politics is going to benefit in any way the 99 percent of Americans who don’t have lobbyists? The current public financial [sic] system for the presidential elections has problems. Most notably, it has not kept pace with the cost of modern campaigns. So we should fix it instead of eliminating it. I would note that the Republican National Committee recently received 18 million dollars from this fund. If the Republicans think it’s such a bad idea, perhaps they should ask the RNC to return the money.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says the bill has no chance in the Senate, and is critical of House Republicans for advancing it, stating: “Instead of making it so it’s easier for people to vote, they want to do everything they can to make it harder for people to vote. I don’t understand this. They want to have as few people to vote as possible.” Representative Gregg Harper (R-MS), the sponsor of the bill, says the elimination of the PECF would help reduce the deficit. “If we do not eliminate some programs, then a $15 trillion debt will be our decline into a European-style financial crisis,” he says. (Carter 12/1/2011; Jilani 12/1/2011) The bill will not pass the Senate.
Grover Norquist, a highly influential conservative lobbyist and activist, says that if President Obama wins re-election in 2012, Congressional Republicans will impeach him to regain control of the nation’s governance. Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a hardline opponent of government taxation, tells the National Journal that he expects Obama to raise taxes on the wealthy in 2013. He is best known for his anti-tax pledge, which almost all Congressional Republicans and a few Democrats have signed, and which states their absolute opposition to any tax hikes of any kind. The online news site National Confidential says that signers who break that pledge will likely “face a primary opponent funded by Norquist and his shadowy multi-millionaire donors.” Norquist says of Obama’s record of cutting taxes on middle- and lower-class taxpayers: “He came up with this idea for the one-year tax holiday so he could claim that he’s for a tax cut. Mind you, it’s a temporary tax cut, but he does not want to run as a tax increaser. I think [Republicans are] in reasonably good shape. Between now and November, I believe we will see a one-year extension of the FICA tax [cut]. I believe we will see the extension of [the break on] depreciation spending. And then the third one that you could have is repatriation. If I was Obama’s political consultant, I’d have put repatriation on the table when he extended the Bush-era tax cuts by two years [in 2010]. The estimates are that it would bring $6 [billion] to $800 billion back. If I were president, I would love to have that money flow back into the real economy, not the Solyndra economy, the year before I’m running for office.” (Cook 1/28/2012; National Confidential 1/28/2012) “Repatriation” is the idea that American corporations can receive one-time tax breaks by putting their foreign earnings into the American economy. Norquist’s reference to “the Solyndra economy” refers to the controversy surrounding the recently bankrupted Solyndra Corporation, which received $528 million in federal loan guarantees and which some conservatives, including Norquist, have attempted to tie to the Obama administration. (Investopedia 2012; New York Times 2012) Norquist predicts that if re-elected, Obama will allow a number of tax cuts on large corporations and the wealthy to expire at the end of 2012, and this, he says, will allow Congressional Republicans to begin impeachment proceedings. “We’re focused on the fact that there is this Damocles sword hanging over people’s head,” he says. “What you don’t know is who will be in charge when all of this will happen. I think when we get through this election cycle, we’ll have a Republican majority, [though] not necessarily a strong majority in the Senate, and a majority in the House. The majority in the House will continue to be a Reagan majority, a conservative majority. [House Speaker John] Boehner never has to talk his delegation going further to the right. If the Republicans have the House, Senate, and the presidency, I’m told that they could do an early budget vote—a reconciliation vote where you extend the Bush tax cuts out for a decade or five years. You take all of those issues off the table and then say, ‘What do you want to do for tax reform?’ Then, the question is, ‘OK, what do we do about repatriation and all of the interesting stuff?’ And, if you have a Republican president to go with a Republican House and Senate, then they pass the [Paul] Ryan plan [on Medicare],” referring to House Representative Paul Ryan’s plan to virtually end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher system. If the Democrats retain control of Congress and the White House, Norquist says: “Obama can sit there and let all the tax [cuts] lapse, and then the Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach. The last year, he’s gone into this huddle where he does everything by executive order. He’s made no effort to work with Congress.” (Cook 1/28/2012) According to the US Constitution, “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, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” (Constitution of the United States 6/21/1788) It is unclear how Norquist frames his prediction of Obama’s allowing tax cut legislation to lapse as constituting “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes [or] Misdemeanors.”
House Democrats try yet again to bring the DISCLOSE Act, which would require corporate and union donors to publicly disclose their campaign contributions, to the chamber for a vote. They are joined by a lone Republican, Walter Jones (R-NC). Democrats so far have 167 signers on the motion to move the bill to the floor for a vote; they need 218. Most observers agree that House Democrats will not get the 218 signatures they need. Recently, Democrats were blocked by Senate Republicans from bringing the bill to a vote (see July 14-17, 2012). (Strauss 7/24/2012)
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