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Congress: Unprecedented Obstructionism

Last week in the Senate, conservatives denied the will of the American people by filibustering a measure to end the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, such obstructionism has become a hallmark of this new Congress.

July 23, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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CONGRESS

Unprecedented Obstructionism

Last week in the Senate, conservatives denied the will of the American people by filibustering a measure to end the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, such obstructionism has become a hallmark of this new Congress. In the first seven months of the 110th Congress, conservatives have acted to obstruct legislation at a rate greater than in any previous Congress. While the House has successfully acted on a number of pressing issues, conservatives in the Senate have blocked legislation via filibuster 42 times, embracing a tactic they once threatened to eliminate. In the few instances where Congress has been able to overcome the politically-motivated obstruction, President Bush — who demanded in January that Congress not “play politics as usual” — has used the 110th Congress to score political points by vetoing legislation backed by the majority of the American people. Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) boasted recently, “The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail…and so far it’s working.

PROGRESS IN THE HOUSE: Since Nov. 2006, the House successfully passed several key pieces of legislation. In fact, in the first 100 hours, the House acted to expand embryonic stem cell research, increase the minimum wage, allow the government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, cut interest rates on student loans, end subsidies for big oil, and enact the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations — all of which are supported by a majority of the Americans. In addition, on two occasions, the House has passed binding measures to end the war in Iraq, a measure supported overwhelmingly by both the American people and the troops on the ground. Even with such progress, House conservatives are still doing their part to obstruct legislation, often using a legislative device known as a “motion to recommit.” A common tactic in the 110th Congress, “[t]he strategy is to institute a divisive change to the bill at the last moment, often unrelated to the original intent of the legislation, hoping that the altered bill can then be defeated on final passage.”

OBSTRUCTION IN THE SENATE: Despite such progress in the House, a group of right-wing senators have acted to obstruct “almost every bill that has come before the Senate — even ones with wide bipartisan support.” Of the six major pieces of legislation passed by the House in the first 100 hours, “only one has become law” — primarily due to conservative obstructionism in the Senate, a tactic that Weekly Standard Editor Fred Barnes touts as a success. On legislation related to such issues as reforming Medicare, raising the minimum wage, reforming union formation, and ending the war in Iraq, conservatives have obstructed progress by forcing bills to garner a supermajority of 60 votes to end debate and vote on the bill itself. Without the votes to overcome such a filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is frequently forced to withdraw bills from consideration, often in spite of the fact that the majority of the Senate and the House support the measures. Conservatives have used such “petty” and divisive tactics again and again. According to McClatchy, Senate conservatives “are threatening filibusters to block more legislation than ever before.” Just seven months into the 110th Congress’s two-year term, legislation in the Senate has been slowed or blocked completely by conservative filibusters a total of 42 times amounting to “[n]early 1 in 6 roll-call votes in the Senate this year.” If the current pace continues, by Jan. 2009, conservatives in the Senate will have attempted to filibuster more than 150 times — nearly three times more than any Congress in the last 50 years. In comparison, legislation was delayed or blocked by filibuster only 52 times in the whole 109th Congress.

VETOES FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: In a “streak unmatched in modern American history,” Bush refused to veto a single piece of legislation in the first five years of his presidency. Since Nov. 2006, when conservatives were forced into the minority, the President has executed what conservative columnist Robert Novak has termed a “veto offensive.” With just 18 months left in his presidency, Bush has used the Congress time after time to score political points. This year alone, the President vetoed a measure that would have ended the war in Iraq and legislation that would have repealed current “restrictions on human embryonic stem cell experiments.” Both proposals enjoyed broad support from the American people. Progress is further endangered by over 30 other veto threats. So committed is Bush to the politics of the radical right, he has even threatened to veto the highly popular and bipartisan renewal and expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which would provide health care for up to nine million uninsured children. But Bush’s veto spree may be reaching its limits. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a reliable Bush ally, predicted, “[T]here is a reasonable chance [the President’s veto would] be overridden.”

