Apr 26, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 178

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

AFD-logo-470

Topics: Which environmental safety regulations and climate rules have Republicans attacked so far in 2017? Will climate emergency lead to climate austerity governments? People: Bill and Jonathan Produced: April 24th, 2017.

Episode 178 (55 min, incl. 5 bonus minutes):
AFD 178

Subscribe

RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Feb 8, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 168

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

AFD-logo-470

Topics: Congressional Republican proposals on replacing the ACA and what legislative actions they have taken so far. People: Bill, Jonathan, and Greg. Produced: Feb 8th, 2017.

Episode 168 (53 min):
AFD 168

Discussion Points:

– What is the “Cassidy plan” to replace the Affordable Care Act and should Democrats stand firm against it?
– What legislative priorities have Republicans worked on so far and what have they stalled on?

Reading materials:

– Tim Jost’s HealthAffairs blog post “ACA Replacement Bill From Cassidy And Colleagues Offers State Options, Roth HSAs
Washington Post article on Rep. Chaffetz withdrawing his federal lands bill

Subscribe

RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Dec 14, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 161

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

AFD-logo-470

Guest Interview: Shakeia on Colin Kaepernick’s racial justice protests. Other Topics: Democratic legislative stunts that fall short. People: Bill and Jonathan. Produced: Dec 12th, 2016.

Episode 161 (52 min):
AFD 161

New Reading Materials (from Jonathan):

Senate Democrats Threaten a Government Shutdown, then Concede While Getting Nothing. What Message Does That Send?

Subscribe

RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Dec 7, 2016 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 160

Posted by Bill on behalf of the team.

AFD-logo-470

Topics: Flint funding and Republican strategies for attaching big policy changes to must-pass bills; moderate Republicans, state legislature defeats, gerrymandering, and more. People: Bill and Jonathan. Produced: Dec 7th, 2016.

Episode 160 (1 hour 5 min):
AFD 160

New Reading Materials (from Jonathan):

The GOP May Not Eliminate the Filibuster, But It Can Still Pass Its Reactionary Agenda. Here’s How.
Republican Cruelty, Democratic Passivity, and What the Lack of Flint Funding Can Tell Us about the Trump Years
Not Seeing the Cleared Forest for the Largest Felled Tree: Democrats & the States

Archive Materials:

State Attorneys General are ruining the Earth. Literally.
Beyond the Senate: The 2014 state losses
AFD 62 – Role of Government
posts about the 2014 CRomnibus & NDAA

Subscribe

RSS Feed: Arsenal for Democracy Feedburner
iTunes Store Link: “Arsenal for Democracy by Bill Humphrey”

Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

The GOP May Not Eliminate the Filibuster, But It Can Still Pass Its Reactionary Agenda. Here’s How.

According to The Hill on Monday, a number of GOP senators are hesitant about, if not outright opposed to, eliminating the filibuster. The article names seven of them, more defections than a likely caucus of 52 could withstand on a vote. For anyone who doesn’t want to see them be able to ram through their anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-consumer, anti-democracy (etc.) agenda, this is great news.

But don’t get too excited. Because in addition to budget reconciliation — a tool Paul Ryan has already hinted at using, and which reduces the required Senate votes for passage to a simple majority — House Republicans have at their disposal a strategy that has succeeded quite well for them over the past few years: policy riders in must-pass bills.

Time after time, Republicans have attached a host of toxic policy riders to government spending bills (whether continuing resolutions or omnibus bills)—and Democrats still vote for them.

Take, for example, the Continuing Resolution (CR) that passed this September. As I noted earlier this week, it contained a provision blocking the SEC from developing, proposing, issuing, finalizing, or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their own shareholders. Only 12 Senate Democrats and 10 House Democrats voted against it—and some of that opposition was more a result of how the CR punted on Flint funding (a punt that was condemnable in and of itself).

Last year’s end-of-year omnibus bill included a grab-bag of horrible policy riders (“a basket of deplorable” riders, if you will), including, among other things:

  • A lift of the 40-year ban on domestic oil exports
  • A ban on the SEC’s crafting a rule to require corporations to disclose political spending (a rider that re-appeared this September, as noted above)
  • An elimination of country-of-origin labeling requirements for meat and poultry
  • The “surveillance-masquerading-as-cybersecurity” bill CISA
  • Exemptions from Dodd-Frank for certain derivative swap trades
  • Changes to the “visa waiver” program derided as rank discrimination by the ACLU

But only 18 House Democrats and 9 Senate Democrats voted against it.

