Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Nation: "Republicans Just Took Over the Senate—Here’s Why That Sucks"

On Monday, I posted an editorial from The Nation Magazine, "Why GOP Control of the Senate Would Be a Disaster." Well, the disaster has happened. We can consider the following analysis from George Zornick of The Nation as the unfortunate follow-up. He offers nine reasons "why [the takeover] sucks." For progressives it's grim reading, but we may as well know what we're up against for the next two years:

1. Staffing the Executive Branch ...Republicans well understand that failing to staff the executive branch—and particularly the judicial branch—is a great way to slow down Obama’s priorities now, and even affect the trajectory of American jurisprudence long he leaves office. There are still 59 vacancies on federal district and appellate courts, a seven percent vacancy rate, and 35 percent of those empty seats are in areas that have been declared judicial emergency. This problem will get much worse, not better, over the next two years.

2. Filling a Supreme Court Vacancy The old filibuster rules still required 60 votes to confirm a Supreme Court nominee, which was going to be a tough lift anyway. But Obama managed it twice already. With Republicans in charge, it may be impossible...

3. Deregulating Carbon Emissions If the GOP’s biggest goal is repealing Obamacare, a close second is blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits on carbon emissions. As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out on All In with Chris Hayes last night, the GOP House has actually passed more bills targeting the EPA than those repealing Obamacare. And unlike with the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have the full and enthusiastic backing of their corporate allies in blocking EPA carbon limits...

4. Deregulating Everything Else The House provided a nice sneak preview of how a GOP Congress would try to deregulate just about anything—passing big bills like the REINS Act which would essentially stop or slow most government regulation, to a plethora of smaller exceptions, carve outs, and cancellations for chosen industries. We can expect the Senate to approve many of these moves and force a showdown with Obama...

5. Keystone XL This one is easy to predict, since Republicans have said outright, several times, that one of their first orders of business will be a binding bill authorizing the pipeline. Now, GOP Senate aides are telling The Hill that they may already have the Democratic votes necessary to pass a filibuster-proof bill approving the pipeline...

6. Keeping Obamacare Intact ...Republicans might be able to force...changes to the law, like repealing the Medical Device Tax and cancelling the Independent Payment Advisory Board, as Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress notes. Both are things that also might gather some Democratic votes. If the GOP is smart, it will pick winnable battles on Obamacare and succeed in at least partially weakening the law they hate so deeply.

7. Budgeting Many of the GOP’s desired goals will still be impossible, as they still need to overcome the sixty-vote threshold on legislation. But on budgeting and appropriations that’s not true—only fifty-one votes are needed to pass those under reconciliation that isn’t true.

This is going to create a super-tense showdown with Obama. Many progressives remember when the president was eager to adopt budgetary changes like cutting Social Security benefits through a change in the Chained-CPI formula—something Harry Reid thwarted by literally throwing the proposal in his fireplace.

8. Keeping the Government Open This is the big one, and the mechanism through which the GOP might be able to get many of the above-mentioned policy wins. Before, the House GOP wasn’t able to clearly put forward its goals, particularly on things like the Ryan budget, because they got all garbled up in conference negotiations with the Senate. House members who wanted to avoid this conversation were fond of telling hard-liners that “we’re only one-half of one-third of the government,” so they had to compromise.

But that’s no longer true. With a deeply red Republican Congress and the word “mandate” dancing through the heads of many elected GOPers—and members of the media—it will be easy to force a simple showdown with Obama. Maybe Republicans go full-Ryan budget, which Obama certainly rejects, and there’s a government shutdown. Maybe they are smart about it, and pass a really bad budget that’s just good enough for Obama to sign. Either way, it’s bad news for progressives.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

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