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — PRES. CLINTON: EDELMAN IS AN ‘IDEOLOGICAL HOLDOVER’ FROM CHENEY’S INNER CIRCLE: On Saturday, former President Bill Clinton sharply criticized Under Secretary of Defense Eric Edelman, who recently rebuffed Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) request for Pentagon briefings to Congress on the administration’s redeployment plans. In a letter to Clinton, Edelman wrote, “premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda.” Edelman’s position is directly contradicted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who testified that debate over Iraq redeployment has been “helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government.” Interviewed by ABC News, the former president “called Edelman ‘one of the more ideological holdovers‘ in the Defense Department.” “I think it’s wrong to politicize national security,” Clinton added. In the first Bush administration, Edelman, serving under then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, was part of a “shop” set up to “think about American foreign policy after the Cold War, at the grand strategic level.” The project also included Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby [New Yorker, 4/1/02]. From 2001-2003, Edelman served as a national security adviser to Cheney. In 2003, he was named as U.S. ambassador to Turkey, where he attempted to convince Turkey to cooperate with the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq. Turkish columnist Ibrahim Karagul noted, “Edelman is probably the least-least liked and trusted American ambassador in Turkish history.” In 2005, President Bush recess appointed Edelman to replace Douglas Feith. Additionally, Edelman came up with the idea of leaking information to the press as a way to rebut Amb. Joe Wilson’s public criticisms of the administration’s case for war. After Scooter Libby was convicted of obstructing the probe into who leaked the name of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, Edelman wrote a letter of leniency praising Libby’s “loyalty to individuals.”

RADICAL RIGHT — WHITE HOUSE LAVISHES BASELESS PRAISE ON NEOCONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST KRISTOL: Last week, Weekly Standard columnist Bill Kristol penned an op-ed in the Washington Post heaping praise on the presidency of George W. Bush, claiming, “I suppose I’ll merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush’s presidency will probably be a successful one.” Kristol lauded Bush for his neutering of Medicare, the appointment of right-wing Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and even claimed that “we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome” in Iraq. Today, Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz reveals that Bush was pleasantly surprised by Kristol’s op-ed and “read the July 15 Outlook article that morning and recommended it to his staff.” Increasingly, only fringe elements of the conservative movement like Kristol are lauding Bush’s presidential tenure. A new Gallup Poll shows that the latest quarterly approving rating of Bush’s presidency is “the worst he has had,” with a string of sub-40 percent quarterly approval ratings now exceeding the run that former President Nixon had leading up to to his resignation. Furthermore, only 26 percent of Americans think the country is “on the right track.” Kristol’s ties to the White House have been long-standing, as he has been a close media ally of the White House on issues ranging from Iraq to Iran to the CIA leak scandal. Most recently, he accurately predicted Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby. White House aide Pete Wehner recently defended Kristol as “intellectually independent and intellectually courageous.”

IRAQ — NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: BUSH ADMINISTRATION MANIPULATED IRAQ INTELLIGENCE:
A new biography on Vice President Dick Cheney by Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen F. Hayes contains some “revealing nuggets” about the infamously secretive Vice President. On Meet the Press this weekend, host Tim Russert highlighted a passage that said current Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell “was honored to be asked [to be DNI], but he had serious reservations. He had been unimpressed with many aspects of the Bush administration and its conduct of the war on terror, particularly what he felt was a politicized use of intelligence in the lead-up to the Iraq war.” McConnell reportedly “seemed to side with those who believe that the administration manipulated intelligence on Iraq for political purposes before the 2003 invasion.” Specifically, McConnell decried the “secondary unit” established within the Pentagon to “reinterpret information” prior to the war. An internal Pentagon investigation released in February revealed that former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith utilized the Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group within the Pentagon to create and promote false links between Iraq and al Qaeda. Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz “asked Feith’s analysts to ignore the intelligence community’s belief that the militant Islamist al-Qaida and Saddam’s secular dictatorship were unlikely allies.” Subsequently, Feith “disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaida relationship…to senior decision-makers.” Despite the overwhelming problems with both the intelligence that led to the Iraq war and the war’s execution, Cheney still maintains that Rumsfeld was a “great secretary of defense.” According to Hayes, he “absolutely” did not agree with the President’s decision to fire Rumsfeld.