In 2014, the “CRomnibus,” the combination Continuing Resolution (CR) and appropriations bill (omnibus), offered a holiday feast to lobbyists with its range of policy riders:

  • A provision to weaken campaign finance regulations by increasing the amount that an individual can donate to a party committee in a year from $32,400 to $324,000
  • A provision—written by Citigroup lobbyists—to weaken regulation of credit default swaps under Dodd-Frank and allow banks like Citigroup to do more high-risk trading with taxpayer-backed money
  • A provision allowing trustees of multi-employer pension plans to cut pension benefits to current retirees
  • An override of DC’s recent vote legalizing recreational marijuana
  • A provision to extend the length of time that truckers can be required to work without breaks
  • The elimination of a bipartisan measure to end “backdoor” searches by the NSA of Americans’ private communications
  • A provision to block the EPA from regulating certain water sources
  • A reduction of nutrition standards in school lunches and the Women, Infant and Children food aid program in order to benefit potato farmers
  • A halt on the listing of several species on the Endangered Species List (in accord with the oil industry’s wishes)
  • A prohibition on the regulation of lead in hunting ammunition or fishing equipment

And that’s really only the half of it.

And how did it fare? The Senate Democratic caucus voted for it 31-22 (although if one looks at the cloture vote–the vote teeing up the vote for passage–that should be 47 to 6) House Democrats were less keen on the bill and only voted for it 57-139. As the minority party, they were not deemed responsible for providing the lion’s share of the votes. Even though she ultimately voted against the bill herself, Nancy Pelosi did, however, help make sure the bill had enough Democratic votes for passage. (It narrowly passed 219-206).

Government spending bills aren’t the only ones that serve as conduits for deregulatory riders. Take, for example, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) in 2015. Setting aside the many problems with TRIA itself, it was also used as a vehicle to pass a weakening of Dodd-Frank–never mind the fact that collateral and margin requirements for derivative trades have little to do with terrorism risk insurance. The bill passed by a whopping 93-4, with 3 out of the 4 dissenting votes coming from the Democratic caucus (Sanders, Warren, and Cantwell).

It’s important not to pretend that Republicans are the only ones who shove policy riders into unrelated bills. Congressional Democrats did, of course, use the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act as a vehicle to pass a hate crimes bill. But the GOP is the one pushing riders that are socially, environmentally, and economically harmful.

How many toxic riders can the GOP attach to a bill before the Democrats balk? And are Democrats willing to shut down the government over any of these disputes–despite deriding the GOP for using that as a leverage point in the past (although, of course, for harmful ends)? Over the next four years, we will be able to learn what is and is not a deal-breaker for Congressional Democrats.

Republican Cruelty, Democratic Passivity, and What the Lack of Flint Funding Can Tell Us about the Trump Years

congress-slider

In just two days, it will be December, and Flint still hasn’t gotten funding from the federal government to address its water crisis.

The water crisis dates back to April 2014, and it was back in January when the cases of Legionnaires’ disease got media attention. Flint still doesn’t have clean water, an indictment of our political system—both Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity.

No story about Flint should go without recognition of the role of Republican Governor Rick Snyder (someone who seems to reach an almost cartoon-villain level of callousness) and his administration, but I want to focus on Congressional politics here.

Back in February, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan attempted to secure $600 million for Flint, including $400 million to match state funds to repair and replace old pipes in the city (the rest going to a research and education center on lead poisoning), via the Energy Policy Modernization Act. Most of the Senate Democratic Caucus blocked the cloture votes on the bill in order to demand funding for Flint. Republicans did not oblige, and when the bill came back up two months later, Stabenow and Democrats dropped their opposition.

Flint funding came back into the spotlight in September. On September 15, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act, which authorized $270 million to help Flint and other cities ($220 million specifically for Flint). Republicans demanded that this expenditure be “paid for,” leading to a $300 million cut in Energy Department research on advanced vehicle technology. WRDA-authorized projects were subject to future appropriations, but the Flint funding was designed to go into effect immediately.

However, that $270 million was not in the House version of WRDA, and the Continuing Resolution that had to be passed by the end of the month in order to keep the government funded offered an immediate opportunity to secure funding for Flint.

Republicans, of course, had no problem attaching $500 million in flood relief money for Louisiana (with no offset). But Louisiana has two Republican senators, and the flood-stricken area was represented by Republicans as well. Michigan has two Democratic senators, and Flint is in a Democratic district. Funny how that works.

After initial demands that Flint funding be in the CR, Democrats agreed to concede, provided that House Republicans set up an amendment vote to the WRDA to include Flint funding–but now only $170 million.

On September 28, the Senate voted for the Flint-less CR 72-26. (Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders were both not present because they were on the campaign trail for Clinton.)

Of the 26 NO votes, 12 were Democrats:

Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Bob Menendez (D-NJ)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Gary Peters (D-MI)
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

The Republicans who voted NO certainly didn’t do so out of concern for Flint. Did the Democrats? Five of them made this clear in their press releases on the vote.

Bob Menendez:

While I’m pleased that the final continuing resolution keeps our government running and provides much-needed funding to address the Zika public health crisis, I could not in good conscience vote for legislation that ignores the plight of 100,000 Americans living in Flint who were poisoned by their water supply, and also includes a measure that prohibits the government from lifting the veil on corporate political contributions.