THINK FAST

Steve Thomma of McClatchy writes, “When pressing a tough sale, Bush is a lousy salesman.” “He’s never really sold the country or Congress something it didn’t already want. And when he’s tried to sell something the people or the politicians didn’t want, he’s fallen flat.” Thomma cites Bush’s sales pitches on reforming immigration, privatizing Social Security, and staying in Iraq.

The Washington Post reports on an executive order issued by President Bush last week entitled, “Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq.” In the extreme, it could be interpreted as targeting the financial assets of any American who undermines the administration’s Iraq policy.

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, was denied access to the White House plan for operating the government after a terrorist attack. “I just can’t believe they’re going to deny a member of Congress the right of reviewing how they plan to conduct the government of the United States after a significant terrorist attack,” he said.

A few months ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice decided to write an opinion piece about Lebanon, but no one would publish it. Price Floyd, the State Department’s director of media affairs, said, “I kept hearing the same thing: ‘There’s no news in this.'” The piece, he said, was littered with glowing references to President Bush’s wise leadership. “It read like a campaign document.”

“After a rare bipartisan agreement in the Senate to expand insurance coverage for low-income children, House Democrats have drafted an even broader plan that also calls for major changes in Medicare and promises to intensify the battle with the White House over health care.” 

Three parked cars exploded in a predominantly Shiite area in Baghdad on Monday, killing at least 12 people and wounding 19, according to police, and the U.S. military said car bombs had killed two troops over the weekend.”

“The United States and Iran have set a date for ambassador-level talks in Baghdad on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq — the first such meeting since late May, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Sunday.”

“Major military offensives and a changed focus on increasing security have slowed efforts to train Iraqi forces to take control of Iraq, the top U.S. training official said.” Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard told USA Today, “Transitioning [to Iraqi control] is not a main priority, but it’s still a priority.”

“Under a Senate bill to be introduced today, computer programmers, call-center staffers and other service-sector workers who make up the vast majority of the nation’s workforce would for the first time be eligible for a generous package of income, health and retraining benefits currently reserved for manufacturing workers who lose their jobs to international trade.”

And finally: What’s the difference between Jessica Lynch and Jessica Simpson? “When Cheney threw out the first pitch before a 2003 game between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs, Cheney was first informed that pop singer Nick Lachey “would sing the national anthem before the game and would be accompanied by his girlfriend, Jessica Simpson. Cheney thought Simpson’s name sounded familiar. He asked his staff: ‘Is that the soldier who was captured in Iraq?‘”

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GOOD NEWS

“The nation’s governors, defying threats of a veto from President Bush, called on Congress Sunday to extend and increase a program to provide health insurance for poor children.”

STATE WATCH

ILLINOIS: State officials “hope to shame energy giant BP into backing out of a plan to dump more ammonia and sludge into Lake Michigan.”

ALASKA: “Seldom has the prospect of building a one-lane, nine-mile gravel road caused such a furor,” referring to a proposed road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

MARYLAND: Climate change has already warmed and raised the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: NBC’s David Gregory: The angry left is not “very serious and tough” on Iraq.

GLENN GREENWALD: While Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) claims to be a three-year critic of the war, he actually spent those years carrying water for the Bush administration.

GRISTMILL: New study shows “a large-scale shift to plug-in hybrid electric vehicles would drastically reduce oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions.”

TPM CAFE: The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol “says anti-war people (even bereaved moms) are against the troops.”

DAILY GRILL

“There is something terribly wrong with people seeking to demean and weaken the president in war time, thereby strengthening our country’s enemies.”
— Former New York City mayor Ed Koch, 8/31/06

VERSUS

“I’m bailing out. I will no longer defend the policy of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq to assist the Iraqi central government in the ongoing civil war.”
— Koch, 7/20/07