 

Jeff Merkley:

While I’m encouraged that the House leadership has committed to providing aid to assist Flint with its lead contamination disaster, there is still no reason why that aid should not be funded immediately—just like the aid for Louisiana flood victims—rather than having to wait until after the election. Flint families have already been living with dangerously contaminated water for two years, and they should not have to wait a day longer for help. Geography, race, and partisan politics should never determine disaster assistance, and it’s wrong to help out the victims of one disaster while telling others that they must continue to wait at the back of the line.

 

Gary Peters:

“But these fully paid-for Flint resources were put on hold while disaster relief for flooding victims in Louisiana was included. I support helping people in Louisiana during their crisis, but we should not pick and choose to help some states and not others.

 

“I could not support a government spending bill that will – once again – force the citizens of Flint to wait on the help they so desperately need.

 

“It is unacceptable that the bipartisan, fully-offset Flint aid package was left out. There is no excuse for leaving the people of Flint behind.

 

“It has been a year since the first public health emergency declaration in Flint, and over eight months since a national emergency was declared. Yet almost 100,000 residents of Flint still do not have a reliable source of safe water. They are still using bottled to water to drink, to cook, and to bathe.

 

Debbie Stabenow:

Earlier this week, the House refused to take any action to help the people of Flint. After last night’s negotiations, we now have a path forward to finally pass the Water Resources Development Act with long-awaited assistance for Flint.  It is critical that the House echo the strong bipartisan support that we saw for WRDA in the Senate and that action happen as soon as possible for the people of Flint.  My position on the government funding bill remains the same: I will vote no on any CR that does not treat communities equally.  It is wrong to ask families in Flint to wait at the back of the line again.

 

Elizabeth Warren:

Is this what we have come to? Is this what politics has become? There are 100,000 people in Flint, a town where more than half the residents are African-American and nearly half live in poverty. They get nothing because voters sent two Democrats to the Senate?This is not a game. Flint is not a Democratic city or a Republican city; it is an American city. The children who have been poisoned are American children. The principle of standing up for those in need is an American principle.

 

I am a Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, but I will help the Republican Senators from Louisiana. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their hour of need, but I am sick and tired–I am past sick and tired–of Republican Senators who come here and demand Federal funding when their communities are hit by a crisis but block help when other States need it. Their philosophy screams, “I want mine, but the rest of you are on your own.” It is ugly, un-American, and just plain wrong.

 

We must stand with the Senators from Michigan. We must stand with the children of Flint, and we must put aside ugly partisanship that is literally poisoning a town full of American families. Any Member of the House or Senate who doesn’t stand with them lacks the moral courage to serve in this Congress.

 

Merkley, Menendez, and Warren also highlighted their opposition to a Republican rider that would block the SEC from developing, proposing, issuing, finalizing, or implementing a rule requiring public companies to disclose political spending to their own shareholders. Ron Wyden highlighted the rule as his grounds for opposition as well.

Later that day, the House passed its Flint funding amendment 284-141, the amended WRDA 399 to 25, and the Flint-less CR 342 to 85.

Only 10 Democrats voted against the CR:

Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
Debbie Dingell (MI-12)
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Dan Kildee (MI-05)
Brenda Lawrence (MI-14)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Maxine Waters (CA-43)

The Michigan delegation voted against the CR because of the lack of Flint funding. DeFazio, Ellison, McDermott, and Waters did not issue press releases about their opposition. Blumenauer opposed it because Republicans had blocked a provision of his to make it easier for veterans to acquire medical marijuana across state lines.

The WRDA, along with the Flint funding promise, is now awaiting a conference, with just over a month left in the Congressional session. And Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

This history should prove concerning as we look ahead to the years of a Trump presidency and Republican-controlled House and Senate. Democrats give up their demands quite easily and are willing to vote for Continuing Resolutions to keep the government funded despite whatever riders Republicans put into them. Republican cruelty and Democratic passivity are a toxic mix. I’ll talk more about this dynamic in another post later this week.

House Progressives may actually get a bank handout slashed

arsenal-bolt-logo

David Dayen for The New Republic, commenting on how U.S. House Progressive Caucus found spare billions in needless Federal spending at the Fed lying around that may now be used to help pay for a highway spending bill compromise the Congressional Republicans are seriously considering:

But $16.3 billion in pure corporate welfare is not nothing. And the lesson here is the importance of having policies available on a shelf. Many observers deride the Progressive Caucus’ budget as an exercise in futility. But without the inclusion of the Fed dividend policy, Barbara Boxer wouldn’t have known about it when negotiating the highway bill. Even in a time of minority governance, having a storehouse of ideas that can be pulled out in opportunistic moments matters a great deal.

Read the full story.

Now that’s real fiscal responsibility.